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The Manchester Attack Was an Attack on Femininity

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

On May 22, almost 21,000 people gathered in Manchester for a profound celebration of freedom, love, and the strength of women. Not only was this celebration profound, but it was revolutionary. For a very long time, women on this planet were viewed as no more than the property of men. When we began to stray from that narrative, we did so slowly. At the time the U.S. Constitution was written, it was assumed without controversy that women would not be allowed to vote.  There are still plenty of people today who can remember a time in America in which it was frowned upon for a woman to have an education and a career. So when a highly successful career woman like Ariana Grande stands onstage in the name of freedom and femininity? And 21,000 people support her, encourage her, even aspire to be like her? This act is so rebellious, so threatening to the long-established misogynistic norms of this world, that it elicited a terrorist attack.

Twenty-two people were murdered at Grande’s concert. Among these twenty-two revolutionaries was eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, who died as she attended the concert with her mom and sister. Another revolutionary, 18-year-old college student Georgina Callander, died at the concert after she tweeted Ariana on Sunday saying, “SO EXCITED TO SEE U TOMORROW." A 32-year-old woman named Kelly Brewster died while her body was protecting her sister and 11-year-old niece from the explosion. Each of these twenty-two people took the brave and rebellious route of rejecting misogyny and choosing love. Attending an Ariana Grande concert is an act of resilience in a world that shudders at the thought of a “dangerous woman."

Maybe this isn’t the narrative you’ve understood about the Manchester attack. Maybe you’ve viewed it as a senseless act of violence, and the venue was of sheer convenience—21,000 people gathered in one building. However, acts of terrorism have very specific objectives. There are countless concerts and sporting events every day. There’s a reason that the attackers chose an Ariana Grande concert. First of all, there’s the publicity: there’s no doubt that an attack at such a venue would be a headline on every news outlet. But why did they want this publicity? What message were the terrorists trying to send? Simply put, they were demonstrating that femininity is a threat. As Spencer Kornhaber states in The Atlantic, “There’s really no exaggeration in saying Grande stands for freedom—female freedom, and also the general freedoms of expression the liberal West aspires to embody.” She’s a self-described feminist, but, compared to the likely values of the attackers, simply existing as a woman with a successful career is a flagrantly feminist move. Grande’s success, which is a product of her millions of supporters, exists in direct opposition to the misogynistic ideals of ISIS and other terrorist organizations. The Manchester attack, of course, was likely not meant to target Grande as an individual, or even her specific fan base, but rather, it was meant to target a culture that allows someone like Grande to emerge.

For generation after generation, global norms relied on a binary. Masculinity and strength were on one end of the spectrum, and femininity and weakness were on the other end. The further you got from masculinity, the weaker you got, and the more masculine you were, the stronger you were. Countless cowardly men were kept in power due to this binary. They did not possess any authentic strength, but, because they were men, their strength and superiority over women was assumed. Our generation is destroying this binary, and Ariana Grande is one of the primary faces of this destruction. Femininity and strength are no longer on opposite ends of the spectrum. Instead of combatting her femininity in order to be a “strong woman," Grande is both strong and feminine. Her image is the epitome of femininity: her Instagram typically boasts photos of her wearing a long ponytail, fake eyelashes, and bunny ears. And yet, she is strong by every definition of the word—successful, intelligent, outspoken, independent. Her femininity and strength coexist not in spite of one another, but because of one another. This phenomenon is revolutionary.

Grande’s fans may don't just recognize it; they too are revolutionary. They are strong, independent, proud, confident women wearing little dresses and cat ears and pink balloons. Sweet little Saffie, the eight-year-old victim, was revolutionary. She was a dangerous woman: dangerous because simply by existing, she was stripping wicked misogynists of their power. And the terrorist organizations were threatened by her. Their strength is built upon masculinity, and when strength and masculinity are no longer synonymous, these cowards are left only with a useless, empty masculinity. Terrorist organizations were threatened by Saffie Rose Roussos because by attending an Ariana Grande concert, she unknowingly rejected the binary that separates femininity and strength. When you destroy that binary, entire institutions are endangered.

I say this not to glorify or romanticize these murders. Let it be known that these people are dead due to an act of pure evil. The attack was a cowardly, disgusting demonstration put on by cowardly, disgusting people. The victims did not want to die and they did not deserve to die. They still had love to spread. They still had stories to tell. They were each going to change the world in a unique way that only they could do. And now there is a void left in our human family, a void that only they could fill. The world is something less without them.

Rather, I seek to remind you that the Manchester attack act was not an isolated event. It is in congruence with humanity’s larger narrative: a narrative in which, up until very recently, women were seen as the indisputably inferior sex. Terrorism exists to threaten a way of life, and Grande symbolizes a way of life in which women and men are equally powerful and deserving of love. Until the terrorists have threatened that way of life, they have not won. As Sophie Gilbert says in The Atlantic, the Manchester attack “reminds girls and young women that there will always be people who hate them simply because they were born female.”

We may not be able to stop terrorists, but we can ensure that they don’t win. We must continue to stand in defiance, celebrating the same revolutionary freedom and love that our twenty-two victims were celebrating. The terrorists will not strip us of our feminine strength, because as soon as they’ve done so, they have won. This is my challenge to everyone whose heart is hurting because of the evil that has been so poignantly demonstrated this week: as an act of rebellion against these terrible acts, go out into the world and exist as a dangerous woman.


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