What drove Cedric Anderson to walk into a San Bernardino classroom on Monday and take the life of his estranged wife Karen Elaine Smith, followed by his own, along with that of one of her 8-year-old students, Jonathan Martinez?
It wasn’t mental illness. It wasn’t religion. It certainly wasn’t love.
It was sexism, pure and simple: a deadly combination of misogyny, toxic masculinity, and an inflated sense of male entitlement.
There is a reason why the vast majority of intimate partner homicides are enacted by men, and that 94% of murder-suicide victims are female; the cause is well-established and easy to trace. Professors Rebecca and Russell Dobash, criminologists at The University of Manchester who study men who kill women, say there is one trait that links men who commit intimate partner homicide, across various demographics: “These guys had the same proprietary orientations towards their partner.” In other words, some men think that women are "theirs," that they belong to them and, when they leave, that they have the right to take their lives (a woman’s likelihood of being killed increases when she leaves an abusive partner). Men develop this sense of entitlement through the problematic gender norms ingrained in our culture. So we know why these murders occur. We know ending gender inequality is the most effective way to stop them.
Smith had only been married to Anderson since January. He seemed “like a man of faith with whom she could share the next chapter of her life,” according to the LA Times, but she soon realized he was not as he appeared. This is how long it took for Anderson to develop a murderous sense of ownership over Smith: three months of marriage.
As Huffington Post domestic violence reporter Melissa Jeltsen points out, deaths at the hands of intimate partners receive far less attention than those caused by terrorism, despite the former being far more pervasive. "There have been 71 deaths due to extremist attacks on U.S. soil from 2005 to 2015," she writes. "Compare that to the drumbeat of women killed by their intimate partners, which number three daily.” But while ISIS is an obvious target for male politicians, fighting sexism— which takes the life of so many women around the world daily— is not. You can’t promise to bomb the shit out of sexism, or close the borders to misogynists in order to keep the threat out. The threat comes from within: from inside the country, and from inside our very own homes. Men are killing women by the thousands, and here we are demonizing Muslims.
When a terrorist attack occurs, there is always a great deal of hand-wringing if it is discovered that the perpetrator was on a terrorist watch list, that the attack was preventable. But intimate partner violence is one of the most preventable, predictable crimes there is. If there were a national watch list for domestic homicide threats, Cedric Anderson would have been on it. According to the NY Daily News, Anderson had a comprehensive history of violence against women, and had threatened to take his violence to the next level before: in 1997 his ex-wife Natalie sought a restraining order after he threatened to kill her, their kids, and himself.
If it’s not enough for our leaders that women are being killed in extreme numbers, what about the children? 8-year-old student Jonathan Martinez was a tragic, indirect victim of a more calculated murder, but children are sometimes the direct target. Killers often take the lives of their partner’s children instead or as well as their own, as a way to “punish” the partner for leaving. In January 2016 alone, seven children were killed in the US as a result of being implicated in domestic violence, according to a comprehensive analysis of that month's media (the total for the month was 112 people). Don't care about children? Another study shows that 20% of victims in bitter ex-partner homicides are family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.
Far more innocent people are killed in this country as a result of toxic masculinity than because of terrorism. And yet it is increased refugee vetting, not feminism, that is upheld as a way to make America safer.
The LA Times ended their report on the tragedy in San Bernadino on one “haunting” question: “How did he get in?”
An even more haunting question is this: how many more women must die before we start addressing domestic violence— and by extension, sexism— as the threat to human life that it clearly is?
Top image via Wikipedia Commons
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