Elliot Rodger was one of them. And those downplaying his misogyny are starting to sound like they’re defending it.
It’s not all men, but we don’t know in advance which one it will be.
The hands-down most popular post on the blog I founded in 2007, Shapely Prose, is one I didn’t even write. “Schrödinger’s Rapist: Or, A Guy’s Guide to Approaching Strange Women Without Being Maced,” has been viewed over half a million times. In it, a guest blogger who goes by the pseudonym Phaedra Starling clearly explains why women aren’t always overjoyed to talk to any man who tries to start a conversation: “When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist,” she writes.
You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.
It seems pretty straightforward, right? You might be a lovely guy. You probably are a lovely guy! But between your status as a stranger and all the personal safety tips rattling around in the average American woman’s head, she has no good reason to believe you’re lovely, and several good reasons to respond by throwing up an unmistakable boundary.
According to some of the men who commented, however—and there were over 1,200 comments by the time those of us moderating them decided to close the thread down—Starling’s thesis might be paraphrased like so: “Men may never speak to women in public, and I don’t care if that means every last one of you dies alone. Your radfem overladies have spoken.”
A commenter named Tom wondered “If you look at every man who comes into your life as a possible threat, unless, of course, you do meet him in church with your mother, what kind of men do you meet?”
Good question, Tom. Mostly, we meet the kind of men who have friends who introduce us, or who also use the internet, or who approach us respectfully in public (which includes walking away if we’re not interested). We meet, you know, men. People. Like us.
But then sometimes, we meet Elliot Rodger.
It’s not all men, but last weekend, it was also a man—Keith Binder—who shot three women for denying him the sex he felt he deserved.
It’s not all men, but it was all of the men at the brand-new Tumblr “When Women Refuse,” which in the wake of Rodger and Binder is cataloging news articles about violence done to women who rebuff men’s advances.
It’s not all men, but golly, it’s a depressing number of men.
So much has already been published about Elliot Rodger and his nakedly—proudly—anti-woman manifesto, it’s hard to keep up. So here’s what I want you to do. Pick an article, any article, that places the Isla Vista killings in the context of your garden variety non-deadly (or not-always-deadly) misogyny and male entitlement. Scroll down. Read the comments.
It’s not all men, but it’s definitely a bunch of those guys.
Setting aside (for now) the expected denials that violence against women betokens any systemic problem, an interesting thing keeps happening in these comments. Look at this conversation on Noah Berlatsky’s candid and thoughtful exploration of how loneliness and rigid, toxic notions of masculinity can become a powder keg:
“Savvy”: “It’s like saying misogynists see people on a scale from 1 to 100, with women being at 1 and men being at 100. Men are seen as being better than women.”
“SkepticalDude”: “I object to the placement of women or the classically feminine as a ‘1’ on your spectrum. Most men I know greatly value feminine women, and see them as the complement to a classically masculine man.”
Do you see it yet?
How about here, from Jezebel commenter “datburrito”: “Some women are making it out that mysoginy [sic] and men feeling entitled to women is what is causing this rash of lethal violence against women. The fact is 99.999% of men experience rejection and deal with it without violence, yet we are getting blamed for this kid’s mental problems.”
I responded to that one in much the same way Savvy did to SkepticalDude: By pointing out that “misogyny” and “the experience of being a heterosexual male” are actually two separate things. “Misogynists” and “most men” are hardly synonymous—apparently, it takes a rabid feminist to clarify that point.
One is tempted to wonder, though: Is this what it has come to? Is the virulent hatred of women so accepted in our culture that average men get confused about whether they belong to the legion of the pathologically hostile or just, you know, straight guys?
It’s not all men—unless it is, I guess.
It’s not all men, but it is Pick-Up Artists.
In June of 2013, the crowd-funding site Kickstarter hosted a plea by Connecticut “pick-up artist” Ken Hoinsky to fund his self-published book, Above The Game: A Guide To Getting Awesome With Women (though they eventually took down the project once they realized how egregious it was, but said it was too late to refund the money). Pick-Up Artists (PUAs), if you’re fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with them, are men who treat the “seduction” of women—i.e., getting as many as possible into bed—as a game of manipulation and persistence. (Indeed, Neil Strauss’s The Game put these jackasses on the map.) They teach charming seduction strategies like “negging,” which is basically paying a backhanded compliment, as a way of subtly making a woman feel bad about herself and therefore more likely to sleep with the kind of jerk who would do that.
Some of the more famous practitioners—like “Mystery,” the black-eyelinered, silly-hatted star of his own VH-1 reality show—become gurus to hapless dudes who can’t get a date. Hoinsky was evidently aiming for that kind of recognition.
Blogger Casey Malone, who says he loves Kickstarter so much, he often passes time browsing projects on the site, decided to take a look at some of Hoinsky’s writing around the web—previous pieces he planned to include in the book. And Malone found that in addition to a bunch of plain old bad dating tips, Hoinsky was handing out advice like this:
“All the greatest seducers in history could not keep their hands off of women. They aggressively escalated physically with every woman they were flirting with. They began touching them immediately, kept great body language and eye contact, and were shameless in their physicality. Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her. That’s hot. It arouses her physically and psychologically.”
You got that? A woman who rejects you is aroused by your desire for her! (If this were true, there would be zero market for Pick-Up Artist training, but never mind that.)
So strongly did Hoinsky believe in this principle, he channeled classic alpha male Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross, writing in all caps, “ALWAYS BE ESCALATING.” Eventually, he took this principle to its logical conclusion and straightforwardly advocated sexual assault: “Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick. Tell her to suck your dick. Be dominant.”
This is how the PUA community answer’s Freud’s great question, when lonely men come asking. What do women want? Aggressive physical escalation.
Most people, of all genders, would roll their eyes at this misogynistic nonsense and presume any guy who buys into it is too pathetic to pose a real threat. But George Sodini paid for dating classes with PUA guru R. Don Steele, before he opened fire on an aerobics class full of women. Elliot Rodger was so disillusioned by the promise of pick-up artistry he became active in the “PUAHate” community, where young men who follow the rules of “game” but fail to score come together to air their grievances. Absolutely certain they’re entitled to use women’s bodies to get off, these men are enraged not just at women for exercising our own right to bodily autonomy, but at the men who reinforce that entitlement and rage without providing a guarantee that women’s own desires can somehow be legally overridden.
Within a month, Hoinsky’s advice about “aggressive escalation” had been upvoted almost 700 times on Reddit. During that time, he not only achieved his Kickstarter goal of $2,000, but exceeded it by another $14,000 and change.
It’s not all men, but it is Men’s Rights “Activists” (MRAs).
Although some members of each community insist they have nothing in common, MRAs are extremely similar to PUAs in that both thrive on the dehumanization of women.
Writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report in spring 2012—following the self-immolation of Men’s Rights leader Thomas Ball—The New Hate author Arthur Goldwag elaborates on the MRAs’ internet presence:
There are literally hundreds of websites, blogs and forums devoted to attacking virtually all women (or, at least, Westernized ones) — the so-called ‘manosphere,’ which now also includes a tribute page for Tom Ball (“He Died For Our Children”). While some of them voice legitimate and sometimes disturbing complaints about the treatment of men, what is most remarkable is the misogynistic tone that pervades so many. Women are routinely maligned as sluts, gold-diggers, temptresses and worse; overly sympathetic men are dubbed ‘manginas’; and police and other officials are called their armed enablers.
Ball, by the way, became an MRA—specifically, a fathers’ rights activist—after losing custody of his daughter, 25 years before his suicide. He sent his final words to the Keene (NH) Sentinel, and Goldwag paraphrases the document: “All he had done, he said, was smack his 4-year-old daughter and bloody her mouth after she licked his hand as he was putting her to bed. Feminist-crafted anti-domestic violence legislation did the rest.”
This is the first thing to remember about MRAs: Many of them got involved with “men’s” and “father’s” rights after being accused of domestic violence, and handled accordingly by the justice system.
Now, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that a hapless man could have children with a woman so hateful, she’d lie that he was violent toward her or his children in order to punish him. These things happen. Far more likely, though, is that your typical MRA who tells a sob story about his abuse by the courts actually got there by abusing another person.
The second thing to remember, which David Futrelle, author of the excellent misogyny watchdog blog We Hunted the Mammoth, highlighted for me in an interview, is that “activist” is a strong word, when referring to MRAs. Futrelle is blunt: “They don’t do anything other than yell and complain.”
Sociologist Michael Kimmel has a similar take in his book Angry White Men: “Most of what constitutes men’s rights activism is this sort of recitation [of grievances], supported by a few anecdotes, and the occasional series of empirical inversions that usually leave the rational mind reeling. To hear them tell it, white men in America are steamrolled into submission, utterly helpless and powerless.”
“The one form of activism they do,” notes Futrelle, “is harassing individual women.”
Much of that harassment takes place on the internet, where intrepid MRAs evince seemingly limitless energy for leaving comments explaining that women are lying, cheating, vengeful beasts, that the point of feminism is to destroy all men, and anyone who disagrees is an obvious misandrist. (The word “misandry”—hatred of men—is an MRA calling card.) Kimmel notes that “fiery comment sections” are the natural habitat of the 21st century He-Man Woman Haters’ Club. “There, ‘commenters’ let fly with a spiraling series of accusations, crazed conspiracy theories, and threats to their enemies.” But sometimes, their vitriol spills over into the real world.
In November 2012, author and longtime MRA guru Warren Farrell—a man who has written, among other things, that “a man being sued after a woman has more sex than intended is like Lay’s being sued after someone has more potato chips than intended,” and “We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting”—gave a talk at my alma mater, the University of Toronto, sponsored by a “men’s issues awareness” group on campus. About 100 anti-sexist protesters stood outside the building where Farrell was to speak, holding signs and chanting everything from “Women hold up half the sky!” and “No hate speech on campus!” to the more straightforward “Fuck Warren Farrell!” There was some blocking of doors, some shoving, and one arrest (which did not result in any charges).
I’m being deliberately vague about who did what, because I’ve watched YouTube videos taken both by demonstrators and Warren Farrell fans, and it’s quite difficult to tell who started what. The MRA video I watched, via the popular website A Voice for Men, is deliberately edited to show the worst side of the anti-sexist protestors, and I still don’t see what the big deal is. The most dramatic footage comes when police officers push protestors away from the doors, knocking some of them down, and others respond—from behind a barricade—“This is what men’s rights looks like! This is what men’s rights look like!”
Look, I’m a dual citizen and lived in Toronto for a decade of my adult life, so I’m not one to perpetuate Canadian stereotypes, but hell if this isn’t an exceptionally polite group of protesters. Like the Constitution of the United States, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects both free expression and peaceful assembly, so the protesters had every right to be there, just as Farrell had every right to spew hostile nonsense, and his fans had every right to walk through the anti-sexist demonstrators and attend his lecture. I believe it was wrong of protestors to block the doors, and it was wrong of police to deliberately shove several of them to the ground, in the course of removing them from that area. But none of it was unusual for a protest.
In MRA world, though, criticism is tantamount to censorship, and yelling is a violation of fundamental freedoms. (Except, of course, when they’re doing it.) Because people turned out to voice their displeasure at the university offering a platform to Farrell, you see, a number of young men were deprived of their right to listen to a venomous misogynist without anyone calling them “fucking scum” for it.
According to MRA logic, they should have been guaranteed the right to hear the author of The Myth of Male Power—who told Penthouse in 1977, “Incest is like a magnifying glass. In some circumstances it magnifies the beauty of the relationship, and in others it magnifies the trauma”—without also hearing anything negative about themselves.
In an open letter to the University of Toronto Student Union following the event, Paul Elam, founder of A Voice for Men, delivered a “promise or, depending on your preference, a warning” to those who opposed Farrell’s speech. He and his cohort would “expose” the protestors on the video—which is to say, they would seek as much personal information as possible to facilitate harassment of them.
After members of the MRA community found and published one woman’s identity, comments on that young protestor’s YouTube videos included the following gems, screen-captured by Futrelle and published on We Hunted the Mammoth:
“Someone needs to rape that bitch at the end.” —Jeff V.
“The ‘you are fucking scum’ bitch should be raped.” —Sockcutter
“These dumb whores could use a Max Hardcore throatfuck session, cures any feminism guaranteed.” —Styrbjorne Stark
Futrelle notes that A Voice for Men’s writers and readers make a habit of this behavior, and along with the domestic violence component, it helps explain why the Men’s Rights Movement is sometimes referred to as the “abusers’ lobby.”
“The ‘activism’ of the site and its followers, insofar as it consists of anything more than self-promotion, often mirrors the actions of abusers—AVFM is known for harassing individuals, usually women, and exposing (or threatening to expose) personal information that could be used to stalk and harm them, in an attempt to intimidate them and other feminists and shut them up. Indeed, the site on several occasions has offered $1,000 ‘bounties’ on the personal information of its foes.
Wait, it gets better! Paul Elam—author of a think piece called, “When Is It OK to Punch Your Wife?—has also written of women who hang out in bars and accept drinks from men, but don’t pay for them by consenting to sex, “In the most severe and emphatic terms possible the answer is NO, THEY ARE NOT ASKING TO GET RAPED. They are freaking begging for it. Damn near demanding it.”
You can see where MRAs and PUAs overlap in that statement. Why should a man go to all the trouble of a murder-suicide when he can just buy a lady a drink and then take the pussy he’s owed, the old-fashioned way!
Also, for the record, because Elam lives in a fantasy world where imaginary rapes are successfully prosecuted all the time, he’s promised to do his part to right the balance: “Should I be called to sit on a jury for a rape trial, I vow publicly to vote not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true.”
This is what “men’s rights” looks like.
It’s not all men, but it’s surely the men who keep trying to make this latest mass shooting all about mental illness, or autism spectrum disorders, or gun control, or anything but what Elliot Rodger told us it was about: “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it … You are animals and I will slaughter you like animals. And I will be a god.”
I’m no psychiatrist, but sure, that sounds like a guy with a personality disorder or other illness that features delusions of grandeur. And sure, even though he killed three of his seven victims with a knife, I’m always all for a national conversation about gun control. I’m not saying this tragedy isn’t “about” those things, or that we shouldn’t discuss them—there’s plenty of room on the internet for a multifaceted conversation.
Some men, though—not all men, but some—keep stamping their feet and demanding that we compartmentalize Rodger’s misogynist rage and treat it as no more than a highly personal character flaw. Or worse, as an expression of some vague “mental illness”—as though they not only can’t conceive of a sane killer, they can’t conceive of a sane man who truly, deep down despises women.
It even makes a fucked-up sort of sense. If there’s no such thing as a sane misogynist, and legitimately insane people are a small percentage of the population, then there’s no need for anyone to worry that men’s toxic, sometimes violent hatred is a real and present danger to the average woman! QED.
Well, no need for most men to worry about it, anyway. Women still might want to worry.
It stuns and disheartens me, as I observe the discussions cropping up around the Isla Vista killings, to see so many presumably non-violent men acting swiftly to minimize the role misogyny played in Rodger’s worldview. It begins to feel an awful lot like they’re mounting an impassioned defense of non-fatal misogyny, as though the right to hate and fear women—so long as you don’t kill them—is a universally treasured thing that must be protected.
It begins to feel like more than just those two commenters I quoted get mixed-up between the normal desires of a heterosexual man and the corrosive anti-woman hostility of a killer.
It’s not all men. Of course it’s not all men. The idea that anyone might be talking about all men when talking about those who commit violence against women is ludicrous on its face. Pointing it out serves absolutely no purpose except to derail a conversation that might have been lurching toward productivity.
It’s not all men. It’s not all men. It’s not all men.
But listen, you guys, it’s men.
Says Kimmel: “The one single intractable gender difference that holds across virtually all societies is that the overwhelming majority—in the range of 90 percent—of the world’s violence is committed by men.”
If you’re not one of those men—and I deeply love a whole lot of men who are not those men—that’s nice. Thanks! Keep it up! But let’s be real: Being the kind of man who doesn’t kill women isn’t a terribly high bar to clear.
As antiviolence educator Jackson Katz says in a TED talk I’d encourage “not all” men to watch, “We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them.”
Please, you guys. I know not all of you are too scared to stand with us.
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