Don't Wait for Women to Die to Honor Them: In Memory of Lauren McCluskey

This Monday, October 22nd, the University of Utah student lost the bright-eyed, talented track star, and soon-to-be graduate, Lauren McCluskey, when she was tragically slain on campus by an ex-boyfriend. Floods of news coverage detailed the devastating moments leading up to her death, and this Wednesday, a vigil on campus was held to honor her soul that left the world too soon.  

Though many of us will remember the text alert “Shooting on campus. Secure-in-place,” the feelings of stomachs dropping, and the weight of despair that settled over campus in the days following, I want you to remember her name, Lauren McCluskey, above all else. I want you to remember her face. I want you to remember her accomplishments. I want you to remember the bright blue color of her eyes. Because if we remember the face of her assailant, or the events of her tragic death, before we remember Lauren, we are only serving mentalities which devalue the importance of women and their individual lives. Much like thousands of other men in domestic dispute cases like this one, Lauren’s murderer dehumanized this loving daughter and honors student in the name of his own interests. But unfortunately, her story is one of many—though it does not make her passing any less devastating. According to NBC News, “Nearly three U.S women will be killed by intimate partners every day.” To some news sources, Lauren is just a statistic in the staggering amount of women victimized by domestic abuse per year in the United States. But we cannot let women’s lives be devalued any longer, nor can we let women become “yet another” statistic in “yet another” heartbreaking news story. These are real lives.

Devaluing women and disrespecting their lives is nothing new, in contexts in and outside of news stories. Every day, men feel unrightfully entitled to women’s bodies and women’s lives, whether it be in the form of physically/mentally-abusive relationships, sexual assaults, or tragic murders like Lauren McCluskey’s. Though abuse and assault is not exclusive to heterosexual relationships, men are the overwhelming majority of intimate partner abusers, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. But why is this? Is this domineering and abusive behavior hardwired into male DNA, or are these males being societally conditioned to believe that their wants and needs are more important than their female counterparts’? While some studies suggest that testosterone has a role in aggressive behavior, I definitely side with the latter alternative.

So how do we proceed? Quite simply, we teach men that women are valuable without them, that women’s lives are intrinsically valuable, and deserve to be treated as such. Women don’t earn their worth through relationships or loyalty to men, nor do they earn value on the basis of sexuality or subservience. Once we consider women an asset to our community (beyond the territory of sex and being a housewife), we absolutely need to teach men that the world owes them nothing. Occupying a male body does not automatically guarantee winnings in the subservience lottery. Yet, unfortunately, society encourages this sense of entitlement, and nods in agreement with men who claim that women are taking “their jobs” and “their roles.” Newsflash: men you are not entitled to a woman’s body. You are not entitled to a job, a particular career, or a particular wage. I hope men will come to realize that we live in an unfair world, even when our culture constantly rewards maleness.  Believe it or not, women can break up with you any time they want. They can stop being in love with you at any given moment. They can take “your” job, because they are equally capable. Women are powerful. Women are strong. Women have worth that has nothing to do with you.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to stop supporting a culture that dehumanizes women. Whether this dehumanization happens at a smaller scale (objectification, sexualization, etc.), or becomes an evil and tactful strategy to kill another human being, it all needs to stop. But how can we affect change in daily lives through our own actions? We stop objectifying women. Objectification is a textbook example of dehumanization because it does exactly that, it turns a living breathing woman into an object. Despite popular belief, women are not objects of desire; they are not sexual objects. They are not manifestations of YOUR dreams and YOUR wants. Lauren McCluskey was a living breathing woman with goals, aspirations, and dreams of her own, and her murderer robbed her of that.

Though we, as women, should remember stories like Lauren’s horrific and heartbreaking death when we walk to our cars late at night, and begin to notice signs of abusive behavior in our own relationships, we should also work to separate the political implications from Lauren’s death whenever possible. This is absolutely essential in honoring her life in the way that we should. Lauren was valuable, important, and worth discussion before her death, and we shouldn’t believe anything different. Lauren’s worth in the world does not begin and end with her death. So with that, don’t wait for women to die to honor them, encourage shifts in toxic cultures and mentalities, and value women and their lives just as you value your own.

All of us at Her Campus Utah send our thoughts and prayers to the McCluskey family during this difficult time

Photo Source: Refinery 29