I suppose that depends on who you ask and how you define your terms.
Certainly, the Isla Vista murders and manifesto that preceded them open multiple lines of discussion.
And misogyny is surely in the mix.
In order to clarify, let’s look at a simple definition.
What is Misogyny?
Misogyny is a dislike for or hatred of females, period. It can be expressed directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, with violence at the far end of the spectrum and more routine put-downs at the other end – the derisive remark, the subtle discrimination, the patronizing tone based entirely on gender.
While we tend to believe that only men can be misogynistic, a woman can also adopt the attitude that men are inherently superior and women, therefore, to be treated as subordinate.
As to this particular attack, the act of an individual most of us would agree is mentally ill, there are no one-stop-shop factoids to point at, much as we might like to do so. But the perpetrator’s rage toward women, plainly expressed in his own words, cannot be ignored.
Mental Health and Guns
As in the tragedy of Sandy Hook, we are dealing with issues of mental health, issues of accessible guns, issues of an individual’s stories that we may never fully know and the resulting killing spree. We cannot exempt the mental health aspect and nor can we exempt the easy access to weapons.
Like most of you, I’ve read numerous accounts of last Friday’s events and subsequent comments. Among them, this New York Times piece focuses on the fear that young women feel on campus, and some readers remark that this isn’t about hatred against women but rather, a young man who was mentally ill.
To that I say: This isn’t an either / or. It’s an “and.”
Other readers insist this story isn’t about women and the reporter does a disservice by raising the issue. To those readers, I might suggest they look again at the title of the report, which is “Campus Killings Set Off Conversation About Women.” And that’s what we need to have – conversation – not only about women but about men, along with our contentious, seemingly endless discussions on mental health and gun control.
Muddled Messages in Media
Naturally, media jumps in to dissect and analyze when tragedy occurs. It’s their job. Not only is it news, but we – the public – are grappling to understand what is, for most of us, unfathomable.
So we hop on our devices to glean what we can, jumping on our (well established) band wagon(s) for what we already believe: yes to more mental health options (but no, “I” don’t want to pay for it); yes to gun control (or a vehement “no” because it’s my constitutional right); yes to pointing fingers at authorities who are sometimes in some way forewarned (or no to the “police state” in which we give away our freedoms); yes to a feminist outcry (or no, this isn’t representative of “men”).
Of course, I could go on, and there are many variations and just as many media angles including, in this case, issues of bullying, sex, sexuality, misogyny, definitions of masculinity, etc.
What makes the California tragedy even more frightening?
The explicit venom towards women, regardless of the fact that some claim misogyny isn’t relevant since the final body count was higher for men.
No one is saying that misogyny equates to mental illness, but in this case, the gunman’s actions are inextricably linked to his beliefs about women denying him sex, his entitlement to that sex, and in his own words:
I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires… Girls gave their affection, and sex, and love, to other men but never to me.
That’s only a fragment of far more disturbing language from the man whose rampage took seven lives including his own, and injured 13. Thus, the discussions of women rebuking men’s advances, gender roles, entitlement to sex and so on are fair game.
What Century is This?
Among the comments I’ve seen are those who mention the way a woman dresses, implying they should know better. After all, “men are visual” and they can’t help themselves.
I can’t believe I’m hearing such a thing in the 21st century, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given the regressive politics of recent years when it comes to women. Still, as the mother of two young men, and one who knows very fine men, I am well aware that the male of the species in this society is more evolved than “can’t help themselves.”
This doesn’t mean that misogyny doesn’t exist in real and destructive ways, and that we shouldn’t persist in examining systemic and cultural beliefs about women, and how those beliefs manifest themselves.
This article does an excellent job of addressing the aspect of “toxic masculinity” in the California tragedy. Clearly, it is not the only issue, but it is a critical issue in contemporary society and part of the polarization of the sexes that we see play out so often online. That a 22-year old man set out to “slaughter” and ‘annihilate” girls – his words – cannot be ignored.
The Misogyny Umbrella
As for misogyny, I think of it as a massive umbrella beneath which so many more specific issues reside – how we raise our boys (and girls), a distorted view of gender capabilities and roles, sex education, reproductive rights, sexual violence, employment opportunity, income inequity, women in politics and more.
That so many of us raise the multitude of issues that comprise misogyny does not mean that we wish discussions of misogyny to replace dealing with mental health and guns, but we do insist it share the stage.
None of these issues are simple. On the contrary; the origins, systems, and influences – political, social, economic, familial – are exceptionally complex and interrelated. If anything, addressing the easy access to guns is the most straightforward. We have only to look to other countries for their models.
Talking, Listening, Paying Attention
Nor should we dismiss the opportunity to talk about related topics, and let’s be clear here as well. Sexual freedom is not the same as the hyper-sexualization of our culture, cultural values cannot be legislated, feminists are not the “enemy” of men and women who respect and care for each other, and anything even remotely akin to “boys will be boys” (or men are “visual”) is demeaning to our men and dangerous for our women.
I am sickened and saddened by last week’s events, and my heart goes out to the families involved in what is yet one more incomprehensible scenario in a society that many of us believe is – or ought to be – more compassionate and more rational than this. But let us not pretend that we can dismiss misogyny masquerading as masculinity. Let us talk calmly, listen attentively, and consider our actions, our words, and how we are raising our children.
All other discussion aside, I dream of a day when we have no more need for The New York Times gun report.