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December 20, 2012

Middlebury Professor Fired from Forbes Blog for Post on Sandy Hook Shootings

Local-essig-1Laurie Essig has never shied away from controversy. In fact, there have been plenty of words used over the years to describe the professor of gender studies at Middlebury College  —"controversial," "freethinker," "threatening to the status quo" — but "shy" isn't one of them.

Thus, it wasn't surprising when Essig, who since September has been blogging for Forbes.com in a column called "Love, Inc." (ostensibly about romance and capitalism), wrote a post about last week's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Within hours, Essig was fired and her post, titled "Speaking the Unspeakable in Newtown," was removed from Forbes' website. Evidently, her read on the mass killings in Newtown, Conn. didn't sit well with Forbes' management.

"I thought this was on my 'beat' since it was about 'parentalism' and also hegemonic masculinity," Essig writes in an email to Seven Days, "but I guess it made someone up top pretty angry. My editor — I don't think it was her — said my blog was being 'sunsetted' (corporate speak for fired) because I had veered off my beat."

Essig goes on to explain that "This is just another form of privileging reproductive subjects in our political discourse, not to mention a certain sort of dominant masculinity that is at the center of heteronormativity. But the real issue — obviously — is I was too left wing for Forbes."

Caroline Howard, Essig's editor at Forbes, didn't reply to an email seeking her comment. Mia Carbonell, who oversees corporate communications for Forbes Media would say only that "Forbes does not comment publicly on personnel issues."

Here is Essig's original December 17 post. (Reprinted with the author's permission.)

Many people are already commenting on what can and cannot be said about the shootings in Newtown, CT. Words like unspeakable evil and gun control are said and unsaid as our country struggles to make sense of the incomprehensible. But some of the words being used about the tragedy are perhaps even more important to pay attention to. Words like “parents” are dominating much of President Obama’s and the nation’s public processing of the event even as other words like “masculinity” and “gender’ remain unsaid.

As I drove home from work Friday with two colleagues who are not parents, I cringed when I heard Obama’s words:

“I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do."

Our President was somehow suggesting that parents are more able to feel the pain and horror of this tragedy. This is in line with other ideological claims that people who are parents and are married are somehow better than and more deserving of rights than those who are not, but surely people who are not parents are just as grief stricken by the massacre at the Sandy Hook school.

It happened again yesterday when the President addressed the grieving community in Newtown. 

"With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them… It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children."

Although Obama offers all Americans the possibility of being “parents” he also continues to locate the need and desire to protect children in the role of reproduction and outside other roles like teachers or even adults who have close and binding relationships with children who are not their own.

Yet even as Obama made the love of children about the reproductive family, he refused to acknowledge the evidence that is before us: our love for children might in fact be far more about gender than about parenting. Consider these facts:

~There have been nineteen mass shootings in the past five years every single one of these mass shootings has been committed by a man

~On the exact same day the massacre in Newtown happened, a man in Chenpeng, China walked into a kindergarten and stabbed 22 children and an 85-year old. This is one of a growing number of knife attacks in China, all committed by men against school children and young women.

~ Far more women (and Blacks, Democrats, and residents of the Northeast) support gun control than men

As terrible as it is to say aloud, we must acknowledge that masculinity, far more than parenthood, is what makes these tragedies comprehensible. Even as we discuss what we as a country ought or ought not to do about gun control and mental illness, we also need to look deep inside ourselves and ask if there is something pathological about a masculinity so deeply and fully rooted in violence. That violence occurs in play- whether video games or sports, but it also occurs as a measure of manhood, a demand that “real men” are willing to kill for their country or even to “protect” their family. And until our President and we as a culture are willing to talk about manhood, the twentieth mass shooting will undoubtedly be just ahead on an increasingly grim horizon.

Seven Days file photo by Andy Duback

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