Las Vegas, NM – The likelihood of vigilante mob violence against women increases when economic inequality rises and governments discontinue enforcing gender norms, according to a recently published book by a Highlands University sociologist.
Rebecca Álvarez, an assistant professor in Highlands’ Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, studied cases across the globe where women were the targets of vigilante mob violence for her book, Vigilante Gender Violence: Social Class, the Gender Bargain, and Mob Attacks on Women Worldwide.
“What we’re calling vigilante gender violence is specifically where the intent is to reenforce traditional gender norms,” Álvarez said. “It’s designed to make a public example of a woman who is perceived to be violating gender norms in a specific way.”
The book examines events in Kenya, where women have been stripped naked and sometimes paraded in public or beaten by gangs or mobs of men, South Africa, where instances of raping lesbian women in an attempt to convince them to be heterosexual have been documented, the mob lynching of a female Islamic scholar in Afghanistan, the burning of women’s rights activists accused of witchcraft in Papua New Guinea.
“These methods of attack are very culturally specific,” Álvarez said. “It’s gender terrorism. The idea is to instill fear in larger populations.”
Álvarez said she became interested in studying the phenomenon after learning about the death of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh in India, where a gang of men brutally beat and raped her in the back of a bus.
“The woman lived for 10 days after the assault,” Álvarez said. “She lived long enough to identify photographs of her attackers. In this case, the perps were apprehended by police. It really stuck with me.
“As a sociologist, my interest is the why,” Álvarez said. “The news had given me the how. It occurred to me that perhaps these cases weren’t isolated.”
Álvarez said the research led her to similar activity in the United States proliferating online by groups such as the incels, short for “involuntary celibates,” a subculture of men in online forums who express their beliefs through often misogynistic posts that they are being denied sexual relationships.
“They egg each other on by targeting women they perceive as not behaving appropriately,” Álvarez said.
A common method of intimidation by incels includes harassment by exposing the personal information of a person online, or doxing.
“In some cases, that would bubble over into the realm of real-world violence,” Álvarez said. One such case, Álvarez said, was Elliot Rodger who killed six people in a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California in 2014.
“There was this massive mob of other people like him encouraging him,” Álvarez said.
“Alvarez’s book shows how structural contexts are important for understanding the causes of frequent vigilante gender violence events, and she thoughtfully formulates possible policy solutions for reducing the frequency of these deplorable tragedies,” said Christopher Chase-Dunn, director of the Institute for Research on World-Systems at the University of California–Riverside. “Her analysis of the stresses produced when status characteristics are changing sheds light on contemporary patterns of violence, and as she notes, reveals similarities between the dynamics of race and gender relations.”
Álvarez said she hopes by examining the issues surrounding gender terrorism, it can be eradicated.
“One hundred years ago in this country, I couldn’t vote,” Álvarez said. “I couldn’t get a credit card unless my husband signed for me. It’s possible the type of gender violence we witness in this book could change within my lifetime.”
Vigilante Gender Violence is available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at the publisher’s website at www.routledge.com/Vigilante-Gender-Violence-Social-Class-the-Gender-Bargain-and-Mob-Attacks/Alvarez/p/book/9780367249083.