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Letter to the editor: Mollie Tibbetts’ murder and the repercussions of violent masculinity

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Mollie Tibbetts. — photo via findingmollie.iowa.gov

By Meggie Gates

Twenty-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was pronounced dead on Aug. 21. After a month of heartache for family and friends, Tibbetts, who would be a sophomore at the University of Iowa, was finally located following video footage submitted by a neighbor. The footage showed her running in an area east of Brooklyn as a Black Chevy Malibu followed her. Police investigation of the tape led to identifying the murderer: a 24-year-old man who had been living under the radar for seven years in Brooklyn, Iowa. His name is Cristhian Bahena Rivera.

An “illegal alien,” as he was described by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in the press briefing.

The identity of the killer sparked outrage across the nation. Social media could not stop discussing the status of the undocumented immigrant who attacked Mollie. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds tweeted, “As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can to bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”

His race was immediately called in to question. From everyone. People on both sides of the argument were torn. On one hand, this was an opportunity to finally win wider support for the desired wall people had been discussing since Donald Trump’s candidacy. On the other, people did not want this one incident to spoil America’s outlook on an entire community. Regardless, nobody knew where to begin with the conversation. They were mad, confused and hurt to see somebody so young succumb to such a heinous crime. If Mollie can fall victim to violence, anyone can. Especially young, vulnerable women.

Where do we begin fixing the problem?

According to the World Health Organization, 38 percent of murdered women face death at the hands of intimate male partners. In the United States alone, nearly three women are murdered by current or romantic partners every day. The list of statistics highlighting male violence against women is deafening. It is a problem that has been interwoven in society since the start of time, when we decided how exactly we would view gender. Men were fed narratives of power; women, ideas of staying proper. If femininity is not characterized as weak, it’s hypersexualized. It’s gotten so bad, a book prize has been established to award people who create narratives that avoid violence against women.

Media is consumed every day. Stories spill over into life and fear is created, fear that makes people lash out in hopes of feeling safe. Following news of Mollie’s death, Tomi Lahren tweeted, “Just watch as all the Liberals go out of their way to defend the illegal immigrant who killed Mollie Tibbetts. Is he one of your DREAMers, too? Sick.” Politicians began blaming immigration laws for her death. Republicans notorious for anti-immigration rhetoric started speaking out about how disgraceful immigration laws are in America. The quick-fix suggestions focused on what can be controlled: harder tests to gain citizenship, more regulation at the border.

Fear mongering that dehumanizes immigrant communities.

Foreign-born people make up more than 13 percent of the population. The Department of Justice released a report that found 5.6 percent of inmates in federal, state and local prisons are foreign-born. Crime is so highly associated with the Hispanic community that assumptions are made regardless of the person. Women fear facing deportation if they come forward with reports of abuse. Children are put in cages for fear of what they may become. The law is enforced with bias. We turn a cheek to the fact evil men and women exist in the world regardless of race, hoping to control what is uncertain.

The solution is much more difficult than writing off an entire community of people. Steps have been taken. The #MeToo movement has given women a platform to speak about the sexual harassment and assault they face. More men conscientiously rework how they conduct themselves with women to avoid overstepping. Still, more must be done. More should be done.

Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable running alone in their hometown.

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What happened to Mollie is a tragedy. It sheds light on why women today constantly fear for their safety, why so many of my friends carry keys in between their knuckles to feel safe walking home. Take this as an opportunity to realize how gender has disproportionately plagued women worldwide. More than 1 in 10 women have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their life. In none of these situations are women wondering “is he a legal citizen?”

They are afraid because he’s a man.

Masculinity is tied to power aimed to control through selfish gains. Femininity is associated with vulnerability and, often, weakness. It’s not impossible to break this narrative, but it starts with self-awareness. It starts with recognizing how your behavior feeds into what is expected from you.

If we’re going to fix our country, we’re not going to fix it with a wall built off taxpayer money. We’re going to fix it by fixing our people. We’re going to fix it by breaking through walls that have boxed us in since the very beginning. There’s power in compassion. There’s power in empathy. There is good and bad in the world. Choose good.

It’s a question of morals, not color.


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