The Isla Vista killings & “misogynist extremism”: a feminist roundup

Events like the tragic killings at the University of California at Santa Barbara this week are sadly not as rare as they should be in this country. But this attack has garnered special attention due to the virulent misogyny in the killer’s statements. These are sentiments women are all too familiar with, taken to a horrifying extreme. Here’s a roundup of some insightful feminist commentary on what Elliot Rodger’s statements about women say about our culture and how our society respond to them.

Katie McDonough at Salon points out that this sense of male entitlement and rage isn’t contained on the fringes of society:

And this anger — this toxic male entitlement — isn’t contained to random comment boards or the YouTube videos of disturbed young men. It’s on full view elsewhere in our culture. Earlier this week, a writer for the New York Post quoted a member of a men’s rights group as the sole source in a report on Jill Abramson’s ouster at the New York Times. Mel Feit of the National Center for Men told columnist Richard Johnson that Abramson was systematically firing men and replacing them with women. He said that our society gives women preferential treatment. On his website, Feit bemoans a culture in which men are subject to the powerful whims of vindictive women who exist on “sexual pedestals.” He argues that men can’t be blamed for rape after a certain point of arousal. These views about women and violence are replicated in our criminal justice system. They filter into our media. This is what makes Rodger’s misogynistic vitriol so terrifying — the fact that in many ways it’s utterly banal.

Laurie Penny at New Statesman calls for the labeling of this attack for what it is: misogynist extremism. I recommended reading the whole thing, but here’s a key excerpt:

The ideology behind these attacks – and there is ideology – is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration”, in Rodger’s words. We owe them respect and obedience, and our refusal to give it to them is to blame for their anger, their violence -stupid sluts get what they deserve. Most of all, there is an overpowering sense of rage and entitlement: the conviction that men have been denied a birthright of easy power.

Capitalism commodifies that rage, monetises it, disseminates it through handbooks and forums and crass mainstream pornography. It does not occur to these men that women might have experienced these very human things, too, because it does not occur to them that women are human, not really. Women are prizes to be caught and used or hags to be harassed or, occassionally, both.

Violent extremism always attracts the lost, the broken, young men full of rage at the hand they’ve been dealt. Violent extremism entices those who long to lash out at a system they believe has cheated them, but lack they courage to think for themselves, beyond the easy answers they are offered by pedlars of hate. Misogynist extremism is no different. For some time now misogynist extremism has been excused, as all acts of terrorism committed by white men are excused, as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. The pattern is repeatedly denied: these are the words and actions of the disturbed.

Jessica Valenti at The Guardian decries that fact that misogyny isn’t taken seriously as a cultural illness:

If we need to talk about this tragic shooting in terms of illness, though, let’s start with talking about our cultural sickness – a sickness that refuses to see misogyny as anything other than inevitable.

It was reported on Saturday that Rodger’s family had contacted the police about his violent and strange videos “weeks” before the shooting The family attorney said that police interviewed Rodger and thought he was a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human”.

I have to wonder how much police dismissed Rodger’s video rants because of the expectation that violent misogyny in young men is normal and expected.

“Dismissing violent misogynists as ‘crazy’ is a neat way of saying that violent misogyny is an individual problem, not a cultural one,” feminist blogger Melissa McEwan tweeted.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a lone misogynist – they are created by our culture, and by communities that tells them that their hatred is both commonplace and justified.

I recently bought Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to MeAlthough it was written well before the UCSB massacre, this passage about who commits violence resonated even more as I read it last night:

Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides–at the rate of about twelve a week–because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants–and for jocks, head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.

Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the United States and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

As she says earlier in the book, “Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.” It’s a sign of where our debate is that Solnit, and most people involved in this conversation, have to go out of their way over and over to emphasize that we’re not talking about all men. But I’m sure that response will dominate a lot of this conversation.

An inspiring Twitter response to the attack turns that debate around, using the hashtag #YesAllWomen to share the universal experience women have dealing with sexism and misogyny. Think Progress has compiled some of those tweets here.

There has been and will continue to be more thoughtful commentary as we sort through this tragedy. Please share other worthwhile reads in the comments.

8 comments

  1. Juniper Russo
    Yesterday at 2:55pm ·

    This is what the news for the last few days has looked like, to me:

    Elliot Roger: “I hate women. I murdered people because I hate women.”

    Media: “Elliot Roger murdered people because he had autism and mental illness.”

    Elliot Roger: “No, actually, it was because I hate women. I wrote a 146-page essay explaining this to you.”

    Media: “Must have been autism, right? Autistic people are super dangerous.”

    Elliot Roger: “But I didn’t do it because of autism! I did it because I hate women!”

    Media: “Or it could have been because he had depression. People with depression are also super dangerous.”

    Elliot Roger: “No, it wasn’t because of depression! I spent months of my pathetic life writing a manifesto about how much I hate women, so that there would be no question about why I did it. Why aren’t you listening?”

    Media: “What if we took guns away from people with mental illness or autism? Wouldn’t that be a good idea? Or should we just lock Those People away entirely?”

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