I do not consider myself a prolific blogger – or really a blogger at all. I am not consistent in length or frequency with the essays I post to this WordPress site because when a topic strikes me I like to do a bit of research before writing about it. I read copiously on the issue and have to digest what I take in. The writing process begins in fits and starts as I seek answers to my questions and consider what I find – which more often than not results in another level of questioning. Then a response must be framed.
This process takes time. I strive for coherence and attention to language. I often include links to articles that influence my opinion or offer support of my argument. Sometimes the topic has slipped from the news cycle before I’ve completed the essay the headlines sparked. I don’t mind my slower pace. It makes for better craft (I hope). Since I have no externally imposed deadline to meet and I’m not paid for these essays I’m under no obligation to anyone. But I’ve been pushing myself to address this issue because I’ve also been aware of my reluctance to do so. To write about the Isla Vista killings is to also write about the prolific, sad and accommodating history of this type of hate crime.
Yes, hate crime.
Some articles I’ve read have demanded that Elliot Roger’s actions be labeled those of a terrorist. I think the authors overlook an important element. The definition of terrorism specifies “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal” (emphasis mine) while the definition of a hate crime encompasses “any of various crimes (as assault or defacement of property) when motivated by hostility to the victim as a member of a group” and therefore targeted by “color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation.” Though misogyny is based in ideology I hesitate to designate the shootings in Isla Vista as politically motivated; the attack seems more personal than that so I opt for hate crime. Rodger’s goal was not intimidation but retribution. He wanted to punish those he felt had denied and deprived him. He wasn’t seeking change, he wanted revenge – against women for rejecting him as well as the men he saw women accepting. That he had moved beyond specific individuals to target complete strangers is further evidence of his diseased perspective. Misogyny is the hatred of women and violence is it’s most overt expression.
“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.” ―Margaret Mitchell
The Santa Barbara shooter was obviously mentally unbalanced. I would add that he was also obviously an asshole. The former doesn’t preclude the latter. The evidence is there in his pathetic videos where he declared humanity “a depraved species,” obtuse to his own inclusion. He looked in the camera but never once looked in the mirror to ask what was it about him that left him romantically unfulfilled, apparently never once considered the possibility that it was his objectification of women and his delusion of himself as superior that might cause them to wince and walk away. He was baffled as to why women would reject him; he was – in his own mind (and words) – the “perfect gentleman,” one who repeatedly spilled or sprayed sticky substances (coffee, orange juice) on happy couples (an act that strikes me as simultaneously infantile and potently Freudian in its similarity to ejaculation); who, in a temper tantrum at a party where women denied him attention, attempted to push his tormentors off a ledge – and excused the aggressive behavior to police as other men reacting to his cockiness.
Though we don’t know how (or how often) Rodgers invited the opposite sex to engage with him, it’s dubious that women found his misogynistic attitude enticing. But he lacked the capacity to look at the messenger and instead blamed them for misreading the message. They didn’t; they got it and they stayed away.
Whether Elliot Rodgers was crazy from a classifiable viewpoint is unclear but I believe it is a disservice to those who struggle with mental health issues – problems that can range from the quiet desperation of depression to the overwhelming terror of anxiety, the manic chaos and deep plunges of bi-polar disorder, and include the fractured reality of schizophrenia – to lay the violence of a narcissistic, entitled, self-pitying misogynist solely at the doorstop of a psychological disorder. His actions – the manifesto, the videos he posted on line, the emails he sent to his therapist and parents – all attest to the fact that he was clearly aware of what he was doing: he was goal-driven, he had a mission. This wasn’t a break from reality but a reaction to his perception that he’d been wronged each time he had been rejected.
We must also ask if his sense of entitlement to women’s affection was abnormal. That one can be answered easily: no. Though Rodgers actions were extreme his sense of entitlement to women’s affection wasn’t atypical. Because Rodgers was, sadly, common in his belief that he should receive from women love, sex, and “adoration.” He did not view these as what he received for being who he was but as what he was owed for what he was: a man.
His was an ideology rooted in a social reality that views women as commodities instead of individuals – things that can be bought and sold, traded in on better models; women as objects that are projected upon rather than human beings with thoughts, inclinations and preferences of their own. The rage displayed by the assassin is proof of his misogyny: women didn’t want and adore him as he expected and so he would annihilate them in revenge.
Where does this expectation stem from?“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”― John Milton, Paradise Lost
The Cult of Male: “It’s not me, it’s you.”
Elliot Rodgers wasn’t alone. He was part of a community where he sought out a circle – however myopic and deluded – that believed what he believed (perhaps what he needed to believe) in order to maintain the illusion that the fault for his unwilling celibacy lay elsewhere. His refused to entertain the notion that his loneliness and lack of companionship could stem from within; it was easier to believe instead that his condition was instead inflicted upon him. He sought out online groups that shared his frustration and his need to blame someone else. It makes for scary reading.
The trolls of the Pick Up Artists (PUA) variety – including the PUAhaters – are only the most overt form. They cruise the Internet anonymously spouting misogynistic bile, from PUA promises on how to score with women (“game” techniques taught for a fee) to rants from men whose “game” is apparently not working (and of course women are to blame). The thing the PUA and PUAhaters have in common is that they view women as commodities, things they can (or should be able to) pick up and set down whenever it suits them. We can point to them and reasonably expect (most) people to agree they are narcissistic, bitter little men who should be laughed at and left alone. As if they were an anomaly, a fleeting trend.
But the truth is they are a predictable byproduct of the ideology they support. Misogyny is akin to the color spectrum; we can’t see it completely with the naked eye. Because even men who decry Rodgers actions aren’t exactly getting the depth of the problem women routinely face. Some responses to the Tweets posted on the Twitter account #yesallwomen are indicators of the knee-jerk defensiveness that often accompanies women revealing the daily evidence of misogyny. On that public forum, under a hashtag that aimed to connect women’s experiences and encourage them to tell their stories, the reactionary #notallmen sprang back in compliant as men once again sought to make it about them: men offended by women’s anger; men accusing women of exaggeration and hypersensitivity; men “hurt” because they are being lumped with “all men.” I will suggest that this defensive reaction is evidence of ultraviolet rays of misogyny that men may sense even if they don’t see.
Worse (and of far greater concern) were the online proclamations that Rodgers was justified in his rage (and, to some, his actions). Men complaining that women withhold affection (sex) as if it were something they were owed. Men justifying misogyny because women are “gold diggers,” “users,” and “whores.” Men accusing women of unfairly rejecting them, as if it were somehow a crime. Men issuing warnings of future violence if women indulge in personal feelings or preferences when choosing a partner. The message: play it safe, ladies, and placate every man or else you are responsible for the next shooting spree. But just know that you’ll also be labeled a whore. You can’t win but no one has to die.
Women are held hostage by this circular logic where we are somehow second-class citizens who don’t deserve equal rights (or pay) while simultaneously wielding tremendous power over hapless men’s lives: we castrate, humiliate, and abuse men while robbing them of their parental rights to children (born and unborn) through a feminist-dominated court system and institutionalized misandry. What power we wield! If only we would use it for good.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”– Anais Nin
I don’t know one woman who hasn’t been subjected to that ubiquitous assault of verbal harassment (consisting of catcalls and sexual language but including wolf whistles and hand gestures). Most have experienced a greater, closer, and more violent range of gender-targeted treatment. How familiar the vulgar truth becomes. Why do we as a society condone the slut-shaming, victim-blaming, ongoing objectification of women that is not simply a result of misogyny but an intricate mechanism of its function?
How do we inoculate ourselves against a disease which is rooted in part in the patriarchy of our system, one that places less value on women than men – and not just financially. And it isn’t just women who are harmed. Because in the world of misogyny it isn’t only about what women are expected to be (and do) but the distorted message of what a man is (and does) as well.
I work in the service industry – a bar, specifically. Not a strip club where women’s bodies are the commodity for sale (or more accurately for rent) and all the participants (whether they admit it or not) are engaged in objectification and the exchange is at least blatant. Not a Hooters, that low-rent form of strip club where the participants have the face-saving premise of eating or drinking (and the alternative excuse of watching televised sporting events) but also the deceptive suggestion that some form of relationship is being conducted when the table orders more hot wings and beer from the “uniformed” waitress.
I work at a live music venue that attracts a wide array of patrons: locals, tourists, musicians and music fans, college kids, hipsters, hippies, actors, legislators (it is the Capitol), the recently relocated and those drifting through. The focus is music but of course socialization and alcohol consumption are a part of the environment. I have witnessed – and as a woman been subjected to – the assumptions men make about women in public spaces. The entitlement is evident. I’ve seen men physically insert themselves into conversations between women and get offended if the women don’t respond with interest or otherwise rebuff their intrusion. I’ve had men order me to get a drink for a woman and become upset when I insist that I first make sure that she wants to accept their opening salvo. I’ve seen the incredulous shrugging – half bewilderment, half indignation – when women decline the offer of a “free” drink. As if there were such a thing; as if the cost of at least some time and conversation wasn’t implicitly attached to the purchase.
Confined as I am behind the bar, I’ve also heard men talk about women when they are unaware a women is listening because as a bartender I am both highly visible and completely transparent; people forget I am there and I sometimes overhear conversations that reveal more of the speaker than they might recognize. So I hear how women who don’t accommodate male intrusion or aggressive attention are quickly labeled “snobs,”“bitches” or “cunts.” I have witnessed verbal abuse of women who stand their ground and reject unwanted attention. And I’ve also seen how women who do accommodate often do so out of intimidation, not flattery – the very survival skills that Amanda Hess writes about when she explains why some women play nice when strange men target them.
And I am sometimes invited into conversation by men looking for support in the guise of advice, as happened on one memorable occasion. Two guys were at the bar: thirty-something, the jean-and-t-shirt type, one a little heavy and the other on the short side. They were regulars who always came in together but were obviously on the hunt: checking girls out, trying to buy them drinks and engage them in conversation – generally without much success. The heavier of the two was the calmer one, the shorter the more bellicose (think Saint Bernard and Jack Russell Terrier). They often argued in a good-natured way, challenging each other’s opinions and calling each other names. This night they were parked by the sinks and I heard their conversation get a little heated as I washed glassware. The heavier (let’s call him “Bernard”) was berating the shorter (let’s call him “Jack”) for reducing a girl to tears. Jack asserted that what he’d said he’d said as a favor, to educate the lady. Bernard seemed to think Jack had been unnecessarily cruel. So Jack turned to me for aid.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “Which would you rather hear, that you’re fat or that your makeup looks like shit?”
When I challenged the premise that I should be subjected to either comment Jack rushed to explain the context.
“I told a girl her makeup looked like crap and she acted like I called her fat or something,” he exclaimed. “Wouldn’t you want to know if your makeup looked like shit?”
When I asked why he thought his opinion should matter to a stranger, he seemed surprised.
“Because it was too heavy. It looked bad. I was doing her a favor!” He seemed honestly puzzled and I might have felt a little sorry for him but for the expectation that his opinion was – should be – important to this girl (translation: to all girls).
“What if she likes the way her makeup looks?”
“But it wasn’t attractive!”
“Maybe not to you.”
He couldn’t seem to grasp the notion that a woman might have dressed for herself, not him. It annoyed me. So I reversed it for him. “Ok, let me ask you a question. Which would you rather hear, that you’ve got a little dick or that you can’t fuck worth a shit?”
“Jack” hit the roof, outraged; “Bernard” choked on his beer, laughing.
I admit it – I went for the jugular. I wanted to provoke a response but also to make a point – admittedly lost on Jack at that moment – as to how inappropriate his assumption had been. He was a short man (about 5’6”), on the thin side, with hair that was already retreating from both his forehead and his crown – none of which would have worked against him if he’d been a decent, respectful, engaging, funny, smart, warm human being. He might have possessed all of these traits but he certainly was not displaying them. Instead he was judgmental, arrogant, belittling and entitled – and alone, on that night and many nights before it.
How would he have felt if a random woman had walked up to him, looked him up and down and announced that he was too skinny and should work out because she thought skinny guys were gross?
“Jack” believed that his opinion should matter to a complete stranger, that a woman (all women) ought to adapt to suit him (all men). Notably “Bernard,” though he was not overtly offensive, was guilty of the same, for he had chastised his friend for the result of his action (making a girl cry) but not for the action itself.
“There is no present or future only the past, happening over and over again – now.”― Eugene O’Neill
The tragedy in Isla Vista has already faded into the background of the public’s mind. In three months we’ve moved on to wars (newer ones) and airplane crash sites (or lack thereof) and the fear of potential bouts with lethal viruses. We’ve got a crowd of children at the U.S. border, another unfolding tragedy. Yet another young black man has been gunned down by police. It is easy, perhaps even necessary, that our attention shifts. But violence against women still occurs every day and every day the body count rises. Elliot Rodgers made the news because he killed publicly – that got our attention. Most domestic violence takes place behind closed doors and a significant percentage of assaults are never reported. Statistics suggest that at least one woman has been murdered each day since the Santa Barbara shootings – and that at least one woman was murdered each day prior to that event.
Nearly everywhere women live under a kind of mental and emotional siege. Some do so largely unaware – until they must walk down a street at night, or ride the elevator with a stranger, or find themselves the recipient of unwanted interest when they enter a bar alone. Others are acutely cognizant of their vulnerability, like my friend who has a violent ex-husband and a concealed carry license. Or any one of several friends who have been rewarded with stalking instead of friendship. Or any woman who has gone on a date and suffered a devastating betrayal of trust. Or any survivor of assault who bears mental, emotional and/or physical scars. The brilliant comic Louis CK posits that the bravest thing a woman can do is trust a man because “historically men are the worst thing that happens to women.” Daily women are sexually harassed and physically assaulted and many die at the hands of men – sometimes strangers but often lovers or former lovers (statistically a women is at greater risk of death when exiting an abusive relationship).
The time it has taken me to finish this essay attests to my internal battle over a public discussion of misogyny and the potential reactions of addressing it. It also required that I face my anger – and my reluctance to express that anger because it is accompanied by fear. I’m aware of it every day. Every little thing adds up: over the course of my life I’ve suffered catcalls and wolf whistles; comments about my body; requests for a public display of my breasts; multiple incidents of exposure; a stranger’s hand slipping quickly over my ass and between my legs as I stood pressed in a crowd at a concert. I’ve being tailed through public places as if my presence there was an invitation to leer.
I’m not currently a victim of stalking and I don’t have a violent ex to worry about. I’m no longer young, I’ve never been beautiful, I don’t dress “sexy,” I don’t go to bars and get drunk – any of those traits or behaviors that some men (and women, and police officers, and judges) use to conveniently blame the victim instead of the perpetrator. I’m an average looking middle-aged woman. But I still walk with my car keys clutched in my hand, the longest pieces of metal woven between my fingers. I double-check the doors and windows at night. I’m alert to evidence I’m being followed: in the grocery store, at the mall, in my car. It is hard to admit to such vulnerability. It can lead to a sort of mental (and even physical) paralysis.
I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to convince people that there is a problem. I’m tired of explaining to men that a whistle or a cat call is not a compliment. Of delineating the difference between the risks we all suffer versus being targeted as a potential victim based entirely on gender. I’m tired of hiding my outrage so that a conversation that has got to honestly take place isn’t shut down completely. I’m tired of living with the constant threat that is attached to simply being female. Mostly I’m tired of having this argument, the one where men try to convince women that all men shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of one man (or a few men, or a subgroup or religious sect). As if these men were the aberration, a rarity, instead of simply part and parcel of the daily war on women. It’s true not every man is a rapist, or a batterer, or a misogynistic murderer. But if you’ve told (or laughed at) a rape joke, if you’ve stayed quiet while companions denigrate women, if you’ve engaged in or passively tolerated female objectification then guess what?
Rather than reflexive denial, each of us must look at the role we play (however passive) in the status quo.Our social tapestry has threads of misogyny entwined in the smallest details. Santa Barbara – and other stories of rejection revenge – reveal the large brutal mural. And if you can’t see it perhaps it’s because you are looking away.