Let the record reflect

June 2, 2014

On Saturday night, I read the 141-page manifesto written by Elliot Rodger, the young man who murdered six people on Friday. It was horrifying, but I couldn’t stop reading. My friend Dallas asked me why I was reading it. “So I can articulately tell people to fuck off when they say his hatred of women wasn’t the problem,” I said. And then I told her that if anyone did that (which of course they would do), she could direct them to page 116 where he says “Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with.” (Which, FYI, would be #1 on the BuzzFeed listicle “The 20 Most Disturbing Things Elliott Rodger Said About Women” I started working on in my head as I read the manifesto.)

As one might expect, plenty of people haven’t read the manifesto, or they have, and they are still making excuses for him. “Oh, well, he’s clearly mentally ill.” But mental illness doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the way it manifests is influenced by the culture around an individual. “Would it have killed those sorority girls to have said yes just once to him?” That is an actual quote from Facebook. Fun fact: he didn’t actually ask any of those sorority girls out! (And even if he had…yes. It literally might have killed them.) But there really should be no debate about this, because it’s very clearly written out for us in his own words: he wasn’t asking girls out and getting rejected. He was observing women in public and getting angry that they didn’t approach him. He was losing his shit over the couples he didn’t know but whom he saw canoodling at the mall. He didn’t understand why these beautiful white women weren’t just his. There was no real rejection to speak of. 

Every time someone goes on a shooting spree, we ask why. And then this guy did us a favor and told us why! And the thing about the manifesto is that it is so. Damn. Articulate. Even though you might think someone so concerned with being an alpha male would attempt to come across as one in what is essentially his memoir, it actually reads as remarkably honest. He talks about his pain, his humiliation, and how he’d go home and cry out of frustration after seeing couples out together in public. He seems to own the fact that he wasn’t what he so desperately wanted to be (powerful) because he’s writing with the guns in his possession and his “Day of Retribution” planned. He’s comfortable talking about his own weaknesses, and his motivation is unbelievably clear. It’s also exactly what you’d think his motivation would be if you’ve ever witnessed a misogynist in action, or spent any time on an anti-PUA forum (something I do not recommend if you want to be able to get out of bed ever). So we don’t need to ask why because he told us why.

And yet. Even with the manifesto in front of us, there are still choruses of “This wasn’t about women!” and “But mental illness!” and “Neither guns nor misogyny kill people; people kill people!” and “Not all men are like that!” and “We’ll never really know why he did it” and “But…but…maybe he was gay?” YOU GUYS. DID YOU DO THE READING?

But for everyone who won’t do the reading, who wants to discuss (or, more accurately, talk and be heard) this tragedy without doing any research, the Cliff’s Notes were made available to you and they are called #YesAllWomen. And still. There are people who read those Tweets and they still aren’t convinced.

Last week, I walked to the store at lunchtime to buy some flowers for a work project. It’s a short walk, about three blocks. A block-and-a-half in, a car with all tinted windows pulled up next to me, slowed way down, and all but stopped. And within a second, I was moving quickly — both forward but also several feet to the side, because my first thought was, “I don’t want them to reach out of the window and Taser me.” Because I know that’s a thing that sometimes happens…a woman gets Tasered and then she gets kidnapped. Luckily, I was walking toward the car and moved fast enough to pass them; there were enough cars coming that they couldn’t back up at that point. Thank goodness. But in under a second, I knew what to be afraid of and I had an escape route. Because I always have an escape route. Even if I’m walking three blocks in broad daylight. And even though I was thoroughly creeped out, my first thought after I knew I was in the clear was, “Welp. Guess I shouldn’t have worn that romper.” 

I know that not all men are violent or rapists. We all know that. But also: not all men are doing a good job to keep some men from being violent or rapey or just generally shitty to women. Before you come in to claim a cookie for, I dunno, not raping anyone (because your friendly neighborhood or office or dorm rapists totally call what the did that fits the legal definition of rape “rape”), please tell me what exactly you’ve done to prevent the daily bullshit women have to deal with. I’m not saying men are solely responsible for stopping misogyny…but I’m doing my part by always watching my drink, so now how about you do yours? It blows my mind the kinds of incredibly uncomfortable-making shit that a certain type of man will do in public…and no one will call him on it. Even if they are good guys, even if it makes them uncomfortable, even if they know it was undeniably wrong, they still avoid the confrontation. The best we can usually hope for is that they’ll admit it was a problem later, when the creep is no longer around anymore. 

Why are we so worried about protecting creeps’ feelings? 

I mean, I know why women are worried about it, but why, privileged dudes, are you so worried about it? You don’t have to protect me, but if you’re so interested in getting your award for being not like those men, you kinda have to say something, I dunno, every third shitty comment? As known Good Guy John Scalzi Tweeted, “The fact I’m getting so much credit for doing what should really be THE BASIC STANDARD OF DECENCY is why #YesAllWomen matters.”

So no, I’m not interested in hearing that “not all men” are like Elliot Rodger. I would (maybe not in the middle of the #YesAllWomen stream?) be interested in hearing how you and other men are stepping up when you witness misogyny. And if you’re so concerned with men (as many men’s rights activists claim to be) then I’m sure you’ll have a lot of examples of how you call bullshit when someone makes fun of a guy for being a virgin, or mocks a guy for hooking up with “fat chicks.” I’d love to hear how you call people out when they talk about a man’s girlfriend or wife in the context of his success. I’d really just like to actually see you do it when it happens instead of me looking around at all the privileged white men around me and saying, “…anyone? No? OK, guess I’ll take this one and get called a bitch for it…” But that is the kind of sexism that hurts men and the kind of sexism that so many men ignore or perpetuate. And, as it stands, right now there’s a lot of crossover between men who say “not all men!” and the men who fall silent when their friend or their coworker or their parent is objectifying women, perpetuating harmful stereotypes, getting grabby, or assaulting a woman. Or, you know, when a murderer shares his manifesto and it’s all about how much he hates women. 

But. While this all makes me want to scream, #YesAllWomen has still been really uplifting. And I know that this hashtag might not matter — it’s not raising the dead or bringing about legislation and I doubt it’s changing many misogynistic minds — but it really, actually matters. It matters because whether or not we’re getting a positive response from the people whose minds need to be changed most, and whether or not the mainstream media is having this conversation, we’re still speaking. And we’re being heard. We are putting up a fight and that feels GOOD. #YesAllWomen reminds me a lot of Wendy Davis’s filibuster last summer; it is a similarly collective and powerful “HEY, EVERYONE? THIS IS NOT OK.” Even if you know you can’t win, it still feels good to fight BACK, to make it clear that we see what is happening and we think it is bullshit. So when future generations inevitably look back at us and say, “How on earth did everyone think that was OK?”…let the record reflect that WE DIDN’T. Lots and lots and lots of people did not think it was OK (I’ll share links tomorrow) and we said so, loudly, when it happened.  

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