*Trigger warning: this post contains references to violence against women.*
By now everyone’s heard about the shooting at UC Santa Barbara. I don’t have television news, so I’m sure you’ve probably heard a lot more about it than I have. It’s horrifying, as any killing spree is. When I heard about it I actually thought “Oh, another one.” These sorts of things happen often enough that I didn’t really react. That’s fucked up in and of itself. But when the guy’s motivations started to come out, I became well and truly ill. Literally sick to my stomach. I’ve been thinking about it for days, and I find I still can’t quite put my thoughts in order. There are so many intertwined issues here, so please forgive me if this post seems disjointed. I’m just going to blurt out a bunch of stuff that may not be logically connected. Somehow it’s all relevant.
This guy was deeply disturbed. We all have to understand that his actions were the result of a mental illness and a profoundly unhealthy fixation. We need to work on our mental health care system in this country. Urgently. That’s not an excuse, though. Most folks who suffer from mental illnesses aren’t necessarily dangerous, so I don’t want to seem like I’m dismissing the other factors here. But he definitely wasn’t just your garden variety misogynist. He was angry at women for not having sex with him, and equally angry at other men for getting to have sex or relationships that they, seemingly, didn’t deserve. I think it could be said that he hated men as much as he hated women. What’s most disturbing to me is that he felt that sex was owed to him, that he had somehow earned it, and that it was unfair that other men who act like assholes get sex while he didn’t. He assumed that women were sleeping with everyone but him, that they are all sluts and he didn’t get to take advantage of their sluttiness and that was their fault.
This is ugly shit. I’m fascinated by all the different things that could have contributed to such a flawed worldview. Like looking at a bad car wreck or an infected wound, it’s disgusting but I want to know how it happened. Where did these expectations come from? What was he taught about love and sex? What did he absorb or twist around from culture and the media? What happens when the things that are so ubiquitous get filtered through a sick mind? I’m not going to blame the media outright. Not just the media, I guess. I talked about this a bit in my last post, so I won’t go on and on about the same things here, but sex is everywhere. The message we’re getting is that everyone is having sex all the time and that should be our goal, too. This simply isn’t true. It never has been.
I spent hours and hours reading the #YesAllWomen feed on Twitter the other night (it’s still going strong, you should go check it out, right now). And I realized that not only is sex everywhere, but sexism is everywhere. In little, almost ignorable ways, like a low hum. I suppose I hadn’t really thought about a lot of my experiences as having been influenced by sexism because this shit happens all the time. You learn to live with it. You’re expected to just get used to it. You assume that this is just how the world works and there’s no way you can change it. Reading through the #YesAllWomen tweets, I just sat there nodding my head, saying “Yep. Me, too” more often than I thought was possible. Let me be clear here, though: I’ve never been abused or assaulted. I don’t feel oppressed on a daily basis. But do I always walk through parking lots with my keys between my fingers and my cell phone in my hand in case I need to call 911? You’re damn right. Do I keep a death grip on my drink at the bar so it’s never out of my sight? Absolutely. Have people asked my husband how he “handles a girl like her”? More than once.
I’m not the sort of woman who gets whistled at on the street. A few years ago I was on vacation at the beach with a bunch of my friends, all ladies. We were walking down the boardwalk after dinner and I had fallen behind because I was digging through my bag looking for a lighter. I passed a bunch of frat boy-looking dudebros and one of them yelled out “Hey, fattie, your friends are hot.” All I could think to say was “Yeah, they are.” What do you do with that? That’s the kind of shit I’m talking about being an everyday occurrence. Because people think it’s okay to talk to other people like that. Maybe this isn’t really an issue of sexism, but of manners. I wish I could really convince myself that’s the case, but it feels delusional. A shocking number of times I’ve thought “Damn, I’m so lucky I’m not beautiful. This could be much, much worse.”
Obviously not all men are like that. Of course they’re not. But those are the guys who are the problem, and that’s why we’re talking about them. No need to jump to your own defense or point out overgeneralizations, gentlemen. I’m aware that things like the #YesAllWomen tweets make you feel like you’re getting lumped in with monsters. I acknowledge all the amazing men in my life who have given me stellar examples of manhood and humanity. My dad, stepdad, brother, uncles, cousins, friends, these guys are the reason I can spot assholery from a mile away. They’re the kinds of guys who would put someone in their place for yelling obscenities at a lady on the street or stop someone from taking advantage of a girl who’s passed out. So the “not all men” argument is valid, sure, but it still feels defensive. Don’t defend yourselves, guys. Rather, try to change the minds of other men who don’t know how to act. Set a good example. Say something, and don’t let the shit that makes you uncomfortable stand. If you wouldn’t let some dude talk to your mother or your sister or your daughter that way, you shouldn’t let him talk to a stranger that way, either.
And of course I realize that these complaints seem small when compared to others. Hundreds of girls got kidnapped from their school in Nigeria and the kidnappers said they would sell them all off. Sex trafficking is on the rise. A woman just got killed in India for marrying the man she loved instead of the one who her parents had arranged a marriage with. Transgender women have four times the chance of getting assaulted and raped than cisgender women. A Connecticut girl was murdered last month for turning down an invitation to her prom. I understand that a little catcalling seems like something we should all just get over because really, what’s the harm? The harm is that the burden of responsibility seems to rest on women for men’s actions. He whistled at you? Well, what were you wearing? He raped you? Well, how much had you had to drink? He beat you up for years? Well, why didn’t you just leave?
And I’m not even getting into things like unequal pay or insurance covering Viagra but not birth control or how the Senate committee on abortion was all men, none of whom were doctors. These problems are systemic, friends. So huge. I feel like I can’t see the forest for the trees, you know? I don’t know what the answers are. A couple of things I do know, though, for sure:
– No means no.
– I’m much more likely to analyze a woman’s appearance if she’s unpleasant (what the fuck is that about, brain?).
– If you refer to someone’s profession preceded by “lady,” I will not take you seriously. As in “lady lawyer” or “lady doctor” (assuming you’re not referring to a gynecologist).
– No one owes anyone else sex, ever, for any reason.
– I don’t own a mirror or a scale. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about myself or that I don’t take care of myself.
– Feminists don’t hate men.
– Every article I looked up about the #YesAllWomen hashtag had advertisements for diets or workouts on the sides of them.
– This whole incident will probably be hijacked and made about gun control rather than improving mental health care and underlying cultural misogyny.
And I know that I’m sad. This all makes me so, so sad. I’m sad for the people who died in this fucking idiot’s rampage. I’m sad for the people who think he was right. I’m sad that it took a hashtag and a million Tweets for some to realize that this shit is a real problem. I’m sad that if I have kids one day, I dread them being girls. I’m sad that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is going to be all about her being a woman. I’m sad that I have to listen to my little cousin talk about how ugly she is all the time and how her fourteen-year-old life is ruined because a boy didn’t text her back. I’m sad that my roommate’s ten-year-old asked me why I didn’t want to be skinny and told me that skinny is better, people like you more. I’m sad that female writers routinely choose gender-neutral pen names so that they’ll sell more books. I’m sad that women talking about these issues makes some people angry. Like, reeeeeally angry.
Anyway. Like I said, I’m sorry this post is all a big jumbled mess. But I just had to get it all off my brain. This stuff is important. We should talk about it. All of us.