not in our stars, but in ourselves
As you’ve probably heard, a 22-year-old man shot and killed six people in Santa Barbara. It was, according to a YouTube post and a 140-page manifesto, “retribution” against all the women he’d never been able to fuck. His own parents were concerned about him, and had called the police at the end of April; but they were so impressed by how polite he seemed that they ignored the parents’ call for help. Elliot Rodger, who was planning to go on a rampage, smiled and told the police it was all a misunderstanding. The police left. Less than a month later, he killed six people, and then himself.
Initial reports of the shootings painted Rodger as a lonely, mentally ill, unfathomable young man – despite the fact that his manifesto included passages like the following:
All of those beautiful girls I’ve desired so much in my life, but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy. All of those popular people who live hedonistic lives of pleasure, I will destroy, because they never accepted me as one of them. I will kill them all and make them suffer, just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair.
Well. Not to discount any mental illness that may have played a factor – but the most obvious culprit is deep, toxic, patriarchy-approved misogyny. As this on-point article from New Statesman puts it:
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.
Women are not humans. Women do not have needs. Women exist to serve men. These basic concepts are crude, violent, and harmful enough, simply as ideas. As actions, they are often deadly.
This weekend, the trending topic #YesAllWomen has caught like wildfire on Twitter. Mostly women, but some men too, are sharing their experiences with institutionalized misogyny, with the kind of violence against women that’s so common we almost accept it as the norm. Go to Twitter, read collections of the tweets cropping up around the web, just sit and think about the staggering amount of fear and hatred the average woman endures all her life:
You get the idea. Go read more. Naturally, the hashtag has attracted more than its fair share of dreck – but we’ll get to that presently.
Now, where does the phrase “yes, all women” originate? Reader, I fear it is a reaction to a chillingly common response. Without fail, when there is a discussion of women feeling threatened by men, of rape culture, of misogyny, some man will jump in and say “But not ALL men do that!” No. Not all. But to paraphrase the rejoinder floating around the interwebs (forgive me for not attributing it properly): not all men threaten women, but ALL women have been threatened by men.
I posted the above image on Facebook earlier today. A friend of mine summarized it perfectly:
Woman: “Men in our culture are taught to interrupt women, to devalue their statements and -”
Man: “No, not all men do that.”
Unfortunately, the righteous anger and the solidarity has come under attack – from the aforementioned dreck trolling #YesAllWomen, and from some of these wastes of oxygen and other resources, responding to Rodger’s YouTube post:
I’ll give you a moment to go vomit and punch a wall and whatever else you need to do in order to deal with the fury rising up your spine. There’s more where those came from, sadly, but I can’t quite stomach seeking them out.
It seems to me that what usually frightens and intimidates men – even “nice” men – is the idea that women are trying to overpower them, to beat them at their own game, and to exclude them. It’s that fear at the root of most misogyny: the fear that women will treat men as badly as men have, historically, treated women. To be honest, men, yes – we do want you to stop trying to make discussions of our fear, our horrible experiences, our seeing every stranger (and sometimes a fair number of acquaintances, or even loved ones) as a very real potential threat, as being about you. Stop saying “not all men.” Congratulations on not being a serial rapist. Have a cookie. Now think about all the things you’ve seen or heard your friends do to or about women, and think about how many of those things deny those women their very humanity, and think about how little you’ve done to speak out against any of it. Put the cookie back. Ever hear of fellow travelers? Yeah. Don’t be one of those.
But don’t ignore any of this, either. We humans can’t get any better unless we work together. Feminism needs men, women, and anyone else who wants to join the party. It is about equality. It is not about oppression, denial, exclusion, or hate – not according to this little feminist, anyway. For us to heal, for women to stop feeling menaced (!) by men, we’re all going to have to look at some pretty ugly truths. We’re going to have to stop consoling ourselves with the falsity that Rodger was an isolated incident, and accept that his disgusting little mind and horrific actions were the results of a system. We’re going to have to start seeing each other as human beings – flawed, stupid, striving, but in it together. Can we please start acting like it?