It was not my original reason to fly from New York City to El Paso, Texas, this past Monday. I planned to travel to the borders of Texas and Mexico to document the truth about the migrant conditions there. As a journalist, I needed to see it for myself, rather than rely on the reports of others. And as Executive Director of Women’s eNews, I felt our readers deserved to know the truth about the conditions there. Women’s eNews, as a non-profit organization, can report on it like few other news outlets can, since we are not beholden to any corporate funding or interests, thereby devoid of any outside influences.
But just two days before my arrival, El Paso became known for something that rivaled its popularity for its proximity to the Mexican border. It was the day that a gunman opened fire in a Wal Mart there, killing twenty-two people.
The hotel where I had already booked my stay was located just one-quarter mile from where the shooting took place. Intent on driving straight to the scene of the shooting upon my arrival, it was impossible to get to it since all of the nearby roads were blocked by police vehicles. A makeshift memorial was therefore set up at a location on higher ground providing the clearest view of the massive store below. Flowers, teddy bears, red balloon-shaped hearts, and white crosses bearing the names of those who were massacred, along with their photos, were laid across the concrete ground in a straight line, overflowing on all sides as the day wore on into night. Prayers were said. Countless tears were shed.
Yet I found it ironic that this memorial was actually located just outside the popular restaurant franchise known as Hooters. While I understood that its location provided the best view for visitors to pay their respects to the innocent victims who lost their lives in the sprawling Wal Mart store just below, I couldn’t help but think about how this entire scene served as a metaphor for where the real responsibility for mass shootings mostly lies, and our country’s resistance to acknowledge it as such.
For those who are not familiar with the Hooters restaurant chain, it operates close to five-hundred locations and franchises around the world, including forty-four locations throughout the US. Their wait staff is primarily comprised of young women whose required uniforms include tight-fitting and low-cut tops, with high-cut shorts. The name ‘hooters,’ in fact, is an American slang term for women’s breasts. And it is objectification of women, like these hostesses who are forced to wear revealing clothing, that has been shown to provide a direct link to male aggression toward women.
This is true of the Sutherland Springs church shooter in 2017, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, who was kicked out of the Air Force for “bad conduct” that included assaulting his wife and her child.
This is true of Connor Betts, the shooter behind the Dayton, Ohio, shooting on Sunday, August 4th, whose former classmate told CNN that Betts kept a “rape list” for girls. Another former classmate said Betts would talk about violence and use harsh language about women.
This is true of Omar Mateen, the man who carried out the Orlando shooting at the Pulse Nightclub, who reportedly beat his wife and called her the Afghan word for “slut.” Further, both shooters in San Bernardino and the Las Vegas killings at Mandalay Bay had stalked or abused women as well.
And while Patrick Crusius, who is responsible for the Sunday’s mass shooting in El Paso, did not mention any specific references about anger against women, he did post racist comments online suggesting “race mixing” is destroying the US. We also know that white supremacy and misogyny are closely related.
Yet none of this should come as a surprise since, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, the majority of mass shootings in the US are in some way related to domestic or family violence. Further, a recent report by Everytown indicates that in 54% of mass shootings, the killer also shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.
What was surprising, however, was that Hooters’ objectification of its female staff inside its restaurant was allowed to flow to the outside as well, where a small stand was set up to provide complimentary water, snacks and, even, hot dogs to first responders, the victims’ families and friends, and all others who came to show their respect for the innocent lives that were lost. And while this support is to be commended, it was in direct contrast to the environment displayed inside the restaurant, where there were signs hanging on the walls that read ‘Please Don’t Touch The Wildlife,’ t-shirts for sale with the American flag emblazoned on them, but with the word HOOTERS printed where the blue background and white stars would normally appear, and a selection of beer and shot glasses molded in the voluptuous silhouette of a typical Hooters server. The spouts to drink from were located exactly where the server’s head would normally be.
Yet this paradox of displaying support for the victims while simultaneously reinforcing objectification of women was not the only example of hypocrisy on display. Similarly, Donald Trump’s speech just one day earlier, when he stepped up to the White House podium on the day of the El Paso shooting to say that “hate has no place in America,” rivaled this exhibition.
By increasingly stoking racial and misogynistic tensions, from telling female Congresswomen of color to “go back to their country of origin” and encouraging chants of ‘Send Her Back,” at his rallies; to declaring that there were “fine people on both sides” at a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Va.; to using the word “animals” to describe people crossing the border while calling Mexicans rapists, murderers and criminals numerous times, the rhetoric is becoming more dangerous, as he is appearing more responsible.
And yet today, he will be visiting both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio to try to deliver a message of national unity, while ignoring calls not to attend by many leaders of these two cities who believe he has encouraged the shooters and has fanned the flames of division.
I will continue to report form El Paso on this and other related issues today, and over the next few days, as Women’s eNews continues to provide you with information you can count on, and believe in. Thank you for your support in enabling us to do so.