Gender Studies Program Statement on Atlanta-Area Shootings

The core and affiliate faculty of the Gender Studies Program at Mississippi State University condemn the murder of eight people in multiple spas in the Atlanta area on March 16, 2021. Seven of the victims were women, including six women of Asian descent. The killings occurred amid a dramatic increase in anti-Asian violence resulting from misinformation and scapegoating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We call for a better understanding of the intersections of gender and race in mass killings. There have been 181 public mass shootings in which four or more people were killed between 1966 and March 2021, involving 193 shooters. A total of 188 of these shooters were men. These are powerful connections between mass shootings and gender. Furthermore, there is a long and shameful history of anti-Asian violence in the United States, as well as violence against women.

There is evidence of misogyny and racism in the shooter’s alleged actions. The information available at this point indicates Robert Aaron Long claimed to struggle with sexual addiction as defined by his religious group and visited spas in the Atlanta area seeking sex. Long told police he targeted the spas to eliminate the “temptation” women working in the spas represented to Long. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms stated the two Atlanta spas were legally operating businesses and not on the radar of the Atlanta Police Department. Nevertheless, the history of sex trafficking that plays off the sexual fetishization of Asian women makes the working class women employed at the spas particularly vulnerable, particularly if potentially violent men associate all spas with sex work.

Rather than address these core social features of mass shootings, some media and law enforcement chose yet again to create a sympathetic figure out of a white accused mass shooter, saying that shooting suspect Long, a 21 year-old white man, could not control his alleged sexual addiction, was “fed up” and had a “bad day.” Such attributions do not move us forward as a society in understanding the causes of mass shootings or stopping them. Furthermore, these narratives serve to blame the victims of violence for the actions of the perpetrator and normalize violence against women.

We stand with Asian American communities and all marginalized communities impacted by these forms of violence. It is well past time for a sustained focus on the roles of racism and violent masculinities in mass shootings *and* meaningful policy to address it. Until this happens, mass shootings such as the one in Atlanta this week will continue unabated.