Reclaiming the Conversation: “Cowardice”

Whenever there’s a new terrorist attack such as the May 2017 attack on Ariana Grande concertgoers in Manchester, I hear myriad voices proclaiming it “cowardly” or an act of “cowardice.” I always thought this was strange. What in particular about a suicide bomber coincides with the meaning of “cowardice”?

From dictionary.com, cowardice is: “lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.”

Suicide bombers are perhaps the ultimate facers of danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc. Even non-suicide terrorists face substantial danger and difficulty.  If anything, terrorists virtually fearless; one wishes they were more fearful (fearful enough not to do such horrible things).

I think this jump to the misnomers of “cowardly” & “cowardice” has to do with our culture’s exaltation of machismo.  Since men being aggressive and courageous is seen as good (manly = good), then some might naturally consider the opposite, “cowardly,” as a sweeping pejorative for anything that is “bad, ” regardless of the term’s relevance. This is similar to how “gay” or any reference to being womanly were used as general, all-purpose insults in the misogynist heyday, whereas in modern times, “cowardly” is accepted as as an “unbiased” alternative.

In addition, I think there’s a subtle kind of misogyny backflip to misandry which considers men as “fair game” in any violent attack, but that woman, being “inferior” and “in need of manly protection,” are “out of bounds” and unfair to hurt in any way. This is why there’s always a special mention of “women and children” in any civilian attack, to emphasize the “horror” of attacking “defenseless” women with bombs  (which to my mind, we’re all defenseless against). So, in this sense, “cowardly” could mean that women (and children) were harmed in an indiscriminate terror attack.

Contrary-wise, if we were to talk more openly about the culture of macho expectations and entitlement, and the violent frustrations it can inspire (including domestic violence), the conversation might veer dangerously towards criticizing our own culture and challenge our tenacious misogyny. An honest discussion of the causes and effects of aggressive “courageous” terrorism could help diminish the politics of exalted violence. It could even lead to calls to empower “womanly” virtues and decry state-sponsored violence, but we could not tolerate that. Men are altogether too “tough” to listen.  #masculinitysofragile

Also, let’s stop agreeing that terrorists are “cowards.”  They’re macho, callous, aggressive, apathetic, cruel, desperate, thoughtless, anti-feminist murderers.

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