The Louisiana shooting was a gender hate crime
© Lafayette PD

The movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La., on July 23 has been a trigger for a remarkable outpouring of rhetoric on gun control and mental illness reforms, but the issues of sexism and women's rights that the tragedy invokes has received scant attention.


John Russell "Rusty" Houser shot 11 people during the showing of "Trainwreck," a film starring feminist comedian Amy SchumerAmy Beth SchumerHollywood stars, business leaders sign open letter opposing new voting restrictions Lawmakers want Biden to pressure Saudi Arabia to end Yemen blockade Amy Schumer backs voting rights bill: 'The For the People Act is awesome, unless you hate democracy' MORE. Houser had a history of mental illness and was known for his overtly sexist beliefs. "About one-in-four Americans suffer from a major mental illness, which means that the vast majority are not violent, but whenever there's a mass shooting, mental illness is trotted out as a scapegoat to explain it away. The truth is, many people suffer mental illness, but the ways in which they act out their illness are socially prescribed," said Caroline Heldman, associate professor of Politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles. "Rusty Houser was raised in a culture where shifting demographics has left many white men feeling like what is rightfully theirs is being taken aware — by women, by people of color. Houser's act was one of aggrieved entitlement where he was lashing out at women because of his deeply ingrained misogyny." Heldman added, "I am troubled by the fact that a self-avowed hater of women shot women at a film featuring a feminist comic and we can't acknowledge that it was a gender hate crime."

Houser reached a breaking point when he chose to take out his anger toward women through violence. The former Columbus, Ga., radio talk show host who regularly had Houser on as a guest, Calvin Floyd, recalled of Houser, "Rusty had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything." Houser's belief that women are responsible for the world's troubles does not fully explain his actions. He used sexism to supply his delusions. No facts, truth or logic could have made him feel otherwise. His type of thinking, this bias against women, is embedded in American culture and impairs the ability of men and women to fully understand one another.

This incident serves as an opportunity to constructively address sexism in our culture, but the media have yet to mention it. The director of "Trainwreck," Judd Apatow, released this statement: "We, as a country, need to find a way to do better." Yes, we do need to find a way to do better. We need to do better by not getting lost in the distractions of media sensationalism from the underlying issue of sexism that drove Houser to shoot up the showing of a film with a strong, female lead role. Common consensus is building up the case that Houser was mentally ill and killed because of that illness and his ability to get a gun, but Houser and his deadly delusions came out of a sexist culture. He had delusional fantasies that women were the scapegoat for society's problems, not unlike similar projections placed on women throughout society. Schumer's film addresses some of these projections. The film's title refers to the trainwreck her character is in, trying to align in perfect harmony with the expectations of a patriarchal society amid the misconception that centuries of indoctrinated inferiority of women have been extirpated from contemporary American society.

The success of Schumer's character is measured by her ability to attract a man and fulfill her subjugated domestic roles. The movie demonstrates the tendencies of women to internalize this, and the toll it takes. But, like many men's inability to understand the emotional pains and threats inherent in the everyday lives of women in America, the media are failing to understand, or even remotely address, the emotional pain and threats which manifested in the form of a movie theatre shooting that took two lives and injured nine others. Their neglect of these issues of sexism and hatred of women in our society devalue women. Houser hated women enough to kill them. His actions were predicated upon perceived threats to the privileges afforded to men by sexism.

Sainato is a freelance writer.