It’s been two weeks and I’ve been dragging my feet in addressing this topic because I knew it would be difficult but as more and more people share articles and blog posts, as I sift through myriad approaches and opinions, and after exhausting myself with research, discussion and debate, the time has come for me to breach the surface. Today marks day four of my endeavor to complete this post as I have, several times, had to leave it and come back, indicating that writing it was much more difficult than I first thought. So in my final attempt, I am writing this with one thing in mind: all the females in my life who I care so deeply about, who have impacted me in some way, and whose rights, lives and safety I will protect and fight for until the day I die.
On the evening of May 23, 2014, a 22-year-old college student by the name of Elliot Rodger went on a murderous rampage in Isla Vista, CA, killing six people and injuring thirteen more, before finally taking his own life. In his wake, Rodger left a digital legacy spelling out every detail of his twisted, entitled life, most notably the 141-page autobiographical litany that seethes arrogance, insecurity, jealousy, and a slowly simmering rage. His life has been painstakingly reverse-engineered by countless journalists and his bones have been picked clean by opinionated armchair vultures, eager to offer explanations as to why he did what he did. Not one rock has gone unturned in this bizarre case of a young man who, for all intents and purposes, had so much yet whose only desire was the one thing he didn’t have; a fixation that turned into obsession, which then turned into violence in the worst sense imaginable.
In all the discussion, analysis, dialogue, and investigation that has gone into Rodger’s self-obsessed, shallow, and delusionally poisoned world, one striking fact rings the bell of his unsupported conceit and vanity loudest of all:
Elliot Rodger hated women.
According to the manifesto written by his own hand, Rodger’s hatred of women originated at age five, which is only the first in dozens of instances where he states this fact outright. Seventeen years of hating women with a building vitriol and passion that fed not only on itself but on a culture that repeatedly underscores this notion. HE HATED WOMEN.
I want to pause for a moment to emphasize the weight carried by the word “hate”. It’s used quite frequently in our culture. Not by me, I actually never use it in conversation. There is nothing or nobody toward whom I can honestly say that I feel hatred. The concept of hatred is so vile and offensive to me that I cringe when people use the word or I see it in its written form, even when it’s being tossed flippantly in conversation. Sure, there are ideas, items and even people I dislike very strongly. But hatred conjures up such negativity, such a deep point-of-no-return feeling, I simply cannot go there. It is the emotional equivalent of murder in my mind.
To me, knowing that Elliot Rodger hated women – all women – makes me nauseated when I consider it and turns my stomach even more that it started at such a young age. We have a word for this in our vernacular – “misogyny”, the hatred, dislike, fear, or mistrust of women. Misogyny extends further than its literal meaning to include the notion that women, in many cases and in many minds, are viewed as possessions; things to be had, won, overpowered, obtained. This idea suggests that women are not people but mere items, trophies, an added bonus received when a man signs on for something he has worked hard to obtain. It is this attitude by which misogyny does its most damaging, often lethal work. And it is the misogyny that exists deep within our culture that has positioned itself at the center of the Elliot Rodger story.
For years prior to the Isla Vista tragedy, I have been analyzing, examining and discussing gender-based issues with both males and females. As a student of gender studies, I was afforded an academic understanding of misogyny from a wide spectrum of approaches including sociological, economical, philosophical, psychological, literary, legislative, and political. I have had the privilege of having my work published in my college’s feminist newspaper not long after the time Rodger began hating women. I have worked in both male- and female-dominated fields. In more recent years, social media has raised the platform from which people are able to speak, greatly widened the audience, and provided a certain lubrication in terms of bravery when speaking one’s mind (the anonymity of the internet has that effect on many people). As a result of all of these factors, I can say one thing with absolute certainty:
Misogyny is a real and ever present danger to women everyday, everywhere, in almost all areas of our lives.
I call it a danger because of the many ways in which it shows its ugly face, peeking out into broad daylight, so ingrained in society that many people don’t even realize what it is while it’s happening, and some choose to believe it simply doesn’t exist.
- Misogyny is the boss at my last job who – on more than one occasion – put his hand on my leg and let it linger there (as if it needed to be there in the first place) when nobody was looking, who constantly made remarks about how he is attracted to dark haired Leo women (I am a dark haired Leo woman). The same boss who tried to kiss the only other female employee, also when he thought nobody was looking.
- Misogyny is the doctor at the job before that who aggresively put his hands on me and when I reported it to the hospital manager (also a male), not only was he not spoken to but I was written up instead, which only gave the offending doctor permission to put his hands on me a second time, leading to my resignation.
- Misogyny is the guy who needs to mansplain to a female despite her prior knowledge of whatever he is educating her about, even if he is aware of her expertise, because he simply cannot accept that she knows something.
- Misogyny is the 60-something man who felt it was appropriate, or some kind of compliment, to make passes at my 13-year-old niece in the waiting room of the veterinarian’s office.
- Misogyny is the male cashier or waiter who automatically hands the change or the receipt to the male guest under the assumption that he must be the one paying, even if it was the female who first plunked over the cash or the debit card bearing her name.
- Misogyny is my male high school music teacher who identified me not by my ability to sing well but by the length of my legs and the comeliness of my pubescent body.
- Misogyny is the man who – while a visitor at my job with a government contractor – took a picture of me with his phone because he thought I was pretty therefore I deserved to be photographed and then refused to delete it until the director of security (a male) threatened him, even after he had already been told to delete the image by another director who was a female.
- Misogyny is the force that compels some female authors to write under male pseudonyms or initials (e.g. J.K. Rowling, E.L. James, Ellis, Acton, and Currer Bell aka the Bronte sisters) so as to not be unfairly judged.
- Misogyny is the 94-year-old emergency room patient who fondled my visibly pregnant sister’s crotch earlier this week while she was trying to draw his blood.
- Misogyny is the repeated theme of “getting the girl” that is force fed to us in entertainment media. Getting the girl is the one thing at which Elliot Rodger failed miserably and that failure is what ultimately inspired the massacre he carried out.
- Misogyny is this, and this, and dozens of others with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Those are just some of my own examples of misogyny and they don’t even scratch the surface of what I’ve witnessed or experienced in my life. However, shortly after news broke about the Isla Vista murders, specifically about the acidic hatred toward women that lit the fire beneath them, something amazing happened. Women worldwide began to speak out about their own experiences with misogyny. On Twitter, the hashtag #YesAllWomen quickly gave rise to thousands of personal stories retelling incidents of harassment, mistreatment, abuse, violation, oppression, assault, humiliation, and other forms of misogyny at the hands of men. Women came out in droves to make their voices heard and let it be known that while not every man is violent or a murderer, men who think and behave similar to Elliot Rodger are not as isolated as we pretend they are. They just fly beneath the radar, undetected.
“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
People don’t like to be shown a mirror. When the YesAllWomen trend took off, it was swiftly met with the insulting and absurdly useless #NotAllMen backlash. Women are keenly aware that not all men are murderers and rapists. If we believed such nonsense, there would be no male-female interaction whatsoever. The point behind YesAllWomen is not to demonstrate that all men exhibit murderous, narcissistic tendencies. It is to illustrate that all women have experienced or will experience some form of harassment or oppression by men at some point in their lives. Yes, ALL women. To imply that we do not already know that “not all men” are like Elliot Rodger undermines our intelligence as well as our point. It proves these men are not listening to what we have to say and that they probably seldom do. NotAllMen proves misogyny.
The males utilizing the NotAllMen logic rushed to defend themselves but in the process, failed to see exactly what it was they were defending. A deranged, obsessed man murdered six people because women rejected him and he hated all of us for it. His male victims were sacrificed as punishment for “getting” the women that Rodger wanted but didn’t “have” [Side note: do you see these words I’ve put in quotations and how easily they are used? They are just a small part of our cultural vocabulary and collective mind. Getting the girl, having the girl. This is how deeply embedded these ideas are, that we don’t even have another way to describe a male-female courtship. The guy displays his best attributes and either does or does not get the girl. Look no further than any romantic comedy or sitcom to see it played out over and over again]. THOUSANDS more women are voicing their own experiences with men whose thinking aligns with Rodger’s, who have been in situations where they were told they owe a man something, women who have legitimately felt their safety or even their lives were threatened.
Yet the first reaction of these defensive men is to be more concerned with preserving their reputations by crying out “not ALL men!” than shutting up JUST. THIS. ONCE and listening to us. They don’t consider that our safety and our lives are more important to us than the wounded egos of those who are offended by the notion that some bad men exist and of being associated with them. We know they exist, read our stories for proof. Actually LISTEN to us. If you are one of the men who reads our words and your ego is so fragile that your first reaction is to defend its integrity rather than just respectfully hear us out, then you are the problem. This is not about you or your reputation. This is about the safety and concerns thereof regarding ALL the women in your life. Yes, ALL women.
Could it be that these men are seeing a reflection of their own behavior in YesAllWomen? That in reading these women’s experiences, they are being forced to look into a mirror and do not like what they see? People do not like to be shown a mirror. They don’t like having their imperfections, their bad habits, their shortcomings reflected back to them if they can’t get away. A person’s behavior is the clearest way to visualize the content of their character. Anyone can say whatever they want about who they are or what they think but their behavior is a clear reflection of whether or not they are speaking the truth. And this is exactly why some people do not like being shown who they really are. Because if their behavior does not match their words, the image reflecting back at them is a liar, a phony. Nobody wants to face that, to see a liar reflected back at themselves. No men want to hear that they are the Elliot Rodgers of the world.
Here is something even more frightening. Women don’t want to see or hear that either. When we interact with men, we have no way of discerning the good from the bad just from a conversation. Men want us to just take their word for it that they are a good guy. But many times, words and behaviors are in sharp contrast from one another. Elliot Rodger wanted women to view him as the “supreme gentleman” he thought himself to be. The NotAllMen men need to ask themselves, before rushing to be defensive, would they have wanted their daughters or sisters taking Elliot Rodger’s words at face value? Would they have wanted their little girls to get in a car alone with that man who thought he was the “perfect guy”? Because this is what most men expect from women, this is what men tell us, and they want us to believe that what they are saying is true. We have no way of knowing who is telling the truth and who is not.
The goodness of men – from outward appearances – looks the same to us. We have to decide for ourselves which side of the line men fall on. The burden of discovery is on women. The burden of proof is on men. It is behavior that reveals to us if a man is an ally or a threat. This is why we must be cautious, why we say “no” to the men with whom we feel uncomfortable, this is why we do not owe a damn thing to a man who wants us to take his word for it that he is one of the good ones. PROVE IT.
I saw a tweet from a woman in reply to the NotAllMen trend who made a very creative metaphor regarding the position females are in when it comes to sorting the bad guys from the good. It said somethig like “Imagine a bowl full of M&Ms. 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead, eat a handful. #NotAllMen” I thought that was brilliant because that’s exactly what it’s like.
Because we sometimes need to take our time deciding if a man is a genuinely nice guy or not, that does not mean we are a bitch, whore, man-hater, “Feminazi”, slut, prude, cunt, tease, gold-digger, bimbo, tramp, skank, nag, chickenhead, dyke, ball-buster, shrew, need to get laid or are suffering from PMS. What we are doing is a basic survival tactic and we do not want to be chided for it. Whereas men are getting to know us and deciding if we might be a good girlfriend/potential wife, we are doing the same thing with the added layer of deciding if a man is going to harm/kill us at some point.
Enough already. Enough with the “men get hurt, too” and the “not ALL men” and the “I’ve known plenty of violent women” counterpoints. A male who is secure with his masculinity and – most importantly – who is not guilty of anything will hear of a female being hurt and feel compassion, he will want to help. He will not react with “I’ve been hurt, too, and my hurt is greater than or equal to your hurt” as an attempt to discredit or silence her. He will not seek to deconstruct her point by bringing up strawman arguments and he will not try to invalidate statistics by bringing up exceptions. He will recognize that the most dominant demographic in our society is the male, specifically the heterosexual white male and he will understand that if he falls into that category, he is not guilty by association but he will help to solve the problem rather than stifling it by silencing the oppressed. Oppressors CANNOT be oppressed by those they oppress. To say otherwise is a logically fallacious argument.
In an aggregate gender-based sense, men are not the ones who have to worry about being in the position of being harmed or oppressed. Men don’t ever have to worry about what they are wearing because it might be deemed too sexy even though society demands that women be sexy. Men don’t have to worry about being aware of their surroundings while walking to their cars, having a plan and a back up plan in case they get grabbed or attacked. Men don’t ever have to worry about being inappropriately touched in ways that make them uncomfortable at every single job they ever have. Men don’t generally have to worry about having their bodies violated and then being blamed for it after it happens or accused of lying. Men don’t have to worry about not being taken seriously when they speak for reasons based strictly on what set of genitals they have. Men don’t have to deal with the frustration of not being taken seriously time and time again for years, across every platform, in every area. Men don’t have to worry about being told to “calm down” or being accused of being “overly emotional” when they express the frustration and outrage over not having their voices heard. Men do not have to worry that women view their bodies as playgrounds on which we can enact whatever fantasy we dream up, wherever and whenever we feel like it.
With certain exceptions regarding things like ethnicity, economics and sexuality, men in general DO NOT experience the type of systematic, culturally ingrained oppression that women do. For men to cry that women are equally as guilty of this cultural crime is akin to white people denying the existence of or benefit from white privilege, even if they are not racist themselves. It is insulting and intellectually dishonest to pretend that a structurally organized system of oppression is obsolete at best, or non-existent at worst.
Nobody is claiming that all men are like Elliot Rodger. Anyone who paints the world with such a broad brush is an ignorant fool. But using that logic also assumes the obvious and opposite fact: not all men are UNLIKE Elliot Rodger, either. Elliot Rodger represents an issue that we often pretend doesn’t exist or that we are so accustomed to, we just accept it as normal. He represents an issue that was in desprate need of discussion and his actions were the catalyst for an all-out cultural war. However, the war should not be a Battle of the Sexes. It is clear that all men are not like this man and that men do not want to be viewed as he was. Women have made it clear what type of treatment we receive daily and that we have no way of knowing the good from the bad. We cannot pretend these issues aren’t there, we cannot accept them as normal, and we cannot assume that either men or women are fine with the way we perceive and interact with each other.
If all of this this makes any one fact abundantly clear, it is that we all desperately need each other’s help in tackling and solving these issues.