[Trigger warning for ableism and violence against women]
How is that a man can leave a 140-page manifesto describing, in explicit detail, how much he hates women, why he hates women, why he thinks women deserve to be punished, and precisely how he plans to punish them — and then his subsequent killing spree is attributed to everything but misogyny?
Honestly, I’m sure it’s tempting to shy away from that painful truth. It’s comforting to pretend that future killings can be prevented just by making mental health care more easily accessible, or by locking up all the guns. Just like it’s comforting to pretend that rape can be prevented if women just wear modest clothes and cover our drinks. Acknowledge that Elliot Rodger’s killing spree was grounded in misogyny, and we have to acknowledge that preventing such tragedies isn’t about changes in laws —- it’s about changes in society, in a culture that supports the idea that women are objects and sex with a woman is a man’s god-given entitlement.
Misogyny is the issue.
What isn’t the issue:
Gun control. I’m not saying that guns aren’t ever an issue — numerous mass shootings in the past several years have shown that while it is people who kill people, they’re able to kill a lot more people if they have guns. But in Rodger’s case, his spree was as much knife and car as it was gun. Of course, his initial plan, as outlined in the aforementioned manifesto, was to mow down an entire sorority house with a gun, thwarted only because the sorority sisters refused to open the door to him. But his ability to legally acquire guns isn’t really the issue here.
Mental health. I’m not going to pretend that mental health care in the U.S. isn’t dismal. But when you’re talking about a guy with no diagnosed psychiatric illness, it’s not an issue. People are quick to throw out the glibly circular, “Spree killers are all crazy, because only crazy people would go on a killing spree,” but they’re rarely able to produce statistics to back it up (and perfectly happy to ignore plentiful statistics to the contrary). As handy as it would be to say that people who go on rampages like Rodger’s are all mentally ill, we have to face up to a far scarier fact: Some people who go on rampages are perfectly sane.
#AllMen. Oh, get over yourself. No one is saying that all men are likely to do what Elliot Rodger did. If it’s not about you, it’s not about you. In fact, it specifically isn’t about you — it’s about the threats women face on a daily basis that go unrecognized because they can’t be discussed without some guy getting his Pampers in a wad because Not All Men Are Like That. Set your ego aside for a minute and actually listen to what women are saying without immediately getting defensive.
What is the issue:
This. [Extra trigger warning at the link for violence against women]
“When Women Refuse” is a tumblr collecting stories of women who have denied men the attention they were owed — and the women paid for it. They’re women killed by stalkers, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, boyfriend-wannabes. Their killers used guns, knives, fists, drugs, fire. They include the 16-year-old girl in Connecticut who was shoved down stairs, choked, and stabbed in her high school for declining to go to prom with a boy. A woman whose abusive boyfriend pushed her car in front of a freight train. A girl who was strangled and shot over unrequited love.
A 17-year-old in British Columbia who thought he could cure his anxiety about women by having sex, and beat a 15-year-old girl to death with a pipe.
The man was so painfully self-conscious when he attacked [victim Laura] Szendrei that he was incapable of interacting with young women, [forensic psychologist Robert] Ley said.
“He had never kissed a girl in his adolescence, had never held a girl’s hand, had never dated,” Ley said. “He could not talk to an adolescent girl even when they spoke to him first. He was absolutely paralyzed by his anxiety and fear around women.”
Ley said the man confessed to police during an undercover sting, and after his subsequent arrest, that he attacked three women between April and July 2010. In one instance, he ran behind a woman and tried to grab her buttocks. In another, he tried to pull down a woman’s pants while she was jogging, hoping to grab or fondle her.
In the third attack, court heard he hit a woman with a stick, “with an idea of disabling her that he could then feel what a woman felt like,” presumably wanting to touch her or have a direct sexual experience, Ley said.
A man who shot up a gym and then turned the gun on himself, having left a chillingly familiar, racist and misogynistic blog detailing his hatred of the beautiful women who wouldn’t give him the time of day and why and how they deserved to be punished.
“When Women Refuse” doesn’t outline a rash of undiagnosed mental illness, nor does it outline an overwhelming need for gun, car, knife, stick, and fire control. The one thing the stories all have in common is that they’re murders perpetrated by a men who thinks they have a right to women’s attention, affection, and bodies — that they and their desire for sex are more important than her life. And that’s a perspective that has to be addressed early on, early in childhood, when kids are still learning how to relate to each other, before it’s had time to take root and color a man’s every interaction with women.
No, #NotAllMen are violent misogynists. #NotAllDogs are dangerous. #NotAllM&Ms are poisoned. But a disturbing number of men are violent misogynists, and they’re reinforced by a society that will attribute their actions to every other motivation than the one that really drives them. Shifting the focus to gun control, mental health, or tender male egos and away from women’s safety, agency, and bodily autonomy shifts focus away from any real solution to the problem. And just because it’s not an easy or quick solution doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore it when lives are on the line.
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