Exposing the Vein of Hatred

(Trigger warning: rape, murder, talking about violent images though not using them.)

see no evil-PM-800x413One of the things so powerful to me about the #YesAllWomen conversation that has been taking place in the weeks since the Isla Vista killings, is the ways that there seems to be a wider acknowledgement growing about the layers and levels of misogyny that are operating in US culture, as well as around the world.

The international nature of the problem has been very much on my mind since I saw the shocking image of two Dalit girls, aged 14 and 16, hanging from nooses, after having been (allegedly) gang-raped and (definitively) murdered.

You won’t be seeing that image here, nor will I be knowingly linking to any articles that use it. Manasi Gopalakrishnan reports:

The girls’ family alleged that the two teenagers were raped and tortured before finally being hanged from a mango tree in a nearby orchard. Incensed by alleged police inaction, the families refused to take down the bodies from the tree for several hours. Finally the local police registered a case of rape only after several members of the girls’ community protested in front of the police station. [Emphasis added.]

In that sense, the parents’ initial gesture reminds me very much of Mamie Till’s choice to have an open-casket funeral for her son, Emmet, and her subsequent decision to allow funereal photos of her son to be published in Jet magazine. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby,” Mrs. Till is reported to have said. And yet in this day and age when images can travel the globe so quickly, I am not at all clear as to whether these parents in Uttar Pradesh would want their daughters’ postmortem image propagated in so widespread a fashion, and so I will not be aiding in that process. (Quite frankly, I even wonder if Mamie Till might have made a different choice in the Internet age. Or maybe her courage would have found identical expression. I simply don’t know.)

As with Eliot Rodger’s actions and their intersections with US issues such as (definitely) gun control and (allegedly) mental illness, there are multiple factors at stake in this horrifying crime. The caste system. Lack of toilets in poverty-affected regions. There’s even a new report that a state official investigating the case has stated one of the two murder victims may not have been raped.

(I don’t know enough yet to suss out if I think this last one is the first step of a government cover-up — at least two of the arrested suspects are policemen — or the first step at bringing careful investigative work to uncover the truth what the official has suggested might have been an honor killing or one motivated by a property dispute.)

Even with those other factors, it is undeniable that misogyny is a huge part of the cultural foundation for these crimes to occur. Mallika Dutt reports in Time that “In the context of past rapes, Mulayam Singh Yadav, head of Uttar Pradesh’s governing party, the Samajwadi Party, has said, ‘Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.’” A different Indian State Minister, Babulal Gaur, has recently said “Sometimes [rape] is right, sometimes it is wrong.”

All of which is to remind us that “#YesAllWoman isn’t just an American thing.”

As we continue to examine the negative effects of misogyny and cultures that impose toxic definitions of masculinity, it’s important not to be blind to privileges of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, classism, or cultural myopia. A lot of feminist discourse I see on the web is very stuck in these blinders, and in the same way that cultural evolution will require men to become aware to the privileges they carry in a misogynist society, it also requires those of us carrying privilege on other nexuses to wake up to that.

As Shannon Barber writes in luna luna,

Hear in your head every mansplaining nice guy or even every well intentioned usually great dude you know starting a statement with these words-
“but not all men…”
Now stop.
Okay White ladies let me explain you a thing. I’m gonna blow your mind.
That anger and frustration giving you bubble guts right now is how I feel when White women won’t listen to me.
Sit with that for a minute. Understand that how you feel when the response to your pain, your words, your experiences in regard to sexism and misogyny is not all men, but I’m a nice guy etc is the same feeling I have when White women run to interrupt, or otherwise stomp over my experiences, pain and words.
It’s an important reminder — and considering that the Facebook page where I first saw this essay then erupted into an argument about the “unnecessary hosility” of the essay saying something as cruel and abusive as “shut up for five minutes” (gasp!) — it’s a reminder we really need to be hearing.
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Misogyny Taking Aim — Again

Isla-Vista-memorial-900x600Here we go again. Six murdered, 13 wounded, by a young man swearing “retribution” against the women who “never gave [him] a chance.

Although news of the Isla Vista murders broke into my awareness yesterday morning (as I’m sure they did for many of the east coasters who were safe a-bed when the shootings occurred), I couldn’t find the words or the courage in last night’s blog-post to touch into my feelings about this latest explosion of misogynist violence.

After all, last time I dipped my toe into these waters, it prompted a festival of “not all men” defensiveness and mansplaining that wore me the hell down in ways I can scarcely articulate.

[Sidebar]  Let me get this on the table from the get-go. If your first reaction in the face of these events and whatever I have next to say about them is to enter a self-avowed feminist space (see that tagline, above, about me being “fat, feminist and feisty”?) in order to proclaim some variation of “not all men are like that” and/or “patriarchy hurts men too,” then you, my friend, are part of the fucking problem. Please go do some self-edumacating about the ways those observations — though in their own way true — can function in the wrong contexts as yet another expression of patriarchal privilege. (And just to be super-duper crystal clear: this place at this moment would be one of those wrong contexts.) [/Sidebar]

Of course, the horribly, bleakly comical aspect for me at this very moment is that after this whole big lead-up, I can still scarcely find words to express my anger.

At some bone-deep culturally and emotionally worn-down place, I can scarcely find my anger among the feelings of cultural exhaustion and repetition. Because Elliot Rodger’s rampage, and the videotaped and diarized vitriol that has emerged in the two days since, are incredibly awful and horrible and exceptional and at the same time so very, very banal and familiar.

As Katie McDonough writes in Salon:

But it also denies reality to pretend that Rodger’s sense of masculine entitlement and views about women didn’t matter or somehow existed in a vacuum. These things matter because the horror of Rodger’s alleged crimes is unique, but the distorted way he understood himself as a man and the violence with which discussed women — the bleak and dehumanizing lens through which he judged them — is not. Just as we examine our culture of guns once again in the wake of yet another mass shooting, we must also examine our culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity, which devalues both women’s and men’s lives and worth, and inflicts real and daily harm. We must examine the dangerous normative values that treat women as less than human, and that make them — according to Elliot Rodger — deserving of death. [. . .]

I have seen these videos before. Women have heard these threats before, and been forced to consider how seriously they should take a man who tells them on Twitter that he knows where they live and that, “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you.” If Rodger had posted his angry monologue to YouTube or fired it off in an email to a woman online and then gone about his day — seething privately and without violence about his wounded sense of entitlement and the sting of having his resentful and warped desires unfulfilled — the country wouldn’t be talking about him. Because until the moment that he is alleged to have killed six women and men, Elliot Rodger was every bit the same as the other men who are defined by their resentment toward women and their sense of bitter victimization in the world.

McDonough and I are far from alone in having this awful sense of deja vu all over again. The Belle Jar and The Guardian both remind us that just last month, a young woman in Connecticut was stabbed to death for the ultimate crime of declining someone’s invitation to prom. The Free Republic connects the dots between the Isla Vista murders and numerous similar hate crimes, including the Ecole Polytechnique shootings that came strongly to my mind, both five years ago and yesterday.*

Even the connections between Rodgers and the Men’s Rights and Pick-Up Artist communities feel terrifyingly old hat to me. I don’t know for sure that George Sodini was involved in similar groups/endeavors — my five-years ago post doesn’t make it clear, and I only have the stomach tonight to pull links on two sets of misogyny-fueled crimes, rather than three — but it certainly has that tone on it in my memories.

[UPDATE] Because the scholar in me is constitutionally unable to leave dangling assertions without back-up, I’ve done a bit more digging in the clear light of morning. Sodini did indeed attend some “pick-up artist” seminars, and was at least marginally connected to that community. So yeah: the more thing stay the same, the more things stay the same. [/UPDATE]

So, what is there left to say? All I have tonight are a few semi-coherent musings.

The patriarchy is broken. Please, by all that is ethical and holy, let us as a society — as a humanity — find a way to break beyond these structures.

If you have any doubts that the attribution of these crimes to a seed of misogyny is disproportionate, check out the diversity of sharings being offered online via the hashtag #yesallwoman. As observed in The Atlantic:

Like all widely embraced hashtags, #YesAllWomen encompasses content so diverse that everyone is bound to disagree with some of it. I submit that the vast majority of men who explore it with an open mind will come away having gained insights and empathy without much time wasted on declarations that are thoughtless. I hope that the inevitable backlash doesn’t dissuade anyone from taking a look.

And finally, all I can say now is a variation of what I said five years ago. The more that we as a society (ad our media outlets) paper over the connections between Rodger’s misogynist views and the matrix of patriarchy and misogyny that infiltrates contemporary culture, the less of a chance we will have to evolve beyond this tragic state of affairs. And the more inevitable it will be that more shootings, more stabbings, more violent rampages will occur in the name of patriarchal pride and of women’s assumed role as sexual property.

“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.

Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character

* The Belle Jar made a similar connection in an earlier version of her post — that text was deleted between last night and today, and I, for one, am sorry to see it go.

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Image credit: http://www.thechannels.org/news/2014/05/25/isla-vista-community-mourns-tragedy-with-candlelight-vigil/