How much more clear does it have to get?
When men in Islamist theocracies assault, rape, and kill women, we have no problem calling it misogynist hatred. When they explicitly state that their motivation is to enforce God’s gender roles and put women in their place, we have no problem calling it misogynist hatred. And we have no problem laying the blame, in large part, on the culture that teaches this hatred, and on the thousands of ways both large and small that Islamist theocratic culture teaches this despicable concept of women.
So why is it so hard to see the Isla Vista shootings as motivated by misogyny?
A man participated regularly, and for some time, in online forums devoted to the hatred of women, part of a “men’s rights” (MRA) subculture devoted to the hatred of women. He made multiple YouTube videos devoted to the hatred of women. (The last one of which included the words, “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it”; “I’ve wanted a girlfriend, I’ve wanted sex, I’ve wanted love, affection, adoration, but you think I’m unworthy of it. That’s a crime that can never be forgiven”; and “If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you.”) He wrote a 140-page manifesto clearly outlining his vicious hatred of women, and his dehumanizing view of them, as his motivation for the crime he was about to commit. (A manifesto that said, among many other things, that “Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with”; that “The ultimate evil behind sexuality is the human female”; that “Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order to prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such”; and that ” I cannot kill every single female on earth, but I can deliver a devastating blow that will shake all of them to the core of their wicked hearts.”) As Lindsay Beyerstein wrote on Facebook: “I read Rodger’s manifesto twice. I wish all English comp students could formulate a thesis and support it as clearly as he did. Rodger told the world exactly why he went on this killing spree. He spelled it out in excruciating detail and sent his narrative of the killings to the media. In case that wasn’t enough, he made a series of YouTube videos to cement his narrative of his own crime in the public mind.”
Yet so many people are contorting themselves into pretzels to deny the connection between the Isla Vista shootings and misogyny. So many people are contorting themselves into pretzels to find any motivation at all other than misogyny. What the fuck is going on here?
Is it likely that many different factors played a role in these shootings? Of course. That doesn’t mean misogyny was not one of those factors, and a major one. Were men killed in the shooting spree as well as women? Yes. That doesn’t mean misogyny was not a major motivating factor: misogyny has splash damage that spatters blood onto men as well as women. Is it possible that some sort of mental or emotional disturbance played a role in the Isla Vista shootings? Sure. A case could be made that misogynist hatred on this level is, in and of itself, a clear symptom of being disturbed. A case could be made that misogynist hatred on this level is, in and of itself, by definition, deeply disturbed. That doesn’t make it not misogyny.
What’s more, many people are falling all over themselves to chide feminists for bringing up misogyny, for “politicizing” the Isla Vista shootings and “using” it to advance our agenda. It’s weird. When we talk about the Boko Haram schoolgirl kidnappings and connect it with misogynist Islamist theocracy, it’s not “politicizing”; when activists around the world screamed in agony over four little black girls blown up in a church by hateful racists, it wasn’t “politicizing.” But somehow, connecting the dots between (a) a man who explicitly and repeatedly named misogyny and the dehumanization of women as the motivation for his mass murder, and (b) misogynist elements of our culture that treat the dehumanization of women as normal and acceptable — somehow, that’s “politicizing.”
What the actual fucking fuck is going on here?
I’m not talking here about the misogynist MRAs themselves, and their denial of the role misogyny played in Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree. That’s obvious: of course they want to deny that their hateful subculture had anything to do with motivating Rodger. (Except for the ones who see Rodger as a hero. Seriously.) I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about basically decent people, people who are outraged by the shootings and appalled by misogyny — but who still don’t see a connection, and are arguing themselves blue in the face denying that there’s a connection.
Part of this, I think, is racial. As many others have pointed out before me: When black or brown men kill, they get called terrorists or criminals. When white men (or men who are seen as white) kill, they get called mentally ill. But I don’t think that’s all of it.
I think people don’t want to see the role that misogyny played in Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree, because it’s intensely painful to see.
A part of me — a very, very small part, like maybe a nanoliter — sympathizes with the desire to deny misogyny. The depth and breadth of misogyny in the world is an intensely painful thing to accept. It is hard to accept that the #YesAllWomen hashtag, with its hundreds of thousands of women sharing their stories there, is not coming from a handful of hardcore feminists — it is a reflection of the everyday ubiquity of misogyny, dehumanization, sexual entitlement, rape culture, and violence against women. It is hard to accept that high school students think the Steubenville rape wasn’t rape because the woman was unconscious and therefore didn’t say No. It is hard to accept that eighth grade students think a girl who says No to dates is at fault when the student who asked her brings a gun to school to threaten her. It is hard to accept that only three percent of rapes in the United States will result in conviction and prison. It is hard to accept that treating women like shit and deliberately undermining their self-esteem is a popular and widespread pick-up technique. It is hard to accept that getting women blind drunk is widely considered an appropriate way to get them to fuck you. It is hard to accept the thousands upon thousands of ways that our media and our culture treat sexual consent as trivial.
Yes, that’s hard to accept. It is even harder to live. Being a woman who recognizes the reality of misogyny is really fucking painful. At best, it is enraging; at worst it is depressing, humiliating, exhausting, and demoralizing. It is extraordinarily hard to live with the knowledge that much of the world sees you as a thing. It is hard to live with the knowledge that in thousands of ways both large and small, both conscious and unconscious, many of the people around you see you as a status symbol to be acquired or rejected, based on your position in an imaginary, supposedly objective scale of hotness. It is hard to live with the knowledge that many of the people around you think men are entitled to have sex with any woman they want, and will treat you as a cockteasing bitch if you don’t comply. It is hard to live with the knowledge that many of the people around you see you as a machine that dispenses sex when the right coinage is put in. It is hard to live with the knowledge that many of the people around you think that when the machine doesn’t work, they have the right to kick it.
This is an intensely painful thing to understand. Once you understand it, it is an intensely painful thing to be reminded of. I spent the days following the Isla Vista shootings in a daze, my depression worse than it’s been in a long time. And once you know about it, you can’t un-know it. It’s like the red pill in The Matrix. You can’t un-swallow it — and it is a hard pill to swallow. A very, very small part of me can see why some people are looking at the misogyny driving Elliot Rodger, the identical misogyny expressed every day in the MRA and PUA forums, this grotesque overt misogyny that is simply a magnified reflection of the somewhat subtler misogyny that is widespread and deeply ingrained in our culture… and are covering their eyes and sticking their fingers in their ears. Because if all of that were real, the world would be a terrible place to live in, and we would have to fucking well deal with it, take responsibility for the ways we ourselves perpetuate it, and bust our asses trying to change it. Therefore, it can’t be true. Q.E.D.
Yes, all of this is hard to accept. I’d like to escape from it, too. It must be nice to see misogyny as a distraction, an annoyance that shows up now and then on your Twitter feed — as opposed to the sea of shit that women swim in every day. But if we want to be decent human beings, we have to accept this reality. We have to fucking well deal with it. We have to take responsibility for the ways we ourselves perpetuate it. We have to bust our asses trying to change it. At the very least, at the barest minimum of decency, we have to not ignore this reality — and we have to not try to shut women up who are talking about it.
Our culture breeds sexism, misogyny and the trivialization and dehumanization of women. And this isn’t a universal, unchangeable fact of human nature. Some countries and cultures have more violence in general, and specifically more violence against women, than others. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to think that misogynist culture is part of what breeds misogynist violence. Misogyny in our culture is like that famous urban legend. The call is coming from inside the house. And that means that we can change it — and that we have an urgent responsibility to do so.