In the wake of the Isla Vista killings, in which a man killed six people and injured 13 more before committing suicide, there was suddenly lots of conversation on previously steadfastly avoided topics people seemed willing to have.
“We need to talk about mental illness!” I read repeatedly directly after the news broke, complete with details of the killer’s motivation for his acts – a hatred of women he had meticulously documented.
Suddenly right now was the time to talk about race, I read. I’ll be damned if gun control wasn’t somewhat on the table.
“Yeah, sure,” America might as well have volunteered in unison, “it’s time to talk about the way menstrual blood changes colour all the time and that weird rash on the back of grandma’s hands.” Because it’s amazing how many things people are willing to talk about in order to avoid the topic of misogyny – a subject many women, shocked at the killer’s aborted plan to shoot all the women in a sorority (they didn’t answer the door), but familiar with the language he used to frame his “day of retribution,” felt should be raised.
Most of the terrible things the killer wrote about women in his 137-page manifesto aren’t fresh copy on the Internet. Women seldom say of these things, “What? He said what? That’s crazy!” They say, “Yeah, whatever, it’s Wednesday.”
I can attest that one doesn’t unsee descriptions of oneself being raped, having one’s skin peeled off before being dragged behind a car when one closes that particular Internet window. But it’s telling how slight an impact these things have.
Maybe you get a security system and remember to use it. Perhaps you decline engagements where your presence will be advertised – modest, barely noted, extensions of the kind of road-crossing, backseat-checking adaptations girls are taught, or learn, to make.
You can’t afford to suspend your life in response to some of the uncountable threats or comments made online daily, but you do small things.
Keeping location “off” when you post online is the e-equivilent of carrying your car keys in your fist in an underground parking lot. Who knows? Why not? “Watch your drink” taken to another level. But when we read that threats, and an often expressed, frequently encountered, entitlement to women’s bodies have manifested themselves in death, wanting to talk about misogyny is understandable.
Talking about misogyny doesn’t mean that Elliot Rodger was sane. Being mentally ill likely gave him the capacity to kill – but arguably there’s a culture that lent him direction. There are no online forums telling the mad that yes, the telephone lines are talking to them – no echo chamber indulges that madness like the ones dedicated to women’s beastliness. That he killed four men hardly negates that direction.
Mr. Rodger’s angry, self-pitying perspective is still being validated: The New York Post ran a story about “the aspiring model whose childhood rejection of Elliot Rodger lit the fuse...” The Los Angeles Times claimed his YouTube videos “give a more intimate view of his pathos,” which I’ll warrant they didn’t say of Osama bin Laden’s murderous screeds. Some have called Elliot Rodger “a hero.”
Calling him “the virgin killer,” as some media did, overlooks what to many is obvious. He didn’t kill people because women wouldn’t have sex with him. Women didn’t have sex with him because they sensed he wanted to kill them.
Women are often ninjas of placation and extrication – because that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” thing isn’t supported by statistics.
Playing Grand Theft Auto is routinely ascribed as motive for mass murder. If a killer has any slight affiliation to a mosque, suddenly everyone is Perry Mason. Yet an alleged murderer can detail his aspiration to watch all women starve to death in a concentration camp and any suggestion that misogyny contributed to his crimes will be slapped down like a fat summer fly.
Women were again sternly reminded this week that “Not all men...”
If we were talking about rhino poaching, we wouldn’t be expected to begin the conversation by saying we know that not all men poach rhinos – that we know that lots of men truly love rhinos and would give their lives for rhinos. It’s a given. No one would be chastized for not sending out a disclaimer, “I’m very grateful to all the amazing people in my life who’ve never slaughtered a rhino,” or declaring that most of the men they know are practically goddamned rhino veterinarians. We’d just talk about what the hell we were going to do because rhinos are in danger.