I spent a great deal of time this weekend talking with different people about the shooting at UCSB, about Elliot Rodger, about everything involving the terrible happenings over the weekend. It’s an intense, frightening topic, so when I woke up suddenly last night from a nightmare involving blurry images of guns and a man dressed all in black, I wasn’t really all that surprised. I held a little tighter to my pillow, trying to catch my breath and chase away the shadows my subconcious decided to inflict on me. Eventually I did, and drifted back off to sleep, albeit a little more tensely than before.
But the trouble is, these shadows with threats of violence don’t just exist in my mind. They exist in the real world, they exist in the form of men like Elliot Rodger, they exist in the thoughts and words of the men on the Men’s Right’s Activists and PUA forums he frequented. They exist in the hands of men who rape and assault women. The thing is, Elliot Rodger was, for obvious reasons, an extreme case. Such an extreme case, in fact, that it’s easy for people to simply dismiss him as a “madman” or a similar word, easy for people to say he was just “evil” and that “bad things happen and we can’t do anything about it sometimes.” Well, that’s wrong. We can do something about this. We can do a whole slew of things about this, because Rodger’s videos, his manifesto, laid it out for us. Because the teenager who stabbed a girl who wouldn’t go to prom with him laid it out for us. Because the Stubenville rapists whose lost athletic careers were lamented on national media outlets laid it out for us.
It’s easy for them to say he was mentally ill when we don’t really have the evidence to support that, when we are constantly blaming these shootings committed largely by young, affluent white men on mental illness, which in large part avoids the central issues at hand, while also creating a stigma against the mentally ill, most of whom are far more likely to be a victim of violence than the perpetrator.
Misogyny. That’s the answer. We have created and are living in a culture in which men feel entitled to women’s sexual attention, a culture in which violence against women is something that is almost laughed at. How many times has a woman been raped and the blame turned around on her? What were you wearing? we ask. Were you drunk? Did you lead him on? All with an attitude that the woman deserved it and these poor men, they just couldn’t help themselves. Women are treated like prey the men cannot resist, so powerful is the glimpse of an inch of female skin.
Well, not all men I hear you say.
Well, I say in response, of course not all men. I know plenty of nice, wonderful men and have all my life. But I shouldn’t have to throw this caveat in every time I bring up women’s rights. I should not have to hear a chorus of “BUT NOT ALL MEN” because it’s not my fault that when men hear the word feminism or the phrase women’s rights, they feel the need to go on the defensive, that they feel the need to make this about them. This isn’t about condemning men as an entire gender, it’s about condemning the way our society socializes and raises men to believe that women owe them sex for being kind, that women are meant to pay them attention at any and every turn in which they demand it, a society that treats being cat-called as a compliment. “Not all men” I hear you say in an attempt to silence our cries against this horror and this injustice because you aren’t comfortable with changing the current power structure. Because change is frightening and difficult and maybe you won’t be enabled and coddled so much. We’re not asking to take you down, we’re asking for equality, we’re asking for some damn human respect.
This isn’t about you. And if you derail this conversation because of your insecurities and make it about you, I’m going to print out those “Captain America Would be Disappointed in You” business cards I’ve been contemplating for such situations and dump an entire box on your head.
This is about the fact that ever since I was a young girl I was taught to fear the dark because predators lurked there. This is about the fact that I’ve been honked at and cat-called and I can’t turn around to the offending man and say “back off” because I fear for my own physical well-being if I do. So I clench my teeth and walk on, listening to some stranger call me “baby” and telling me to smile. This is about the time an old man leered at me on the bus and patted the seat next to him, and I had to form an exit strategy in my head in case he followed me off. This is about the fact that I carry my keys between my fingers like weapons when I walk home after dark, that anxiety that builds in my stomach when I realize it’s late and I still need to get home. The fact that I’m seriously considering paying for a self defense class. That I have to watch my drink in a bar. That just a few weeks ago when my friend was visiting from overseas we were walking home in a broad daylight, in a crowded, urban area, and a man came up behind us on the escalator making slurping noises as we ate our frozen yogurt and trying to hit on us, following us long enough to where I was ready to grab my friend and dash into the Best Buy and call security. My friends have been groped and nearly assaulted on public transit, they’ve been called bitches and sluts and whores by male friends they didn’t want to date. Men always joke about women going to the bathroom in packs? Well, there’s safety in numbers. When I was a senior in college I lived in a little apartment about a half mile from campus, and expressed my fear about walking home alone in the dark down the quiet street that was mostly unoccupied at night.
“This is St. Augustine,” my cousin said, meaning well. “Nothing happens here.”
“But it does,” I said. “It happens everywhere.”
But six foot tall man that he was, he didn’t know what it was to fear walking down the street when the sun had gone. I had to explain it to him, and sometimes it’s hard to rationally explain something that’s become second instinct to women everywhere. So men, when women say these things to you, don’t brush them off. Because they do happen, and all the time. Just recently a woman in my neighborhood almost got pulled into a man’s car, but luckily she fought him off and got away. I guess I should mention that this happened in one of the lowest crime areas in Arlington, immediately outside DC. It can happen in big cities, in small towns, in bad neighborhoods and good ones. Anywhere. This is nothing less than flat out social terrorism, a society in which women must think about how they react to men they don’t know because how on earth are they supposed to differentiate the good from the bad when their fellows are being raped and stabbed and shot for daring to refuse?
As one of the tweets that popped up in recent days expressed (by a man, I should point out) “not all men are menaces, but all women have been menaced by men.”
I’ve spent my life hearing “boys will be boys” and I’m sick and tired of hearing that. It’s lazy, it’s cruel, and now it’s dangerous. A boy teased and pushed me down in elementary school, and I was told it was because he liked me. A boy cut the hair off my doll when I was eight and I was told that he was just a boy having fun. A former male friend once asked me why I didn’t take it as a compliment when men shouted at me from the windows of their cars while I was on the way to a CVS in sweatpants. Why have we created this world where men’s violence against women, whether physical or emotional, is normalized? Why do we think that’s okay? The violence lies in rape and murder and domestic abuse, absolutely, but it also lies in smaller, more sinister things we brush off far too easily. It lies in women receiving rude comments when they turn a man down in the online dating sphere and in turn feeling guilty about refusing a particular guy because they feel like they always have to say yes. It lies in women having opinions about things on the internet and being threatened with rape or other physical violence if they disagree with a man, or discuss a topic that might be traditionally thought of as being only for men. The nerd and comic book community I myself am a part of comes to mind. It lies in being a slut if you have sex and a bitch if you don’t. It lies in disrespect and dismisal in the workplace, in the being talked over in meetings and passed over for promotions, in the “honey why don’t you get me some coffee” attitude.
Men’s rights do not get to include getting away with violence against women. Men’s rights do not get to include treating women as if we are made to cater to every whim and have sex with you simply because you were kind to us. Men’s rights do not get to include utter and complete disrespect.
I get to decide when I smile, not you. Because as this quote from tumblr says (I’m not actually sure where the quote originated, or I would source it): “Before I am your daughter,your sister,your aunt, niece, or cousin, I am my own person, and I will not set fire to myself to keep you warm.”
So I’m asking you now, man or woman alike, don’t sit around and wonder why this man did what he did. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of dismissing him as simply evil, don’t fall into the trap of saying that bad things just happen and we can’t do anything about it because no one and nothing exists in a vaccuum. Because we can do something. We see why he did what he did. We can turn around and look at our society and this violent, misogynistic sickness that plagues it and work toward healing it, can work toward a world where women don’t have to take a risk assessment when they walk down the street at night. A world where men and women are equals. Where women are protected and taken seriously. Women want to be able to trust all the men they come across, they don’t want to eradicate them, and calling feminists names and insisting there isn’t a problem will not invalidate our voices.
I don’t want to hear cries of “not all men!” from the plentitude of good men that I know exist. Don’t take on the traits of your lessers.
Instead I’d like to see those men pull up a chair, sit down, and settle in to listen.