Earlier this month in what is sadly now not even the latest in a long string of mass shootings, a 26-year old man at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon killed nine and injured nine more, eventually taking his own life. Several accounts written by the shooter himself reveal him to be antireligious, white supremacist (despite being of mixed racial background himself), and a sexually frustrated virgin. He had also studied mass killings, including the 2014 mass murder in Isla Vista, California, which was perpetrated by a young man who was angry and frustrated that women weren’t having sex with him.
Little was made of the Umpqua shooter’s misogyny, but it bears scrutiny, even though it appears that he may have targeted Christians in particular. There is evidence that he was egged on by his fellow 4chan users online, some of whom actually called him a victim himself. Why? Because women didn’t want anything to do with him:
Members of the 4chan group praised him for being part of the “Beta Uprising,” a movement of socially awkward, unattractive, or otherwise deviant people (the non-“Alphas”). They believe that they are entitled to rise up against the society that makes their lives difficult because they are ostracized or unsuccessful with women, by shooting random people (mostly those who are more attractive or popular than they are.)
Eliot Rodger, the Isla Vista killer – whom the Umpqua killer studied – made several YouTube videos complaining that he was a virgin and that beautiful women wouldn’t pay attention to him. In one, he even outlined how he would “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see.”
These are not isolated incidents – misogyny kills. Young women have been murdered for rejecting invites for dates. Rodger publicly aligned himself with “meninism”, the burgeoning “Men’s Rights” movement. These are men who believe that they are entitled to women: to their attention, their affection, their bodies. Misogyny has become so ingrained in our culture that we dismiss it: “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.”
“Though often discussed from the crucial angles of public safety and mental health, gun control is seldom regarded as the feminist issue it arguably is. It’s rarely taken into account that not only are many acts of gun violence performed in the context of domestic violence, but some recent mass shootings have also been reportedly motivated by misogyny.”
Just to be clear: the men’s rights movement is not a legitimate political or social movement — it’s not even about men’s rights. It’s not about social justice, or gender equality, or challenging unhealthy gender role scripts. It’s not about advocating for anything that would actually make life better for young men and boys. It’s a hate group — and the target of their hate is the female gender. As a group, they believe that men are oppressed. Specifically, they believe that white men are oppressed (according to a survey of men’s rights activists, 98% are white males). But instead of empowering men to become better men — or better people — they devote their time and resources to silencing and marginalizing women.
A study published in 2013 by the University of Washington revealed that a strong majority of mass shootings in America were carried out by white males and found a “correlation between feelings of entitlement among white males and homicidal revenge against a specific demographic.” Many mass shootings have been carried out by perpetrators with severe hostility towards women and girls, including Killeen, Texas (1991), Virginia Tech (2007), Columbine (1999), Sandy Hook (2012), and Tuscon (2011). Even Tim McVeigh (The Unabomber, 1995) complained about sexual frustration and about a woman who had rejected him.
This is why, after a mass shooting, saying “The problem isn’t X, the problem is mental illness” is misguided. The desire to mass murder is, of course, often rooted in some mental instability. But as Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist at Stanford University, points out, “Mental illness actually does reflect the local culture.” In other words, culturally sanctioned misogyny is mental illness.
Indeed, one need not look very far to find proof of the war on women, in this country or in others. There are many public displays, statements and movements expressing hatred of women. The largely Republican anti-choice movement in the U.S. is trying to legally entitle themselves to control over women’s bodies. Donald Trump, a man running for the highest office in the country dismissed a strong female reporter‘s question by scoffing that she must be on her period. Dozens of bills – proposed or passed – are targeted at restricting women’s rights. Columnists call feminism a “racket.” There are countless examples of people who should be behaving like role models instead insulting, denigrating, and trying to control women and limit their access to help, education, equal pay, and resources.
Recently in my home state, Idaho, a fifteen-year old boy in Pocatello sent his school into lockdown because he demanded nude photos from some of the girls at his school, and when he did not receive them, threatened to bring guns to school and “kill all the girls.” While that reeks of masculine entitlement, what I found to be even more alarming were the reactions to the article. I would have liked to believe that the boys who are picking up these attitudes are relatively few and far between, and that mental illness or bad parenting factor into these young men’s actions. Here is what I found:
In response to this woman:
I found this:
And in response to this woman:
I found this:
Do we really need to wonder where our boys are picking up these attitudes?
The culture of misogyny is so insidious and pervasive that even some women themselves have bought into it, as evidenced by the above and any number of examples; most notably the “why I don’t need feminism” movement, spearheaded by misguided young women. Part of the reason is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the word “feminism” means, and conflating feminist principles with “feminazi”-ism. True feminism seeks equality with men, not superiority over them. As for those women who “don’t need feminism”, I invite you to merrily relinquish your right to vote, your right to own property, your right to choose, to get an education, to get a divorce, wear pants, etc., and then we’ll talk about what you “need.” To reject feminism is to spit in the face of all of our foremothers, and to disrespect what they fought so hard for that we now have the luxury of taking for granted.
In addition to a skewed perception of what feminism is, we also, as a society, have a warped vision of what it means to “be a man.” As Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson (2008) describe, “In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, college educated, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports… any male who fails to qualify in any one of these ways is likely to view himself–during moments at least– as unworthy, incomplete and inferior.”
This toxic view of masculinity, while great for those who meet its narrow criteria, only serves to marginalize literally everyone else: “non-ideal” men, women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, the poor, people with disabilities, and many other “undesirable” sections of society.
Many of these mass shooters not only felt entitled to power, but also entitled to seek revenge against anyone who challenged them as men. While involvement with the misogynistic culture of the men’s rights movement may not actually cause mass murder, it certainly contributes to their belief that murder is justifiable in certain cases. That’s the scariest part – Rodger’s violent, hateful attitude towards women doesn’t reflect the attitude of a madman or a mentally ill person. It reflects a widespread cultural belief system that perpetuates and even glorifies violence against women, seeing it as righteous and correct.
That’s why Dr. Laurie Essig, Ph.D, says we need to shift our conversation — to stop pretending that violence against women is anything but the product of our patriarchal society:
“Mainstream masculinity is often embedded in such a deep and abiding hatred for women, a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, and a seriously sick way of keeping women scared and in their place through violence and violent rhetoric that to name Rodger “mentally ill” is to create a smokescreen through which it’s difficult to see that there is something seriously sick in our culture. Until we admit this, until men reject this woman-hating and embrace feminism, until women only embrace feminist men, we will be stuck in a cycle of violence where the discussion is not about the thing that is happening- that thing called patriarchy – but instead about mental illness, guns, and a few “bad apples” in an otherwise healthy culture of masculinity.”
While most of us certainly do not explicitly teach our boys that they are entitled to women’s attention or bodies, or that ‘no’ means anything other than ‘no’, or that they are entitled to power, attention, and prestige they have not earned, they are learning it from us anyway. They are learning it every time a politician argues that women do not deserve to make their own health care choices. They are learning it every time the court of public opinion asks a female rape victim what she was wearing. They are learning it every time a woman like Michelle Duggar makes excuses for her sexually abusive son and doesn’t stand up for her victim daughters. They learn it every time Phyllis Schlafly claims that feminism is ‘doomed to fail’ because it ‘goes against human nature.’
Even worse; our daughters are learning it, too. Every time a woman is victimized and/or marginalized because of her sex, it teaches all women that they deserve to be victims. Margaret Atwood famously said “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” When women feel as though they cannot say no to a man who shows interest in them, for fear of being physically threatened (or worse), we have a problem.
We live in a culture where it is a relatively simple matter to arm oneself (in general), while at same time teaching that approximately half of us are worth less than the other half of us. We teach that some lives have more value than others, and then we wonder why a violent criminal behaves exactly as if that’s true. We lose sight of the idea that warped young men started as little boys, absorbing the messages we gave them. Our children are listening. It’s never too late to change the conversation.
* There is currently not definitive proof that the “shooter” interacted with on the 4Chan message boards was definitely the Umpqua shooter.
2 International Business Times
3 ABC News
4 Business Insider
6 Sage Journals
8 Public Health Watch
10 Town Hall
11 KTVB News