Tag Archives: violence against women

Virginity, Violence and Male Entitlement

31 May

I’ve seen a number of articles written this week by men – nice, well-intentioned, feminist men, I’m sure – about how they empathize with Elliot Rodgers.

Oh, of course they’re disgusted by his actions and of course they think he was a terrible excuse for a human being, but, well, on some level they get it. Because they know what it’s like to be a lonely dude who feels isolated and unloved. They know what it’s like to want female attention but not know how to get it. They know what it’s like to be embarrassed and ashamed at finding yourself still a virgin at the age of twenty two. So while they condemn his actions, they can’t help but somehow feel a little bit sorry for him.

I can find it in my heart to feel many things, but being sorry for Elliot Rodgers will never be one of them.

I feel sorry for his victims, whose lives ended because of a misogynistic asshole’s wet dream of “retribution.”

I feel sorry for the victims’ friends and families, who have to live with their loss every day.

I feel sorry for Elliot’s family, because of the guilt and shame and sorrow I’m sure they’re experiencing.

I feel sorry for the staff and students at UCSB, who will no doubt struggle to feel safe on their campus after this horrible event.

I feel sorry for all the women everywhere who are reminded on a daily basis how little value their lives have in the eyes of so many men.

I can even manage to feel sorry for the men who empathize with Elliot, because I’m sure that recognizing that part of yourself is difficult and frightening.

I cannot, however, feel sorry for Elliot himself. I don’t especially care how sad and lonely he was. I can’t find it in me to feel badly that women rejected him over and over. I definitely don’t have time for people who seem to think that all of this could have been prevented if only Elliot had gotten laid.

I was a virgin when I was twenty two, by which I mean I’d never had penetrative sex with a man (or any kind of sex with anyone, to be honest). And yes, I believe that virginity is a social construct and not an actual thing, but at the time it was very real to me. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my virginity, and I definitely felt unwanted, undesirable and unattractive. To make things even worse, there was (and continues to be) this persisten myth that any woman can have sex whenever she wants, because all men are animals and will fuck anything they can. But they didn’t want to fuck me.

And you know what? Literally at no time ever did I think, gee, I should go on a killing spree.

I never felt entitled to men’s bodies just because I wanted them.

I never blamed all men everywhere for my inability to get it on.

Never. Not once.

And while I understand that there is more social pressure for boys to be sexually active than there is for girls, that doesn’t mean that girls experience any kind of expectations surrounding their sexual initiation. To be honest, being a twenty two year old virgin made me feel like a freak – no one else I knew was as inexperienced as I was, and the older I got, the harder it became to admit to my peers that I’d never even seen a guy’s junk, much less done anything with it. By the time I got to university, whenever I told people that I’d never had sex, they gave me the once-over, like, what is wrong with you.  I worried that I had some kind of sell-by date, like there was an age that I would hit when no one would want to touch my virginal self with a ten foot pole. I just wanted to get the damn thing over with already so that I could get on with the rest of my life.

But I never considered blaming all men everywhere for my problems.

See, the difference is that I didn’t feel like sex was something that men owed me. I didn’t believe that other women, the women who dated the people with whom I was madly, hopelessly in love, were unfairly co-opting something that was rightfully mine. I didn’t think that being nice to men meant that I was entitled to date them. I was miserable and lonely, but I didn’t try to pin the blame for that loneliness on anyone else, let alone an entire gender.

The problem with all of the talk surrounding how nerdy and awkward Elliot was as a teenager and how he just didn’t have anyone to tell him that sex isn’t all that important or that things would get better is that these discussions minimize the role misogyny and male entitlement played in this tragedy. Elliot didn’t murder six people because he was too shy to strike up a conversation with a woman; he murdered them because he felt that he deserved unlimited access to women’s bodies and if he couldn’t have that then by god he was going to kill those women and the men who dated them. This is a man who had fantasies about putting all women in concentration camps and slowly starving them to death. This wasn’t about his virginity – although I’m sure that played a part in what happened – it was about his belief that women owed him sex just because he was a man.

Yes, the idea that being sexually active is directly tied to a man’s masculinity is toxic. Yes, this is a hard thing for men to live with. Yes, being a twenty two year old virgin (unless you’re doing so by choice) will impact your self-esteem. But Elliot Rodger didn’t go on a killing spree because he couldn’t get laid – he did so because he was infuriated that he wasn’t being given the attention and respect that he felt he deserved.

I know that we need to talk about toxic masculinity and the ways that it hurts men. That is something that I feel incredibly passionate about. But right now I’m not ready to have that discussion, or at least not framed around some kind of empathy with how desperate and lonely and confused Elliot Rodger was. Right now my priority is talking about all of the ways that women are dehumanized in our culture, and the ways that dehumanization affects us every day. I want to talk about how our culture teaches men to dominate women, and tells them that violence is the way to do this. I want to talk about the dangerous consequences that women are painfully aware of every time they tell a man no. And maybe this is all part of the same discussion, but right now I just don’t have room to consider how Elliot Rodger might have felt. Because, as weird as this might sound, this isn’t really about him or his story. This isn’t about rationalizing or empathizing or sympathizing with a man who believed that he needed to punish women for not wanting to sleep with him.

This is about how society views women, and how unbelievably frightening it is to live under that lens.

My virginal self at age 20, not thinking even a little about murdering all men

My virginal self at age 20, not thinking even a little about murdering all men

 

 

Elliot Rodger And Men Who Hate Women

24 May

TW for violence against women, misogynistic language, violent language, talk of rape

Last night, a 22 year old man named Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured seven more in what most news outlets are describing as a “shooting rampage.” Rodger died later that night from a gunshot wound to his head, though it’s still unclear as to whether or not it was self-inflicted or from responding deputies shooting back after he opened fire on them.

Almost everything I’ve read about him has referred to him as a “madman” or “mentally ill.”

No. We have no evidence yet that he suffered from any kind of mental illness or was seeking any sort of treatment. Immediately claiming that with no proof to back that fact up leads to the further stigmatization of the mentally ill, and contributes to the (incorrect) assumption that mental illness equals violence, and vice versa.

We don’t know whether Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. What we do know is that he was a Men’s Rights Activist, or MRA.

He was an active member of the “PUAhate,” an online forum (which has been down since the shootings) dedicated to “revealing the scams, deception and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to mislead men and profit from them.” And just to clarify, they’re not revealing these scams because of how vile and misogynistic they are, but rather because these men have tried these techniques and still failed to trick women into sleeping with them. These are men who both feel entitled to have sex with women and also blame all women everywhere for not fucking them. See, they want to have sex with a woman because that’s what they deserve just for being dudes, but they also hate women for withholding what they view as rightfully theirs. And I mean, boy do they ever hate women. The PUAhate forum has, according to an article on The Hairpin, threads with titles like “Are ugly women completely useless to society?” and “Have any hot women ever committed suicide?”

Rodger also subscribed to several YouTube channels on how to be a ‘pick up artist,’ including The Player Supreme Show and RSDfreetour as well as multiple MRA channels.

Last night, shortly before going on his killing spree, Rodger posted a video on YouTube to serve as his manifesto. In it, he declares that he’s a 22 year old virgin, and then goes on to say:

‘College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it,’ he says in the video, which runs to almost seven minutes.
>‘I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would’ve all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them,’ 

‘I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male …’

This is what the Men’s Rights Movement teaches its members. Especially vulnerable, lonely young men who have a hard time relating to women. It teaches them that women, and especially feminist women, are to blame for their unhappiness. It teaches them that women lie, and that women are naturally predisposed to cheat, trick and manipulate. It teaches them that men as a social class are dominant over women and that they are entitled to women’s bodies. It teaches them that women who won’t give them what they want deserve some kind of punishment.

We need to talk about this. The media, especially, needs to address this. We live in a culture that constantly devalues women in a million little different ways, and that culture has evolved to include a vast online community of men who take that devaluation to its natural conclusion: brutal, violent hatred of women. And I don’t mean that all these men have been physically violent towards women, but rather that they use violent, degrading, dehumanizing language when discussing women. Whose bodies, just as a reminder, they feel completely entitled to.

Another reminder: this isn’t an isolated incident. Not by a long shot. No, most men don’t go out in a blaze of glory after shooting up in a sorority house, but there are so many examples of men becoming violent towards women after being rejected. Like the kid last month who stabbed a girl to death because she wouldn’t go to the prom with him. The threat of violence is the main reason why many women feel unable to leave an abusive relationship – because after leaving is when they are at their most vulnerable. When you look the statistics on violence against women, Elliot Rodger’s act doesn’t seem so much like a one-off incident. He was participating, albeit in a grandiose public way, in the time-honoured tradition of controlling women with violence and punishing them when they don’t behave as desired.

We don’t know if Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. We don’t know if he was a “madman.” We do know that he was desperately lonely and unhappy, and that the Men’s Rights Movement convinced him that his loneliness and unhappiness was intentionally caused by women. Because this is what the Men’s Rights Movement does: it spreads misogyny, it spreads violence, and most of all it spreads a sense of entitlement towards women’s bodies. Pretending that this is the a rare act perpetrated by a “crazy” person is disingenuous and also does nothing to address the threat of violence that women face every day. We can’t just write this one off – we need to talk about all of the fucked up parts of our culture, especially the movements that teach men that they have the right to dominate and intimidate and violate women, and we need to change things. Because if we don’t, I guarantee that this will happen again. And again. And again.

‘”Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.’

Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)

ETA: A few people have been commenting to tell me that I’m wrong about Elliot not having a mental illness, as his family members have reported to the media that he had Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is not a mental illness – it is a neurological condition, and it does not predispose people to violence. Correlating Asperger’s with violence is wrong and uninformed and you are doing more harm than good by saying that.

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I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter

18 Mar

I don’t have to tell you that Steubenville is all over the news.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s a fucking joke that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two teenagers convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, were only sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile prison. Each will serve a year for the rape itself; Mays will serve an additional year for “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

I probably don’t even have to tell you that the media treatment of this trial has been a perfect, if utterly sickening, example of rape culture, with its focus on how difficult and painful this event has been for the rapists who raped a sixteen year old girl then bragged about it on social media.

And I almost certainly don’t have to tell you that the world is full of seemingly nice, normal people who want to go to bat for the convicted rapists. I’m quite sure that you already know about the victim-blaming that’s been happening since this case first came to light. You know about the fact that people have actually come out and said that the real lesson to be learned here is that we need to be more careful with social media (i.e. go ahead and rape but make sure you don’t get caught). You already know that people seem to think that being a sports star and having a good academic record should somehow make up for the fact that you are a rapist.

I don’t have to tell you any of that because it’s all par for the course.

What I do want to tell you is that you need to stop using the “wives, sisters, daughters” argument when you are talking to people defending the Steubenville rapists. Or any rapists. Or anyone who commits any kind of crime, violent or otherwise, against a woman.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this line of rhetoric, it’s the one that goes like this:

You should stop defending the rapists and start caring about the victim. Imagine if she was your sister, or your daughter, or your wife. Imagine how badly you would feel if this happened to a woman that you cared about.

Framing the issue this way for rape apologists can seem useful. I totally get that. It feels like you’re humanizing the victim and making the event more relatable, more sympathetic to the person you’re arguing with.

You know what, though? Saying these things is not helpful; in fact, it’s not even helping to humanize the victim. What you are actually doing is perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.

The Steubenville rape victim was certainly someone’s daughter. She may have been someone’s sister. Someday she might even be someone’s wife. But these are not the reasons why raping her was wrong. This rape, and any rape, was wrong because women are people. Women are people, rape is wrong, and no one should ever be raped. End of story.

The “wives, sisters, daughters” line of argument comes up all the fucking time. President Obama even used it in his State of the Union address this year, saying,

“We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

This device, which Obama has used on more than one occasion, is reductive as hell. It defines women by their relationships to other people, rather than as people themselves. It says that women are only important when they are married to, have given birth to, or have been fathered by other people. It says that women are only important because of who they belong to.

Women are not possessions.

Women are people.

I seriously cannot believe that I have to say this in 2013.

On top of all of this, I want you to think of a few other implications this rhetorical device has. For one thing, what does it say about the women who aren’t anyone’s wife, mother or daughter? What does it say about the kids who are stuck in the foster system, the kids who are shuffled from one set of foster parents to another or else living in a group home? What does it say about the little girls whose mothers surrender them, willingly or not, to the state? What does it say about the people who turn their back on their biological families for one reason or another?

That they deserve to be raped? That they are not worthy of protection? That they are not deserving of sympathy, empathy or love?

And when we frame all women as being someone’s wife, mother or daughter, what are we teaching young girls?

We are teaching them that in order to have the law on their side, they need to be loved by men. That they need to make themselves attractive and appealing to men in order to be worthy of protection. That their lives and their bodily integrity are valueless except for how they relate to the men they know.

The truth is that I am someone’s wife. I am also someone’s mother. I am someone’s daughter, and someone’s sister. But those are not the things that define me, or make me valuable in this world. Those are not the reasons that I should be able to live a life free from rape, sexual assault or any kind of violent crime.

I have value because I am a person. Full stop. End of argument. This isn’t even a discussion that we should be having.

So please, let’s start teaching that fact to the young women in our lives. Teach them that you love, honour and value them because of who they are. Teach them that they should expect to be treated with integrity because it’s a basic human right. Teach them that they do not deserve to be raped because no one ever, ever, ever deserves to be raped.

Above all, teach them that they are people, too.

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National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

7 Dec

When I was a kid, my mother had a button that looked exactly like this:

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I couldn’t find a very large image of this button, but in case you’re wondering, around the edge it reads: “In commemoration of the 14 women killed in Montreal, December 6th, 1989 and all women who have suffered from violence.”

Every year, after my mother retired her Remembrance Day poppy sometime in mid-November, she would break out her rose button and pin it to the lapel of her coat. As a small child, I remember coveting the button, because I liked the picture on it. When I was older, it made me uncomfortable; I didn’t like that my mother wore a pin to commemorate a mass murder, and the look on her face and the tone in her voice when she explained the story behind it frightened me. Strangely, the story itself didn’t frighten me; it seemed too remote, totally removed from my day-to-day life. It was a freak accident; a tragedy, yes, but nothing that could ever happen to a person like me.

Later still, when I was a teenager and irritated by everything my mother did, I found the button obnoxious and sanctimonious. I’d grown up hearing my mother referring to herself as a feminist, a term that I refused to apply to myself. It seemed to me that most boys hated feminists and, when I was a lonely high school student with low self-esteem, the last thing I wanted was to do something that would cause the boys I knew to reject me even more. When they made jokes about women, jokes whose real punchlines were how stupid and pathetic women were, I laughed. Sometimes I joked back, making fun of the way girls dressed, of how many guys they slept with, how idiotic and shallow they were. Sure, I was a girl, but I was on their side – I wasn’t one of those girls. Never mind the fact that I probably would have given my eyeteeth to be cool enough to be one of those girls.

Back in those days, whenever late fall rolled around and my mother broke out her shabby, rusting rose button, I would roll my eyes. He was crazy, I would tell my mother. Like, mentally ill. It had nothing to do with women, he was just nuts. What if he’d killed only Dutch people? Would we have national day of remembrance and action on violence against Dutch people?

When I was a teenager, I thought that feminism was pointless at best, and a way of angering and alienating people at worst. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that sometimes angering and alienating people was a good thing; that there might be situations in which I wanted people to feel negatively about me and the things that I said. At the time, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to please every body, just like I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to kill me simply because I was a girl.

Now I know differently.

I’m not saying that anyone’s out to get me specifically, because as far as I know, they’re not. It probably helps that I come off as fairly non-threatening – I’m a small, mousy white woman who doesn’t work in a male-dominated field. I’m a shy, quiet woman who pretty much totally followed the status quo – I finished high school, went to university, then married a nice guy and had a kid before I turned 30. Probably the most threatening thing I do is blog (extensively) about women’s reproductive rights, but that hasn’t generated any death threats or anything.

But there are still people who hate me because of my gender. I mean, maybe not openly, maybe not obviously, but they do. We live in a culture of casual misogyny. A culture where over 600 First Nations women are missing or have been murdered in Canada, only to have our government do nothing about it. A culture where female sex workers are treated as objects instead of people. A culture where women are told to be less angry when they talk about the events of December 6th. A culture where women are constantly being ridiculed, judged and set up in competition against each other. A culture where my sister, an avid World of Warcraft player, has been asked repeatedly to turn on her webcam and show other players her breasts in order to “prove” that she’s a woman.

When Marc Lépine went to the École Polytechnique 23 years ago today, he entered the school with the intention of killing feminists. Feminists, he said in his suicide note, had ruined his life. Lépine had applied to the École Polytechnique in both 1986 and 1989 but had been rejected both times because he lacked the CEGEP courses necessary for admission. In Lépine’s mind, however, he wasn’t admitted to the school because women had taken too many of the available spaces. Women, he thought, had taken everything important, and left nothing for him.

Lépine killed 14 women just because they were studying engineering. Lépine killed 14 women for daring to want careers in a male-dominated field. Lépine killed 14 women for being women.

I was seven years old when École Polytechnique Massacre happened. I want to think that the world has changed since then, but really, has it? Women are still the butt of the joke. Women are still lacking in positions of power. Women are still being told that they need to compete against each other. There is still a persistent bias against women in the worlds of math and science. If there’s anything that can be learned from the latest American election, it’s that there are still men who hate women. A lot of men. Powerful men.

I don’t know if my mother still has her rose button. Probably not – I haven’t seen it in several years, and the last time I did, it was looking pretty beat up. I wish she did, though, and I wish that she lend it to me. These days, I would wear it with pride.

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