On Monday evening as an Ariana Grande concert was letting out, 22-year-old native Briton Salman Ramadan Abedi detonated a bomb in Manchester Arena, killing 22 victims and injuring 120 others, many young women and girls among them. British authorities are still piecing together his possible motivation and whether he had any help in planning the attack. We may never know exactly what went through his mind when committing such a travesty and it can be dangerous to jump to conclusions.
Yet, we do know, however, that terrorism is always meant to shake us, to scare us, to provoke strong emotion and fear. As a society we can’t help to respond this way, but we do know by now that there are wrongs ways to react: with more hatred, and, as Wired points out, by amplifying the terrorists‘s goals by spreading both misinformation and images of the horror far and wide.
Outside of that, though, there is no one “correct” way to respond to a terrorist attack lest we all decide that we should shed our humanity and react with no emotion at all.
Still, more so than with many recent attacks, certain corners of the media and internet have taken to both policing and chiding people’s heartfelt initial reactions to the Manchester tragedy, and wildly theorizing why a Grande concert was targeted to begin with (as if she or her fans are somehow to blame). Maddeningly, but unsurprisingly, most of that policing seems to be rooted in sexism directed at women.
Whether it was intended or not, the attack seems unmistakably gendered in a way that comparable previous attacks were not. It occurred after a performance by a young female performer, who, indeed, was supporting an album entitled Dangerous Woman and who attracts a fanbase largely made up of girls, young women and gay men. The majority of the dead, as well, were women.
James Harkin, a columnist for The Daily Mail, was responsible for one of the most high-profile, mind-numbingly sexist takes when he wrote in an odious little column that Ariana Grande’s “revealing,” as he put it, stage outfits were somehow to blame because they are “a symbol of everything Islamists hate.” Incidentally, it seemed that the Mail photo department took this as an excuse to run images of Grande in those “revealing” costumes.
Of course, it should be pointed out that a particularly virulent strain of Islam is not the only fundamentalist religion that mandates women only dress in “modest” clothing or disdains pop music—anyone who’s been to a Christian youth group as kid knows the lectures pontificating that listening to Madonna or Britney or, in my case, the Spice Girls, might lead to damnation. But it is also silly, sexist and dangerous to suggest that Grande’s costumes were somehow one of the attacker’s motivating factors and that they were worth singling out in tabloid publications with several accompanying photos. Those that study Islamist radicalization know that culture clashes can play their part, but it is far from the simple root cause. It’s a symptom more than a cause.
For example, we know that 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta was radicalized while studying architecture and has a particular disdain for Western architecture, yet did anyone write a column extolling the architects of the Twin Towers as “a symbol of everything Islamists hate?” No, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the only reason this tabloid article was written was out of simple sexism.
Elsewhere on the web, a young right wing activist named Lauren Cooley, seemingly looking to stir up strong emotions of her own, has led the echo chamber charge in directly criticizing Grande for not, somehow, responding the correct way, as if there is an agreed upon correct way to respond. She called the singer a “spoiled brat,” drug up old, unflattering tabloid stories, and blamed her for not “visiting fans at hospital” or becoming “the 1st pop icon to truly condemn terror” (whatever that means). Of course, the Eagles of Death Metal did no such thing in the immediate aftermath at the attack on their own concert in Paris in 2015 (nor should they have been expected to), but they did not receive any similar criticism.
Then there are those who have gone after Grande’s fans. A graphic of a black memorial ribbon adorned with bunny ears, a reference to Grande’s Dangerous Woman album cover, has become symbol of grieving to some. Yet, even that has been cause for policing, as Teen Vogue points out.
When tragedy strikes a college campus in America, it is commonplace for Facebook and Twitter to fill up with images of memorial ribbons placed alongside the school’s athletics department. Would it not seem petty and besides the point to attack such graphics because those athletics department make millions of dollars off of the labour of unpaid student athletics? Would it not seem cruel for someone to point out that no one ever went into tens of thousands of dollars of debt to attend a pop music concert unlike they do to attend college?
The reality is that a college athletic logo becomes more than just a symbol of an institution but a unifying avatar for those who went there and the community that forms around it. There is no reason to suggest that the use of the bunny ears is anything different.
The sense of identity and community many develop through pop music fandom is real and significant, especially in the age of the internet. Perhaps those who take issue with the graphic are somehow uncomfortable with the idea that a young woman can inspire such fandom in the first place.
There is also a rash of people policing individual women’s reactions to the tragedy. Take Kim Kardashian West. She sent out several tweets reacting to the tragedy, and one included an image of her and Grande dancing at a concert. People somehow found time to attack her for it on the basis of “vanity,” and she eventually deleted the tweet. There’s little to say about that other than that it’s amazing that in light of the situation, a well-meaning tweet is anyone could build up much fervor about.
The reality is that terrorism makes us feel scared and powerless. Perhaps some find power in policing others’ reactions, but there’s no excuse for trying to build power by criticizing women.