Laurie Penny has an angry piece in the New Staggers about misogyny and the rush to deny that misogyny makes any difference to anything.
This is not the first time that women and unlucky male bystanders have been massacred by men claiming sexual frustration as justification for their violence. In 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lépine shot 28 people at the École Polytechnique in Quebec, Canada, claiming he was “fighting feminism”. Fourteen women died. In 2009, a 48-year-old man called George Sodini walked into a gym in the Pittsburgh area and shot 13 women, three of whom died. His digital manifesto was a lengthier version of Rodger’s, vowing vengeance against the female sex for refusing to provide him with pleasure and comfort. Online misogynists approved.
“When men kill women, the underlying reason is almost always an unfulfilled psychosexual need . . . to men celibacy is walking death, and anything is justified in avoiding that miserable fate,” wrote “Roissy in DC” of the Pittsburgh killing, as reported by Jezebel in 2009. “At least it is implied that feminism is to blame and he is taking a last stand,” said another. “I had been waiting for this (almost thinking I had to do it myself) and I am impressed. Kudos.”
The ideology behind these attacks – and there is ideology – is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration”, in Rodger’s words. We owe them respect and obedience, and our refusal to give it to them is to blame for their anger, their violence – stupid sluts get what they deserve. Most of all, there is an overpowering sense of rage and entitlement: the conviction that men have been denied a birthright of easy power.
And it is what it is. It’s not something else. It’s absurd to be in denial about it. When people create public rage-rants about X set of people and say they’re going to kill X set of people and then immediately go out and kill some of X set of people, it’s not delusional or “ideological” to connect the rants and threats with the killing.
Why can we not speak about misogynist extremism – why can we not speak about misogyny at all – even when the language used by Elliot Rodger is everywhere online?
We are told, repeatedly, to ignore it. It’s not real. It’s just “crazy”, lonely guys who we should feel sorry for. But as a mental health activist, I have no time for the language of emotional distress being used to excuse an atrocity, and as a compassionate person I am sick of being told to empathise with the perpetrators of violence any time I try to talk about the victims and survivors. That’s what women are supposed to do. We’re supposed to be infinitely compassionate. We’re supposed to feel sorry for these poor, confused, vengeful individuals. Sometimes we’re allowed to talk about our fear, as long as we don’t get angry. Most of all, we mustn’t get angry.
We have allowed ourselves to believe, for a long time, that the misogynist subcultures flourishing on- and offline in the past half-decade, the vengeful sexism seeding in resentment in a time of rage and austerity, is best ignored. We have allowed ourselves to believe that those fetid currents aren’t really real, that they don’t matter, that they have no relation to “real-world” violence.
I haven’t. I haven’t allowed myself to believe that at all, and I don’t believe it. I don’t think it is best ignored; I think it’s best challenged and defeated, including driven underground if that’s possible. No, I don’t think it’s “healthier” to let it expose itself so that people can argue with it; I don’t think that’s how it works. I think the more it “exposes itself” the more recruits it gets and the hotter the rage gets. I think the whole thing needs to be fucking stopped, by shame and lost jobs and ostracism and every other social tool in the arsenal.
We have been told for a long time that the best way to deal with this sort of harrassment and violence is to laugh it off. Women and girls and queer people have been told that online misogynists pose no real threat, even when they’re sharing intimate guides to how to destroy a woman’s self-esteem and force her into sexual submission. Well, now we have seen what the new ideology of misogyny looks like at its most extreme. We have seen incontrovertible evidence of real people being shot and killed in the name of that ideology, by a young man barely out of childhood himself who had been seduced into a disturbing cult of woman-hatred. Elliot Rodger was a victim – but not for the reasons he believed.
Misogyny is nothing new, but there is a specific and frightening trend taking place, and if we’re not going to accept it, we have to call it by its name. The title of the PUA bible belies the truth: this is not a game. Misogynist extremism does not exist in a mystical digital fairyland where there are no consequences. It is real. It does damage. It kills. And this is no longer a topic where abstraction is anything approaching appropriate.
But…still we are told to shut up about it. Even by some women.