Toxic Masculinity Claims Life of Another Asian American Woman

Anna Bui, in a photo posted to her social media.
Anna Bui, in a photo posted to her social media.

Last week, toxic masculinity claimed its latest victims. In Mukilteo, Washington, 19-year-old Allen Ivanov has been arrested after driving to a house party where several of his high school friends were gathering, and shooting to death his ex-girlfriend, Anna Bui, along with two fellow classmates, Jordan Ebner and Jake Long; a fourth unidentified friend was also injured in the attack.

Ivanov killed Bui, Ebner and Long, with a legally purchased AR-15 which he appears to have bought specifically to carry out the attack. Pictures of the long-gun were posted to Ivanov’s social media in the days prior to the attack, along with cryptic messages about his plans to carry out the murders. After shooting Bui and their friends, Ivanov escaped and was arrested in his car nearly 100 miles from the scene of the attack. Both Ivanov and Bui were identified as students at the University of Washington, and over the weekend, the school sent out an email mourning the shooting and encouraging students to attend grief counseling.

Friends say that Bui had broken up with Ivanov either a month ago and/or in the week prior to the attack (depending on whom you ask), and she seems to have been the primary target of his assault. One friend told the Daily Mail that Ivanov had been “depressed” after his relationship with Bui ended, and that minutes after the shooting, Ivanov sent a text saying “I just killed my ex-girlfriend” and contemplated suicide. Other friends described Ivanov as incapable of such violence; but, in contrast, that he “often had a jealous side” and that he acted as if he had “something to prove”.

Anna Bui is the latest name in a heartbreaking list of women whose lives were taken by men who resort to violence in the wake of the ending of an intimate relationship — like Bui, many of those women are Asian American women. The role of toxic masculinity and misogylinity, and its assertion of male entitlement over female sexuality, in violent killings such as these cannot be ignored.  According to the White House, 40% of mass shootings in the United States begin with a shooter targeting a current or former romantic partner, while intimate partner violence is four times more likely to involve a female victim than a male one. Put another way: 70% of victims killed by an intimate partner are women.

Intimate partner violence is a real problem for AAPI women (as it is for all women, including all women of colour), and it deserves more of our attention. The Asian American Psychological Association reports that 1 in 10 AAPI women report minor violence from an intimate partner, while 1.2% experience severe violence. The Association further suggests that intimate partner violence may be grossly underreported in our community; in other microstudies, 40-60% of AAPI women surveyed reportedly experienced some form of intimate partner violence.

From AAPIData
From AAPIData

Too  often, intimate partner violence escapes our attention except under the most heartbreaking of circumstances — when non-fatal violence escalates to murder. In 2013, 36 AAPI women were killed by a male in a single offender/single victim incident. Review of 160 cases of violence within Asian families spanning a six-year period reveal that 70% of homicide victims were adult women, and 83% of perpetrators were adult men. Sadly, we can put faces to those statistics. Last week, Allen Ivanov shot and killed Anna Bui, presumably out of retaliation for her decision to end their relationship. In 2009, Annie Le was brutally murdered by a fellow co-worker at Yale, Raymond J. Clark III, after rejecting his unwanted romantic advances. In the same week, Felicia Lee was apparently murdered by her live-in boyfriend, Brian Randone. Two years ago, 20-year-old Tong Shao, a student at Iowa State University, was killed by Iowa University student and former boyfriend, Li Xiangnan, after an argument in which Tong attempted to breakup with him. In that same year, Su Hsin was murdered by Su Chen, her partner of several years, before he turned his gun upon himself. (HT JF) Just this past weekend, 35-year-old Vantha Tho was shot to death in Hermosa Beach by her former boyfriend, Angel Marquez, in an apparent murder-suicide.

The list goes on, and on, and on (see Tables 5 and 7 of this report); and while we might instinctively focus on stories like these when they are part of a sensationalized, headline-grabbing murder, to do so only under such circumstances does this issue a disservice. We need to talk about intimate partner violence not as isolated incidents, but as a systemic problem affecting all women, including AAPI women and all women of colour.

A few weeks back, I listened to an NPR story exploring a recent report issued by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence on the state’s Asian American victims and survivors of domestic violence. CCADV is a local non-profit dedicated to preventing domestic violence, and for the first time, they are committing resources to addressing the issue in a culturally-specific manner; they are by no means the only non-profit in the state or the nation to focus on intimate partner violence as it affects communities of colour or AAPI communities specifically. Nonetheless, among the issues identified in CCADV’s report as hindering AAPI women from coming forward on the topic of domestic violence are: language barriers, and the cultural, political and social isolation faced by recently immigrated women whose legal immigration status might be tied to an abusive domestic partner. For women who face the latter issues, the American legal system is more often foe than friend. That was the case with Nan-Hui Jo, a Korean woman whose lapsed visa status stymied efforts to escape her abusive domestic partner whom she feared would one day take her life and the life of their child. When Jo eventually fled the United States with her daughter to escape her abuser, she — and not her abusive partner — was arrested, charged, and convicted on child kidnapping charges when she returned years later.

From a report on homicides related to intimate partner violence:

“Women are dying every day as a result of domestic violence, and our state and federal laws are insufficient in the face of this crisis,” states VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “State and federal policymakers should take immediate action to help protect women from abusers and prevent future tragedies. This should include ensuring that men with a history of domestic abuse do not have access to guns.”

“When men murder women, the most common weapon used is a gun,” says Julia Wyman, executive director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence. “Closing gaps in state and federal gun laws will save women’s lives.”

We need a sea change in how we deal with intimate partner violence. Rather than allowing legislators to co-opt laws originally designed to protect domestic violence victims, and to use them instead to criminalize immigrant and AAPI women, we need to at last hold our legislators really, actually accountable to enacting better measures that protect victims of intimate partner violence, particularly as intimate partner violence impacts women of colour.

Furthermore, we need to stand up to toxic masculinity and its violent logic. As a nation, we need to have real and frank conversations about masculinity and misogylinity, and the devastating impact that toxic masculinity has on both men and women. No young man should grow up believing that his masculinity is defined by his entitlement over a woman politically or sexually, and no woman should die at the hands of someone who believes violence is appropriate retribution for the assertion of her self-agency.

Read More: For extensive discussion of intimate partner violence within the AAPI community, including a list of cases involving intimate partner homicides and homicide-suicides involving AAPI victims and perpetrators, please see Shattered Lives: Homicide, Domestic Violence and Asian Families, a report by the API Institute on Domestic Violence.

 

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  • Aren’t people supposed to define their terminology before littering their arguments with them?

    I assume people on the internet are capable of using the internet to find definitions of common words and phrases. “Toxic masculinity” is about two decades old a term in feminist theory, and most of my regular readers are typically aware of the lingo.

    It makes about as much sense to me to have to define the term as it would make sense to have to constantly define “racism” whenever it is used. That being said, I do occasionally write primer posts about lingo, so I bet if you continued to read the site regularly, a “toxic masculinity” post might eventually be written.

    you blatantly perform reductionism yourself with the above quoted passage, by placing anyone who uses this post in the manner you claim I am, into one box implying their motives are singular and can be nothing else.

    Of course not. I say nothing of motive. I say that if one centers men in a conversation about female victims of violence, then they are centering men in a conversation about female victims of violence. That’s a way to derail a conversation.

    And it remains reductionist to view this entire issue through trying to vilify certain groups of men. There is, quite simply, no evidence that Asian men (or Black men or White men or whatever) are more racially violent than others, and it makes zero sense to pursue that line of thinking.

    Can you even describe “non-toxic masculinity”? Is all masculinity toxic?

    No, of course not all masculinity is toxic. Progressive masculinity is a masculinity that is distinguished from toxic masculinity by being divorced in its defining characteristics from behaviours that are toxic (to men and to women).

    Conventional toxic masculinity would define masculinity by, for example, exerting power (politically, sexually, physically) over women and/or other non-conventionally masculine people. It assumes that all men must prove their proximity to a masculine ideal by proving their distance from anything deemed non-masculine, and that being a man is basically about being as manly (non-emotional, aggressive or assertive, heterosexually attractive, promiscuous, etc) as possible.

    Toxic masculinity is considered toxic in feminist circles because we believe that for men this is a quest for pure truth — no man can ever actually be the masculine ideal (or it wouldn’t be an ideal) so men who are caught up in questing for it are harmed by this impossible churning. Meanwhile, this form of masculinity hurts women, gay men, gender-fluid people, and men of colour who for reasons of biology, culture, politics, etc are already prevented from ever being seen as embodying the masculine ideal (which is implicitly also coded as White and straight). It also hurts women in the case of this post because toxic masculinity also teaches that men are entitled to a woman’s sexuality if they are to be successfully masculine, and men are led to feel a sense of personal betrayal when a woman rejects him. Under toxic masculinity, if masculinity is about pursuing and possessing a woman, a woman’s rejection isn’t just a matter of her choice, it becomes a repudiation of a person’s masculinity itself.

    Progressive masculinity is contrasted against toxic masculinity because the former says that masculinity is not defined by an arbitrary standard set by society, and it’s certainly not defined by how you treat other people (i.e. by exerting power over non-masculine people). The latter says that one doesn’t seek to become masculine by proving one’s distance from non-masculine people. Progressive masculinity asserts that masculine identity is just a part of whom one is as a masculine person. It has room for heterosexual, conventionally masculine men of all races (so long as they don’t replicate toxic masculinity’s more sexist behaviours), but also gives room for masculinity to be equally accessible to gay or non-binary men because masculine is no longer defined without, but within.

  • Apology accepted. For the record, it kind of isn’t cool per the comment policy to insult people, including me, and I do kind of interpret the “you should rename the blog because you’ve got such bad logic” comment as kind of insulting. But, I get that you thought I had censored you, so I’m letting this one slide. I’m fine with disagreement along the lines of your comment below, as long as everyone treats everyone else in this space with respect and common courtesy.

    As for what happened to your comment — I don’t know. Disqus is currently set to permit first-time posters as evidenced by the fact that your first comment got through, but occasionally, it has viewed legitimate comments as spam and held them in the filter until I can catch them. I can’t see why it’s doing that except if 1) someone is posting in rapid succession, or 2) someone else on the site is running around arbitrarily flagging comments as spam, which temporarily hides comments and is just a big waste of that person’s time.

    If this continues, please email me since I don’t check the filter very regularly. A handy contact form is available in the links on the sidebar. Comment policy for the site is at the bottom of the page and, contrary to what commenters are saying here and elsewhere, I’m actually pretty happy to let people post dissent on the site, as long as they treat people on this space in the same way they would like to be treated in an offline space.

  • Matthew

    This is a good reply and very informative. Soooooo, your application of “toxic masculinity” to this article, implies you believe “toxic masculinity”, by your definition, is at play here? In all of these news articles you use to show other tragedies occurring, you believe “toxic masculinity” is involved in each? No other motives could be at play, just those based in “toxic masculinity”?

    Is jealousy a masculine trait? Fear of rejection a purely masculine trait? Deep anguish over being spurned masculine? For that matter, are any of these wholly toxic? Are any of these traits relegated to the male gender? I would assume many of these things could catalyze a healthy, growing reaction, thus sometimes non-toxic.

    The flaw in your rationale is that you assume all men think. That’s just blatantly wrong. Not all men are consciously or subconsciously on a quest for truth to become a real man. Many of these men aren’t actively trying to “conform” to society’s definition of “masculine”.

    There are a great deal of men in this world (i would argue a majority) who walk around just grunting and headbutting with blinders on, only able to see 6 feet in any direction (metaphorically). These guys are governed by their whatever random feeling that comes to them in any situation or scenario. These men don’t think about the things they do while they do it. They get angry, they hurt something. They get sad, they hurt something. They feel betrayed, they hurt something. There are women in this world that are the exact same way.

  • Matthew

    That’s a fair policy, and very rare for the internet in my experiences (which may be why I knee-jerked in my reaction so quickly). Anyway, thanks. I’m enjoying this discussion and will work to keep my words respectful.

  • lol, all good. thanks! 🙂

  • Soooooo, your application of “toxic masculinity” to this article, implies you believe “toxic masculinity”, by your definition, is at play here? In all of these news articles you use to show other tragedies occurring, you believe “toxic masculinity” is involved in each? No other motives could be at play, just those based in “toxic masculinity”?

    Well, no. I don’t think that I have — or am compelled to — argue that no other motives are at play. If we boil this down to formal logic, “x” being true does not necessarily mean that “not y” must also be true. Toxic masculinity being part of this mix in a complicated situation doesn’t also mean that, for example, overly lax gun laws might not also be a factor, or that other factors or motives were not also an influence. People are not simple. This post argues that toxic masculinity helped Ivanov arrive at the flawed logic that violence and killing made sense in reaction to Bui’s romantic rejection of him; it would be highly reductionist to argue it was the only factor, which is why I don’t make that particular argument.

    Is jealousy a masculine trait? Fear of rejection a purely masculine trait? Deep anguish over being spurned masculine? For that matter, are any of these wholly toxic? Are any of these traits relegated to the male gender? I would assume many of these things could catalyze a healthy, growing reaction, thus sometimes non-toxic.

    I think perhaps you might still be viewing this as trying to classify character traits as “masculine” or “feminine”, or “good” or “bad”. That is not the case. The case against toxic masculinity doesn’t argue that people should no longer experience human emotions, it seeks to question the specific logic of this social construct we call conventional masculinity. It’s not that “jealousy” is “good” or “bad”, or innately masculine or not. I argue that a jealousy that is predicated upon the thinking that one person’s sexual choices are a reflection of another person’s masculinity is problematic, because this sort of thinking rationalizes jealous (oftentimes violent) retribution. But, to point this out isn’t to also say that one person has no reason to be heartbroken or upset if their partner breaks a commitment of monogamy; that’s an entirely separate issue.

    Same with whether or not “fear of rejection” is masculine or not. Fear of rejection is fear of rejection, but one can certainly question the validity of that fear, if a romantic advance spurned is seen not just as heartbreak, but as a personal attack on another person’s gender identity, which is how toxic masculinity would define it.

    The flaw in your rationale is that you assume all men think.

    Well, I think I’m going to give people a little more credit than that. I’m not going to buy into the idea that men don’t think. I believe all people are thoughtful and considered in what they do.

    We can all agree that there is a female beauty ideal that is constructed by society, taught at birth to every person, and which is an inescapable standard against which a woman’s beauty — and also her femininity — is judged. Not every woman lives every minute of their lives actively doing everything they can to be a Victoria’s Secret model, but that beauty/femininity construct not only informs her life and how she will perceive of herself, but also influences how others perceive her. Individual women may choose to embrace or reject that construct, and make individual choices to be conscious or not conscious of it; it’s still there, a societal norm against which all femininity and beauty is compared and defined. It’s inescapable. That’s how systems of oppression work.

    There is a parallel masculine ideal, one that we can see overtly reflected in our media and advertising, against which men are taught “what it means to be a man.” That this is a common and prevailing social construct is evidenced by the fact that if I were to say a “manly man”, you know exactly what I’m talking about without me really needing to describe it. That this is common and prevailing is also evidenced by the fact that you actually already knew what I meant when I started talking about it, and extrapolated further that “manly men” react to emotions by hurting things, when there’s really no reason to think that reacting to emotion with violence is something innately programmed onto the Y chromosome. That reaction being something expected of men, and not conventionally expected of women, is part of the substance of this construct.

    And, when it comes to logic that would say that hurting PEOPLE in response to emotions is okay, we should all recognize that as a problem.

  • Jordan

    Why aren’t Arabic speaking people included in the chart?

  • Guest

    Are you white?

  • You do realize that the title of the chart is “Partner abuse prevalence rates by ethnicity,” right?

  • Richard Harrison

    Yeah because Asian Men don’t deserve Asian women right and that White men should have the privilege to take anything they want?

  • Jordan

    Ok, Syrian, Afghan, Lebanese, etc. Group all those dumb Muzzies into one group

  • someone1o1

    Remember that time when Jen stereotyped all Asian men as being misogynists when a half white Elliot Rodgers went on a murder spree? Remember how she forgot that three Asian men were killed too and ignored that conveniently to perpetuate racism against the victims of the crime?

    This is just a sequel.

    Sometimes it’s subtle sometimes it’s not.

    You might think that we Asian American men face more racism from white people, but Asian women have been the leading force in emasculating us(Esther Ku and the likes) and othering us by labelling us as misogynists and backwards barbarians (Amy Tan, and lot of asian bloggers including this author).

    So, thank you for another one of your (very subtle) Asian bashing.

  • someone1o1

    Lol.

  • someone1o1

    Dude she spends her life complaining about Asian men. One article about a violent white man and you lose your shit?

  • Matthew

    No one has lost their shit. I challenged her points and she has defended them with eloquence, as you can see from my continued conversation with her below. I don’t know the author’s history, this article is the first I’ve read of hers. You can’t expect everyone who reads this article to possess an autobiography of the author’s work. Nor can you expect the world to fairly judge every human being by the sum of their life’s work. That’s not realistic and you know it.

  • Also, that’s a fairly inaccurate summation that someone101 has offered to you in how I spend my time — both with regard to this blog and with regard to my otherwise very full life away from it — so there’s also that.

  • @Matthew, you had expressed some interest in more discussion on toxic masculinity. By coincidence, a Twitter user posted a really fantastic series of tweets earlier this week on toxic masculinity and its impact on men of colour that has been collected into a Storify and that is being widely shared right now through feminist networks. I thought you might be interested in reading it as it does a good job of explaining this concept, and particularly through a male lens.

    https://storify.com/miniver/toxic-masculinity

  • Guest, please review comment policy below.

  • Matthew

    I figured as much, which is one reason why I chose to respond and describe how you’ve been fair, at least to me, this entire time. 🙂

  • Contrary to popular reports, I am not a crazed man-hating harpy. 🙂

    BTW, I tagged you below on a Storify you might appreciate. Also, I wanted to thank you for also being so respectful of this space in our engagement below. You and I may or may not agree, but I really don’t think disagreement must always end in name-calling, banhammers, and general asshattery.

    Looking forward to our further discussion whenever you get a chance. I suggest if you have time to look at the Storify, it could be helpful in helping lay the groundwork on the feminist perspective of issues of masculine identity formation so at least we can be starting the conversation from the same place.

  • Matthew

    Thanks, I’ve bookmarked the Storify and will check it out. I agree with your thoughts. It’s one of my biggest annoyances how popular it is for so many disagreements to quickly turn into arguments. Most people, I’ve found, are incapable of hearing dissent and keeping a cool head. Once that happens, I usually lose all interest in the conversation as then it often becomes solely a chest-pumping exercise. I admit, I was the same in my early twenties. Now it just requires too much energy to maintain XD

  • MoreCommonSenseThanYou

    No one can emasculate you unless you let them and if you do then are just too weak to begin with.

  • someone1o1

    Oh so strength is masculine? How sexist.

    Masculinity being more of a social construct it is absolutely possible for the media and the society to emasculate you. Your comment is like”nobody can be racist unless you were weak to begin with”.

    Stupid of me to expect much from a regular reader of this blog.

    It’s common sense.

  • Ditto. I came up in the early Wild West days of the Internet, when I idealistically believed that greater connectivity would lead to greater shared discussion and understanding. I still believe that this is possible, but I also think that most online conversation these days is mired by some folks who think the best resolution to a disagreement is to troll one another, who mistake public displays of puerile tantrums as a substitute for rhetorical quality. I’m honestly really sad by what the Internet is, and what it could have been if people weren’t so quick to devolve a conversation into ugly behaviour as soon as any point of disagreement is found.

  • DiscusProfile

    Jenn’s not a crazed man hating harpy.

    She/it’s a crazed Asian man hating harpy.

    She loves whites and would jump off a bridge if a white man told her to.