By now you’ve probably heard of Elliot Rodger, the 22 year old man who killed six people (two of them were women) and injured seven others (one of those, confirmed as a woman) in Santa Barbara as part of his quest to get revenge on women who rejected him sexually.
I haven’t been able to read many of the stories. I haven’t wanted to see what the media is saying on television. It’s too much of a reminder of being stalked by boys/men who wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t interested in them. But in skimming headlines, it’s abundantly clear that the media is trying to frame this as an isolated incident, focusing on the fact that he was seeing a psychiatrist, that he legally owned the gun he used – instead of focusing on the very real dangers of misogyny. Because this is not an isolated incident.
In the past month, I can think of two other news stories that stood out to me like this. There was the death of Maren Sanchez, just 16 years old, who was murdered by a classmate because she turned him down for prom. The other was Mandy Boardman, who watched her ex-husband be sentenced to 8 years of home confinement for repeatedly drugging and raping her for three years of their marriage (she divorced him after learning of what he’d done). Prosecutors had asked for 40 years in jail, and he was sentenced to 20 – with 12 years of that sentence suspended. Worse than that, even, was that Judge Kurt Eisgruber during his remarks asked Boardman to forgive her attacker.
And there are similar stories from around the world, week after week. These stories seldom get the attention they deserve, and it isn’t until something like this spree happens that they get a fair amount of airtime. It’s one situation where as a society, we’re failing as a whole.
We live in a society where we’re told that “boys will be boys,” where dress codes are enforced in schools to keep girls from distracting boys with their appearance. Where we air shows about “pick up artists” who tell men that they can turn any no into a yes, we have numerous television shows that center on men who reassure their male friends that women who reject them are bitches and crazy. We allow men to sexualize a children’s show (a show geared to empower little girls, by the way) to the degree where googling artwork for the show generally yields adult material, while at the same time cartoon companies are canceling cartoon shows because too many girls and women watch it. And say very little about it.
We try to legislate breastfeeding in public because as a society we’ve done our best to rebrand breasts as being something sexual, instead of literally a way to nourish babies.
When teaching rape prevention, we teach girls to dress modestly and think about their surroundings instead of teaching boys and men not to rape them. We allow colleges and universities to investigate rapes that happen on campus.
Men are encouraged to be sexually adventurous, but women are called sluts for doing the same thing. We’ve created a mythical friendzone and continue to feed the lie that men and women can’t be platonic- a lie which shames friendship between a man and a woman. Shame that clearly played a large part in Rodger’s rage – in his mind, women could fill no other role than a sexual role. So any romantic/sexual rejection left nothing for him. A rage which is not singular to this case, it’s something that comes up time and time again. We’ve also created this belief that there’s some sort of a sexual transaction at play. Pay attention to a woman, buy her a drink- and she’s required to reward you with sex and affection. Women are not prizes to be won, this isn’t a video game where fulfilling certain actions in a quest/mission will get you into our beds.
We’ve allowed men to rewrite how we perceive feminism. Instead of it simply being the fight to make sure that women are treated equally and fairly, we’ve let our male-led society dictate that it’s women wanting to subjugate men – that it’s something done out of hatred for men. To the point that young actresses who talk about wanting to make the choice to stay home and be a mom someday, say that they aren’t feminists. Because somehow, as a society we don’t understand what it is- it’s about saying that we should ALL, male or female, have the choice to do as we please.
And this isn’t just how we’ve let misogyny rewrite how we perceive women. It’s rewritten how we perceive men, too. Men, you should be furious that we’ve decided that you’re so ruled by your penis that you can’t look at a pair of legs or a pair of tits without being ruled by lust. You should be furious that we’ve decided as a society that you can’t act like a decent human being without a secret agenda. That we’ve trained you to see women as prey. That you’ve been groomed through porn to misunderstand how to actually enjoy sex without unrealistic expectations.
Can we please use this horrible act as a stepping stone? Can we please have the difficult discussion about how internalized misogyny is in our society? And can we have it without men saying “Not all men are like that?” Because heaven forbid, a man be faced with the uncomfortable realization that in fact most men are like that, even to a small degree.
Because nothing will change without having these discussions or realizations. Nothing will get better. It will only get worse.