A horrible thing happened last weekend: a kid named Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in California and killed six people, wounded several others. It was another in a growing list of homegrown atrocities being committed at an increasing rate here in America. It’s gotten so common, there’s a list of questions that instantly generate once we hear about another mass slaying: Was it at a school? Were there guns involved? Were the guns obtained legally? Each one of these tragedies forces us to look at ourselves and our neighbors differently, mixing suspicion and empathy in unequal amounts to arrive at the unsatisfying conclusion that we, as a society, have our priorities out of whack. Rodger’s rampage had another wrinkle, though. It was preceded by a creepy video manifesto.
We perceive this awful, misogynistic video as unusual because it is reasonably coherent. We don’t expect our spree killers and maniacs to be so well-spoken, looking so normal. One result of this video, as well as the release of other vitriolic, hateful stuff Rodger produced, is a nationwide discussion about how women are still regarded as little more than fuck objects by our patriarchal society. And it’s been a good discussion. It led to a twitter hashtag, #yesallwomen, where women (mainly) detailed the inequities and harassment they encounter every single day. It’s caused a lot of women to speak up about otherwise routine stuff they deal with on the street, with their families and at their careers that many of us men might take for granted. It’s exposed a pervasive belief that women somehow owe men sexual satisfaction, that by not reciprocating on advances they are being prudes, or bitches, or doing something incorrectly. If the result of Rodger’s assault is that the male-dominated infrastructure weakens and crumbles, if it effects a real change in gender inequities, then perhaps we can extract some good from this terrible event. There’s one aspect of the whole thing that doesn’t sit right with me, however: it’s another case of a severely disturbed man being held as evidence of a misogynistic society.
Please don’t get me wrong. We do live in a misogynistic society. There are severe improprieties and injustices perpetrated against women in the United States that need to be addressed. But it doesn’t seem fair that the staged ramblings of a severely disturbed individual should be used to evince this fact. Yes, the way Rodgers talks in his video is in line with the way many men think–many men believe they are entitled to female attention, for sure. But many men aren’t going to commit revenge murders over it. Indeed, most men might harbor lots of misogynistic thoughts while interacting with women in a pleasant and professional way. But we don’t persecute people for thoughts, we persecute them for their actions, and the actions of Rodgers, and his justification for them, do not mirror mine in any way. I am very willing to be schooled by women in the ways I might have been less than egalitarian in my dealings. I want women to speak up, I want to know about the invisible oppressions I and my fellow males perpetrate without realizing it. But I will be damned if I’m going to let myself be lumped in with some cruel asshole who’s romanticized his first-world struggle.
I suppose the discussion is what’s important, less so the impetus. Like I’ve said, if every guy reading the #yesallwomen feed takes it upon himself to correct his behaviors, and admonish the improper behaviors of those around him, then it’s all been for good cause. It’s a sad truth that only the most outrageous, horrifying incidents galvanize people to speak up–be it about gun control, how we care for the mentally ill, misogyny, or whatever else is sticking in our craw. I merely wish it didn’t take a hyperbolic example of a young man’s anger to get people to discuss gender politics. Because I am a man, and I have certainly behaved less-than-great to many women in my life, both knowingly and unknowingly. I deserve to be called out on these instances, I want to be instructed in the passive misogyny I carry from the earliest days of being taught. But damn it, I won’t be compared to Elliot Rodger. That guy is fucking nuts.