Our old friend Jessica Valenti-who has never lost an opportunity to decry what she sees as the “false feminism of Sarah Palin” or to attack IWF (here and here)-turned her attention last week to the shootings in Tucson Not surprisingly, Ms. Valenti believes our society embraces “violent masculinity as the ideal” and that this caused the tragedy. She blames especially female politicians who resorted to using masculine imagery-that would include, of course, Ms. Palin:

After all, the phrase – and sentiment – “man up” was one of the most popular in the 2010 elections. In the Colorado Senate primary, Republican Jane Norton accused her opponent of not being “man enough”; in the Delaware Senate primary, Republican Christine O’Donnell said that her opponent was “unmanly”; Angle told Harry Reid to “man up”; and Palin praised Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as having “the cojones that our president does not have” to enforce immigration laws.

In a country that sees masculinity – especially violent masculinity – as the ideal, it’s no wonder that this type of language resonates. But it’s a sad state of affairs when women in politics have to resort to using the same gendered stereotypes that kept all women out of public service for so long.

First of all, I don’t think our society embraces “violent masculinity” as an ideal. We have embedded in our DNA certain standards of masculine behavior-meeting obligations to one’s family, behaving in a decent manner to women, and, if you want to be old-fashioned, being a gentleman. I’ll be the first to admit that these standards are being eroded, but mainly by the breakdown of the family, not by a “violent” ideal. Second, this is just about what I would expect from Ms. Valenti.   

Meanwhile, the New York Times has a peculiar profile of Jared Loughner (“Looking Behind the Mug-Shot Grin”) in the Sunday paper. It is overwritten in the way that pieces without much information are often overwritten as a way to stretch a scanty collection of facts-only there was plenty of new material. In the piece, Loughner comes across as almost a victim. He had experienced “stinging rejection,” including from “his country’s military.”

One of the most revealing moments in the profile came when the reporters refused to look squarely at an anecdote they themselves had unearthed: In the ninth grade, Loughner’s parentswent on a trip, leaving him behind. Before leaving, Mrs. Loughner gave to the mother of the family where Jared would be staying a document granting her power of attorney for Jared. “This is how I knew his mom doted on Jared,” the woman is quoted saying. “She thought of everything for her son.” Hmmm. That sounds more like a mother who knows that her son has serious mental problems and the potential to be big trouble. But that doesn’t fit in with the Times thesis about why Loughner acted as he did:

He became an echo chamber for stray ideas, amplifying, for example, certain grandiose tenets of a number of extremist right-wing groups – including the need for a new money system and the government’s mind-manipulation of the masses through language.

The profile admits that Loughner’s “anger would well up” at the mere sight of George W. Bush on TV. But, in noting that Loughner felt he had paid for his college classes illegally because he did not use gold or silver, the paper helpfully  adds “a standard position among right-wing extremist groups.” The piece is overwritten because the reporters refused to look at what they had found and because it didn’t back of their thesis. Like Jessica Valenti, they wear ideological blinders.

But read the piece–it’ll show you a young man who heard only the rhetoric in his own head.