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Winnie T Frick

Rachel Giese is the author of Boys: What It Means to Become a Man, which will be published next month.

Angry young man slaughters many.

This story, in its variations, has become increasingly common. Sometimes he’s a socially awkward loner. Other times, he acts in concert with a brother or best friend. He’s unstable, perhaps delusional, and has been for years. Or else he’s quiet and polite, and no one saw it coming. He leaves behind a manifesto itemizing his personal grievances. Or else he’s an ideologue radicalized into a larger cause. He’s usually white, the product of developed country and from a comfortable background. Yet he’s invariably alienated, resentful and enraged because the world and its citizens haven’t bent to his will and fulfilled his every desire.

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On Monday on a northern stretch of Yonge Street in Toronto, during a busy, sunny lunch hour, 25-year-old Alek Minassian allegedly drove a van onto sidewalks crowded with pedestrians, killing 10 people and injuring over a dozen more. Details are still scarce, but Facebook has verified he had posted admiration for Elliot Rodger, who, in 2014, at the age of 22, embarked on a killing spree in California that ended with six dead and Mr. Rodger’s suicide. In a series of online posts, a lengthy manuscript and in videos, Mr. Rodger expressed his hatred of women who rejected him and the “alpha males” they favoured instead. He aligned himself with “incels” (or “involuntarily celibate” men), a movement that curdles its members’ personal embarrassment into a belligerent group identity.

Mr. Rodger has become a martyr and hero to a loose community of gaming trolls, pick-up artists, men’s rights activists, far-right conspiracists and white nationalists. Police have said that Alexandre Bissonnette, the Quebec City mosque shooter, googled Mr. Rodger before his attack last January. Nikolas Cruz, the teenager who killed 17 people at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School, is also thought to have praised Mr. Rodger in online posts and forums. What binds these groups is a shared sense of their own deprivation and the search for a target to blame and, in some cases, inflict damage on. Many men, both inside and outside these communities, believe the threat is women. Even when men become their victims, too, as some were in these cases, the killers are motivated, at least in part, by feelings of emasculation and the desire to assert their manhood.

As many have acknowledged in the aftermath of Monday’s attack, misogyny kills. We know it does. Consider that roughly every six days a woman in Canada is murdered by her intimate partner and that in incidents of spousal murder-suicides, 97 per cent of the accused are men.

But as American philosopher Kate Manne, author of the recent book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, argues, misogyny shouldn’t be understood as simply the personal resentment or emotional dysfunction of a single angry, outlier. She distinguishes between sexism (the belief that women and men have distinct and separate abilities and that women are inferior to men) and misogyny, which she calls “law-enforcement branch” of that belief system.

This enforcement, she says, is more often banal than extreme. Sentiments such as the ones expressed by Mr. Rodger and his fellow incels are disturbing to many women not because they are shocking, Prof. Manne writes. “Indeed, quite the opposite. It’s that they sounded so familiar.” Misogyny exists in the grinding daily reminders faced by women, reminding us that we are still not fully entitled to enjoy our ambitions, our imaginations and agency over our bodies without men’s permission or interference. It’s in the catcalls, the orders to “Smile, baby!,” the tearing off of hijabs, the unwanted touches, the social-media murder threats, the doctored drinks, the revenge porn, the foul stand-up comedy rape jokes, the online forums devoted to debasing women.

Much of this may never erupt into acts of mass violence. But does it have to in order to be taken seriously? Every woman lives at least sometimes by minute-to-minute calculations of threat levels – is this just a harmless jerk or someone I need to flatter or placate to protect my livelihood, or my life? And even in discussing these very real and present stresses, women must also take care not to offend by remembering to add an apologetic “not all men, of course,” because misogyny means that men’s feelings are more valuable than women’s safety.

As we reckon with Monday’s attack, I hope we’ll have serious conversations about how to prevent troubled boys from becoming violent adults. Maybe we’ll finally address why young men have so few healthy, supportive places to express their pain, which is in part because they’ve been told their whole lives that being vulnerable, that being hurt, that not always getting exactly what you want is inconsistent with being a “real man,” and so to admit weakness means admitting utter failure. And perhaps we’ll also talk about how extremist groups, online hate-mongers and YouTube false prophets have stepped up in the absence to weaponize that suffering: If I can’t be happy, then no one will.

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But even as I hope for all that, I also know how frequently, in these sorts of discussions, an implicit obligation is placed upon victims and potential targets to find forgiveness, to understand why some men are so angry and resentful, and why the changing status quo has been so difficult on them. In the interest of balance and compassion, we are asked to find sympathy for men who have shown none of it to others, who didn’t care at all about those they harmed.

Of course, we need to talk about these terrifying men and how to fix the broken, unjust system that feeds their worst impulses. But now, at least for a little while, I don’t want to give them what they crave most, my attention and consideration. Instead, I want to focus my compassion, thoughts and empathy to the people these men annihilated without ever trying to see them at all.

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