In the past few hours, you’ve started to hear about how women on Twitter are up in arms, proclaiming #YesAllWomen. This hashtag came on strong and fierce, and has quickly caught the attention of major media outlets, even over this holiday weekend.
This incident is a terrifying, sobering reminder of the ways in which men’s sense of entitlement to women’s time, attention, and bodies often leads to violence. It is something almost every woman has thought about. Every time we turn down a guy in a bar, every time we endure a catcall, every time we say “no” to a second date, a part of us is worried about violence, about retribution.
Look at the high school girl who was stabbed because she rejected a guy’s prom invitation.
Look at the girl who was beaten up in a club for telling a guy to stop touching her.
Look at the manifesto in which Rodger lay out his grievances, his complaints that “I would never get [sex]”.
That particular complaint is a common one in MRA blogs and forums, which Rodger frequented, where “nice guys” like Rodger whine about how girls only want “obnoxious jerks” while spurning the “polite, kind gentleman” that they purport to be.
Why do so many of these men seem to not understand that sex isn’t something you “get”? Sex is not transactional. It is not a gift. It is not something you deserve or are entitled to. It is not something that is being “withheld” from you. These mindsets chillingly refuse to see women as people, as someone you might be friends with, as someone whose company you might enjoy, as someone to whom you’re excited to show affection and respect. To these men, women are the gatekeepers of sex, cold bitches who reject their advances.
The initial media coverage had a very hard time admitting that there was anything misogynist about Rodgers’ actions, instead choosing to focus on Rodger’s documented mental illness as a primary cause. To be clear, I absolutely believe that the American health system fails its mental health patients on a daily basis; this is something that does need to be addressed. But by implying that his misogyny was caused by his mental illness, we are excusing and minimizing that misogyny and further stigmatizing mental illness.
But have you noticed how quick we are to blame mental illness when white men commit heinous acts of violence? When a black man is violent, we barely react. We may shake our heads, thinking, “that’s too bad”, but we’re comfortable with the cultural perception that black men are naturally violent, or that they have become so through living in a culture of violence. These perceptions are so ingrained that they’ve been implicitly cited in the various “stand your ground” cases recently. We are so accepting of the idea that they are dangerous and violent that the justice system has repeatedly sent the message that it’s not really a crime to shoot a black man if you were “afraid” of him.
Nobody wants to accept that white men might also be steeped in a culture of violence. That women’s fear of them might often be justified.
When a brown man, or a Muslim man, commits an act of heinous violence, we’re satisfied blaming religious extremism or ideology. We’re all too happy to talk about the perpetrator’s extreme beliefs, about his unreasonable hatred of an entire country and culture, about his bitterness and resentment, about the support that he has in his beliefs by countless other extremists.
Nobody wants to talk about the online communities where white men regularly espouse extreme misogynist views, condone violence against women, and express bitterness and resentment towards an entire category of people.
Yes. Mental illness likely played a part in this. But every time we quickly attribute a white man’s violence – his school shooting or bomb-planting – primarily to mental illness, we further ignore the fact that this kind of violence is not an isolated, individual act. It is a widespread, societal problem.
The #YesAllWomen hashtag that I mentioned earlier has been met, in part, by a resounding cry of “not all men are like that” from men who believe that feminists are overreacting, or are unfairly painting all of manhood with a too-broad brush.
But you know what? If you were actually not “like that”, if you really wanted to prove that not all men are misogynist and violent, then you wouldn’t post to say “not all men”. You would post to say
“this is horrible”
“gendered violence has got to stop”
“he may have had mental health issues but that does not excuse his misogyny”
“women do not owe men sex”
If you were really a “nice guy” you would not call a woman “bitch” after she expressed fear and anger at an act of clearly gendered and misogynist violence. You would look at your own attitudes. You would speak out against violence, against rape culture, against misogyny. You would be more concerned about the women who fear violence than you are about your own ego.
This is why #YesAllWomen are scared. We don’t care that #NotAllMen would shoot us for not providing them with the sex to which they feel entitled. Because some men will. And THAT is what we need to acknowledge and address. Because some men will.
And this man did.