Our Opinion: The real root of the problem


At this point in the story, there is no reason to rehash too many of the details of the Isla Vista incident, in which a young man stabbed to death three men, shot to death two women and one man, and wounded 13 others.

The killer, who ended the carnage by taking his own life, had posted a chilling YouTube video, titled "Retribution," in which he vowed to punish all women for not being attracted to him. It is reported that the killer was a virgin at the time of his death.

"I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because ... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious gentlemen. I will punish you all for it."

Following the killings, there has been the inevitable debate about gun control, mental illness and the failure of police to recognize the warning signs before the killer went on his rampage, but what has surprisingly and refreshingly risen to the top is discussion misogyny, white privilege and aggrieved entitlement.

But before we add more to that discussion, it would behoove us to reflect on some numbers.

Bryce Covert and Adam Peck, writing for Think Progress, note that more than one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes; 85 percent of intimate partner violence victims are women; on average, three women are killed by their partners every day; domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44; a domestic abuser who has access to a firearm is more than seven times more likely to kill his partner; between 2009 and 2012, 40 percent of mass shootings started with a shooter targeting his girlfriend, wife, or ex-wife; and the leading cause of death for women at the workplace is homicide, most often at the hands of an intimate partner.

"When you look the statistics on violence against women, (the Isla Vista killings don't) seem so much like a one-off incident," writes Anne Theriault for the Huffington Post. "He was participating, albeit in a grandiose public way, in the time-honored tradition of controlling women with violence and punishing them when they don't behave as desired."

Writing for the New Statesman, Laurie Penny insists we call acts committed by people such as the Isla Vista killer misogynist extremism, which takes "the valid and substantial anger of the dispossessed and tortures it into something twisted. It promises the lost and despairing that they will have the respect and sense of purpose they have always longed for, if they only hate hard enough."

Incidents such as Isla Vista and the statistics noted above outline the existence of a pattern that we are all too willing to deny, insists Penny.

"The ideology behind these attacks ... is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, adoration. Women are prizes to be caught and used or hags to be harassed or, occasionally, both."

While Theriault notes violence against women in America and around the world is a cultural abomination, she believes un-affiliated movements such as those for men's rights are partially to blame for the manifestation of the Isla Vista's rage.

"The men's rights movement teaches ... vulnerable, lonely young men ... that women, and especially feminist women, are to blame for their unhappiness. It teaches them that women lie, that they cheat, trick and manipulate. It teaches them that men as a social class are dominant over women and that they are entitled to women's bodies. It teaches them that women who won't give them what they want deserve some kind of punishment."

Sasha Weiss, writing for The New Yorker, notes that reading the killer's manifesto it would be easy to dismiss his statements as simply crazy.

"But ... you can make out, through the distortions of his raging mind, the outlines of mainstream American cultural values: Beauty and strength are rewarded. Women are prizes to be won, reflections of a man's social capital. Wealth, a large house, and fame are the highest attainments. The lonely and the poor are invisible."

Weiss writes that violence against women is rooted in "A predominant cultural ethos that rewards sexual aggression, power, and wealth, and that reinforces traditional alpha masculinity and submissive femininity."

Chauncey Devega (a pseudonym), notes that the discussion shouldn't just be about misogyny, it should also be about racism.

"When an ‘Arab' or ‘Muslim' American kills people in mass they are a ‘terrorist.' When a black person shoots someone they are ‘thugs.' When a white man commits a mass shooting he is ‘mentally ill' or ‘sick.'"

"There will be not be a national discussion of a culture of ‘white pathology' or how white Americans may have a ‘cultural problem' with their young men and gun violence," writes Devega. He contends most mass shootings are cases of aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome: A gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back.

"It's one thing for a bunch of white men to feel hurt because they are no longer the kings of their own private castles, rulers of all they survey," notes Devega. "It's another thing for them to feel like they're entitled to power, and more importantly, entitled to punish others for taking it away. And that -- aggrievement plus the feeling of entitlement -- is what may well drive people ... to these horrific crimes."

While the victims of white privilege and aggrieved entitlement are legion, Devega notes many of the victims are white people.

"Aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome is killing white folks' children, wives, daughters, sons, fathers, and mothers. Yet, white America stands mute. Once more the luxury of being white in the United States is the freedom to have your violent deeds be a reflection of a personal failing, as opposed to a cultural or racial one."

Misogyny, aggrieved entitlement and white privilege are not just directed at minorities and women, writes Julia Serano in "Whipping Girl." They are directed against anyone who fails to be that ideal, powerful, alpha superman.

"As long as masculinity is based in hatred of and fear of femininity, it will be expressed in violence -- against men, against gay people, and against the marginalized," wrote Serano.

Writing for The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky, contends misogyny means hatred of everything having to do with women.

"Since women are typically associated with femaleness and femininity, they bear the brunt of misogyny. But men who express femininity can also be targets."

While Berlatsky doesn't dismiss the effects of misogyny on women, he believes it can be just as damaging for men, who are forced into a box that defines their masculinity.

"Women who take on attributes of masculinity are lauded; men who take on attributes of femininity are seen as frivolous, artificial, and disgusting."

And that's not just because they violate gender roles, but specifically because femininity is seen as frivolous, artificial and disgusting, writes Berlatsky.

"As long as misogyny permeates our culture, femininity will be a threat to hold over men. Which means that as long as there is misogyny, men, as well as women, are not free."

The men among us who have been on the receiving end of insults and slurs that are based in femininity or sexuality, whether levied jokingly by friends or threateningly by bullies or worse, can attest to the absolute lie that is "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

But while men are not free to live outside of the box defined for them by our culture, women, gay men and the trans-gendered are subject to daily violence and death.

Penny is quick to note that while men are responsible for the vast majority of these types of crimes, we shouldn't tar all men with the label of misogyny. "But if you think for one second, for one solitary second, that demanding tolerance for men as a group, that dismissing the reality of violence against women because not all men kill, not all men rape, if you think that's more important than demanding justice for those who have been brutalized and murdered by those not all men, then you are part of the problem. You may not have pulled the trigger. You may not have raised your hand to a woman in your life. But you are part of the problem."

It's not up to the women, minorities, gay people or the trans-gendered to adjust their behaviors, their views, their responses and their lives to misogyny, white privilege and aggrieved entitlement. It's up to men to stop to do so and to stop the violence. It's up to men to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough, all people should have the freedom to express who they are without fear they will be spat on, beaten or murdered. This is not just about learning to let go of sociopathic notions of masculinity that lead to violence, bitterness and hatred, it's about respecting all people and respecting their choices. And let's not forget, these are not just people as some abstract concept -- these are our wives and mothers, daughters and sisters, brothers and fathers, friends and other family members. Until all silent men are willing to take up the banner against misogyny, white privilege and aggrieved entitlement, the violence will continue to hurt those we love.


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