Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Calling misogyny what it is - a response to the Rodger murders.

When is a hate crime not a hate crime? Apparently when it is committed by a man against women.

That’s the lesson I’ve learnt this weekend, from the reaction to the Elliot Rodger murders.

At the weekend, Elliot Rodger killed six people – shooting two women and four men – in ‘revenge’ for the treatment he believed he had suffered at the hands of women. In a long and ranting and deeply frightening ‘manifesto’, he detailed his hatred of women in vicious detail. He fantasised about rounding women up and putting us in concentration camps, where he would watch us die. He ranted about women’s ‘power’ over men by the fact that we ‘control’ breeding, and pronounced that women should not be allowed to choose who to ‘breed with’ because men should make that decision. It was a screed of hate. No one reading it could mistake the hateful rhetoric, with every word dripping with misogyny.

Except people could. Yesterday, in an exchange with writer and former MP Louise Mensch, she told me she felt ‘sorry for him’ and that feminists were wrong to link his violence to misogyny. Many more people agreed with her. Many people expressed sympathy with Rodger, one tweeter saying he blamed ‘blondes not guns’ for this killing. Others wondered how hard it would have been for a woman to ‘put out’ for him.

Who wouldn’t feel sorry for this guy? they write. He just wanted to get laid, and selfish, selfish women wouldn’t sleep with him. No wonder he was angry. No wonder he was hurt. Selfish, selfish women, with their belief that they should be able to have sex with people they want to have sex with, and not have sex with people they don’t want to have sex with. Selfish, selfish women with their belief that their bodies belong to them, not to men. They’re the ones at fault here. Not him, he just wanted women to have sex with him. It was women’s fault for not complying with that demand.

It’s so much easier to blame women for the hate and violence committed against us, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to point at women, rather than look at the manifesto and see what is written there as clear as day. The manifesto reveals a man who hated women, a man who believed he was entitled to women’s bodies. His manifesto wasn't about being a man after "love" as some sympathetic tweeters speculated, as love includes mutuality and respect. The manifesto reveals a man who believed he was entitled to access to women's bodies, a man who believed women do not deserve, do not have a right to, bodily autonomy.

It isn’t just people expressing sympathy with Elliot Rodger. There are the people treating him as a sort of MRA superstar. It didn’t take long before someone set up a Facebook page celebrating Rodger as a hero because he killed women, and because he wrote in graphic detail about killing women.

As a woman who has been writing online for over seven years, this MRA response was no surprise to me. After all, Rodger’s writings were nothing I hadn’t seen before. They are in keeping with the MRA rhetoric that stalks women online. I’ve had comments on my blog screeching about women’s control over sex and reproduction, and how that punishes men. I’ve had the odd death threat and rape threat, and god knows I have seen on other women’s blogs the vicious and violent fantasies of MRA men detailing how they want to watch specific or nameless women die, how they want to kill and rape those women. I’ve had men on my blog bemoaning how real life women aren’t like the women in porn movies, and how that isn’t fair on men – revealing a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and sexualities that frightens me (we’re not your fuck toys. We are human beings. I can’t believe we still have to say it). I’ve read MRA rants on how children who are victims of sexual exploitation are actually exploiting men, (not a direct link obviously but a link to a blog discussing the views) that men are the victims because those children have ‘sexual power’ over men (one day I want every news outlet in the UK to make a sincere apology for giving that specific MRA activist uncritical and endless coverage a few years ago).

What happened this weekend was that the misogyny I have seen in so many comments and articles over the years was acted out. The violent rage was acted out. The result was a terrible tragedy, the deaths of six people, the grief of their families, the horror of their friends. The result wasn’t a victimised man driven to kill by selfish women. The result wasn’t an American hero who ‘paid the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against feminazi ideology’. This was a misogynistic hate crime that led to six people dying.

It’s time to join the dots now. There is no evidence to tell us that these killings were related to mental illness. His parents have confirmed there was no diagnosis. Yet there are pages and pages of evidence to tell us that these killings were related to misogyny. So why are so many people so eager to pretend it has nothing to do with misogyny? Why are so many people desperate to point to any other reason for the killings – pointing at mental health, or the actions of symbolic women? Why are so many people determined to ignore or deny or brush off the misogynistic outpouring that preceded these murders?

It’s hard to admit misogyny. It’s hard to face up to the fact that some men hate women so deeply, and that so much of our culture allows, excuses and forgives that hatred and violence. It’s so much easier to turn away from the obvious misogyny, and place the blame firmly on women’s shoulders, to say we should be less precious about bodily autonomy and support male entitlement. Then nothing has to change. Then no one has to confront the misogyny.

But it’s not good enough. Because this was misogyny. And misogyny kills. Women not wanting to have sex with individual men has never killed anyone. No one has ever died from not having sex. Women’s right to bodily autonomy has never killed anyone. Some men believing women shouldn’t have that right – well, that’s killed plenty.

If we refuse to see this as a hate crime against women, if we refuse to explore how this was a hate crime against women, then we can do nothing to prevent it happening again. If we refuse to take misogyny seriously, if we refuse to look at patterns of male violence and male entitlement, then we can do nothing to stop the next murder, the next killing.

Rodger’s writings revealed a man who believed he was entitled to women’s bodies, a man who viewed women as lesser, a man who believed men should have control over women. The concentration camp fantasy, the view that women should not have control over their own sexuality and reproduction – it’s all there to read. As I say, I have read similar things from MRA men over the years. This, coupled with the celebration of him by MRA groups show that this is not an isolated ‘mad man’ fantasy. This is part of a pattern. I know from first-hand experience that Rodger was not alone in believing this about women. He is not alone in killing women because of a belief that women aren’t fully human and aren’t entitled to be treated as fully human.

We need to call this killing what it is. If we don’t, it will happen again. As one tweeter said,

He was a great man, a hero for 1000s of betas. Next week there will be blood of feminists in the streets.’

You might tell me that this one tweet is the ranting of an ‘idiot’, a ‘mad man’ who shouldn’t be taken seriously. Yet that’s what they would have said last week about Rodger and his manifesto. Now six people are dead.

How many more women need to die before we stop talking about "isolated incidents" committed by "deranged" men? How many more? How many more before we stop trying to turn the blame on to women and instead start calling these crimes what they are - misogynistic hate crimes?


Rob Buckley said...

Everything about this saddens me - both the event and the reactions.

On the one hand, I feel sorry for Rodger. There but for the grace of the gods and all that: 20+ years ago, I was 22, lonely, angry, miserable with (undiagnosed) Asperger's. I had suicidal depression, in fact. So I know to some extent what he was feeling.

The big difference? Feminism.

When I was young, there were no Nuts, no Zoo, no internet to look to to find out what girls (supposedly) wanted. So I read the women's pages of The Guardian. By the time I was 16, I was onto The Female Eunuch and the Hite Report. That helped me to find female friends, helped me to learn to listen to them, to not think of them as the 'other' and to find out what they wanted, if not from me, but from life and sometimes men. And that was because of feminism.

So when I had my Damascene moment, unlike Rodger I asked what exactly I offered women that they would want to be with me and at least had a clue to the answer, rather than assume I was entitled to anything. And that's because of feminism.

I turned my life round and one day, I met a woman (in a martial arts club, no less) who liked what I was and because of her mother, because of feminism, she knew it was fine for her to approach me. Fifteen years later, we're still together.

If there's a message of my life that I wish I could have told Rodger, it's that feminism is good. Feminism works. It enriches lives. It saves lives. It saved mine.

If as a man it feels otherwise, it's not because feminism has gone too far, it's because feminism hasn't been allowed to go far enough. And I wish that that message was as clear and as available to Rodger and everyone who in some one has supported him over women and feminism as it had been to me all those years ago.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading the comments and blogs that have sprouted since this happened. I have many thoughts but one will do here. To suggest that either mental illness is not a significant factor or that, when presented with the evidence that he did in fact have a mental illness, that it is 'no excuse' (as has been written elsewhere) is frankly a ridiculous and damaging assertion. Serious, severe psychosis, borderline personality disorder and the derealisation and distancing that comes with narcissistic personality disorder are very real factors here and easily recognisable from Rodger's Youtube videos. The rush to join the throng and have your 'say' reduces any real feminist analysis to the level of tabloid propaganda. There is an analysis to be written that properly links acute mental illness, narcissistic disorder and the 'language' it appropriates to express itself; in this case the 'language' of misogyny. This analysis has yet to be written as it would take more than 48 hours to properly research and write. We, as feminists, are heading to some very unstable ground when we refuse complexity or, as Glosswitch called it 'nuance'.

Mel said...

Rob, thanks.

Anonymous said...

When Anders Breivek committed mass murder in the name of white supremacy the ideology that informed his hatred was scrutinised. The religious fanaticism/extremism that drives suicide bombers is questioned. Yet if we dare to question the misogny that drives a man to target women and set out for all to see in 141 page manifesto we are hysterical, over speculating feminazis!

Lil_Z said...

Anders Behring Breivik was also declared mentally ill by a number of professionals (in fact, one psychiatric team diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic). This doesn't and shouldn't detract from the political analysis of racism and the rise of the far right in Europe that is necessary when a man writes an explicitly racist manifesto and then goes on a killing spree, although many right-wing commentators at the time had a heroic go at quashing any such analysis.

People can have mental disorders AND be motivated by explicitly political hatreds of particular groups of people, which it is totally legitimate to link to the surrounding culture. Speaking of 'people', it's notable that virtually all mass killers are men, in spite of the fact that women are as likely to be mentally ill. If mental illness – including paranoia, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders and psychosis – were the primary factor behind such massacres, we could expect to see women carrying them out in equal numbers. We don't, and it is worth asking why.

And when a mass killer leaves a manifesto stating that hatred of women was the motive for his mass killing, it takes a similar level of denial to say that feminists are wrong to focus on his misogyny. It is the people who want to make this primarily about mental illness, rather than the killer's own clearly stated motive, who are on shaky ground here.