Alright this post is about mass murder and rape culture, so trigger warning.
So, recently there was another premeditated mass shooting in California. The shooter killed 7 people, including himself, in a posh neighbourhood near UC Santa Barbara. As is always the case when these things happen, media reports (which are all actually just re-posts of the same initial report) include remarks about the need to improve monitoring for signs of mental illness and how the shooter was lonely and had no friends. Since he was the son of a pseudo-celebrity, the news will be all over this for days to come. It will inspire much debate about mental health and gun control. In the U.S, this will generate polarizing rhetoric about gun laws. What won’t really be talked much aboutis that the root of tragedies like this and the recent stabbings in Calgary are much deeper than the issue of gun control and much more pervasive than the mental health of a few individuals.
Yes, these guys probably suffer from mental illness. That’s somewhat true by definition of anyone that decides to go on murder frenzy. That behaviour is insane, therefore those people are insane. But obviously murder frenzies aren’t symptomatic of any particular kind of mental illness. After all, women, who are no less likely to suffer “serious psychological disorders” than men, yet women are never responsible for mass shootings. Or at least, hardly ever. While there have been a number of female serial killers, there seems to be hardly any women mass murderers. When women do kill a bunch of people, it’s often their family. Women are more likely than men to kill their own children. That’s pretty weird.
These phenomena are symptomatic of a sick culture. A patriarchal culture. It’s no statistical fluke that this kid in Santa Barbara was male, and it’s no surprise at all that his rampage was preceded by a lengthy YouTube rant about women rejecting him.
People have quite adeptly determined that this rant was the work of an insane person. But saying that someone has a “mental illness” does not characterize them or provide a sufficient basis for explaining any of their actions. It makes up one aspect of their multifaceted personality which exists necessarily within of a wider social fabric.
Fewer people seem to have noticed that, if you ignore the parts about killing everyone, this murderous rant could have come from basically any dude on the internet. It’s about feeling entitled to women, and feeling cheated when that entitlement is denied. The opening lines:
Well, this is my last video, it has all had to come to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you. For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me.
Whose fault is it? It’s women’s fault. Which women? All women. All women are the same, because they exist only as the objects of sexual gratification and desire for the male ego. That logic will seem familiar to anyone who has noticed the social phenomenon of The Game, or the preposterous extension of that logic by the bizarre and pathetic Red Pill community. The reduction of women to a single type defined primarily by their relation to male gratification is hardly a fringe phenomenon.
I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous.
It’s torture to be a virgin. Is that the manifestation of some internal brain malfunction, or is that the result of social conditioning in a culture where virginity is treated as the most highly valuable commodity in the sexual marketplace? Up until recently, federal funding in the U.S was available only to sex education programs that promoted abstinence-only-until-marriage. All over the country, people attend “purity balls” and sign purity vows. Women buy white wedding dresses to symbolize their purity. Men rent tuxedos.
Not long ago, women who accused a man of raping them would be examined to determine whether they had been virgins. Today we accept that even non-virgins can be raped, so rape trials focus less on whether the victim was a virgin and more on what she was wearing.
We treat virginity as a condition which is characteristic of its bearer. For men, virginity is a burden that must be shed. But for women, virginity is a symbol of morality and good conscience. This is the cultural myth of man as the conqueror, woman as the nurturer. Only a virgin could be the mother of God. We internalize a dichotomy which reduces us to a single aspect of our personality. Internally fragmented, we’re all a little bit crazy.
Girls are brought up to think of their sexuality as a prize which they should only give to someone good enough. Boys are brought up to think of women’s sexuality as a prize for the taking. If they haven’t got it, then they must not be good enough. The gendered conception of virginity is asymmetric and paradoxical.
The obsession with virginity is at root an obsession with women as sexual objects. A man is a virgin who has never deflowered a woman, a woman is a virgin who has not yet been deflowered. Instead of treating the first sexual encounter a confusing experience from which we learn we’ve built it into a transcendent experience to which women are the gatekeepers and the gateway. To be denied the key is “torturous”.
What about virginity is torturous? There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly torturous about not having sex. People don’t have sex all the time. But we feel entitled to sex. We’re conditioned to feel that we need it, and to evaluate ourselves accordingly. Something which you need is something which you deserve.
We’re surrounded by messages telling us that we need to be having sex. And we could be, if only we get the right deodorant, or chew the right gum. If we have the right shoes. Mass marketing tells us what’s cool, and what’s cool is sexy. This imaging overwhelmingly portrays women’s bodies as the ultimate reward for being cool. Women’s bodies (and sometimes faces) appear in ads for women as a model of being to strive towards. Women’s bodies appear in ads for men as the reward for being cool. Everything reduced to consumption, the mental illness which makes one feel oppressed by their virginity is the mental illness of commodified sexuality. That’s a social illness, an illness that survives only in the mind of the many.
Sex is reduced to a thing in and of itself, not an act of intimate engagement between people. Sex is notches added to a belt. Sex is a rite of passage, and so it is hypersexualized women who factor into this story not as people, but as symbols of man’s natural right to get his rocks off.
You girls have never been attracted to me. 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 men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.
Is it only the deranged who feel that women owe them sex? Until quite recently within our culture it was considered impossible for a husband to rape his wife. Men feel all the time that women to whom they have showed any degree of kindness have betrayed them by refusing to reciprocate with sex. “May I buy you a drink?”
The supreme gentleman is owed sex. Some gentlemen get what they’re owed in red light districts around the world. Sex tourism is a big industry, and like most industries it favours men. Other men get what they’re owed by drugging women at parties. Are these men sick? Yes. But their sickness occurs within a specific social context which gives rise to their behaviour. Anyone can suffer from mental illness. But almost all rapists are men. Almost all mass murderers are men. Almost all prostitutes are women. Those are definitive symptoms of a sick culture. A sickness which hurts both men and women.
Somehow, it’s seen as a crime against men to point out the fact that most mass murderers are men, or that domestic violence is highly gendered. In 1989, 14 women were murdered at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal by a man who felt “feminists” had ruined his life and that women were stealing job that belonged to men — jobs that men deserved. In 1996, a memorial to those women and to “all women murdered by men” was put up in Vancouver. The monument was criticized in the press, I shit you not, for being offensive to men. Not all men kill women, and sometimes women kill men. Apparently we should be thankful that not all men kill women, since that somehow negates any suspicion that we might be witnessing a pattern. A pattern of violence. A pattern of male violence.
The artists who erected the memorial received death threats from anonymous men who felt the need to punish and terrify women for speaking out about violence against women. This is part of the pattern. Female bloggers and journalists regularly receive hundreds of horrific, depraved threats from men hiding behind anonymous internet handles. These threats are highly sexualized, usually describing unimaginably violent rape. This suppression is not directed only towards women who speak about patriarchy and misogyny. A woman makes herself a target by being a woman in a public place.
Elliot Rodger, the entitled rich kid who murdered seven people because women wouldn’t fuck him, followed through with his threats. Most of the faceless losers hurling vitriol at female writers don’t follow through with theirs. When that line is crossed, we’re ready to shake our heads at another tragedy brought about by mental illness. But what about all the other men? The one’s who are satisfied just by terrifying women? By reminding them that they not only don’t belong on the internet, they don’t deserve to feel safe on the street, or in their homes. The men who think sexualizing children is funny. Can we dismiss their behaviour by labeling it symptomatic of mental illness? How prevalent can mental illness become before it becomes social?
My inspiration for writing this came from reading one particular comment in the CBC article in which I first read of this shooting. This is not taken from some fringe subreddit. this is the opinion of a “regular person”.
Fuck me. This whole tragedy could have been avoided if only some woman had provided the service (!!) of giving this man the sexual gratification he needed. Notice the logic of the killer reflected: if he got the sex he needed — that he was entitled to — this wouldn’t have happened. People often make jokes about how women who are high-strung or irritable need a good (male) fucking. Apparently men need a (female) fucking when they’re about to go on a killing spree.
Prostitution is presented as a solution to male violence, rather than a symptom of it. Prostitution itself is premised upon the assumption that men are entitled to the bodies of women. That if they can’t get it by seduction, then they can get it by transaction. Men with money on one side of the transaction, women who need money on the other. Supposedly if only we facilitated women making themselves more available for men as sexual objects, then Elliot Roger wouldn’t have had to murder all those people. If we want to reduce the epidemic pattern of male violence (particularly violence against women) then what we need, clearly, is more women for sale.
During the Rennaissance, cities across Europe legalized prostitution and opened state brothels, on the assumption that this would provide an occasion for men to lose steam and maybe distract them from revolting against the capitalist subversion of society. Conveniently, this also allowed cities to profit from the activity of prostitutes, whom they were incapable of expelling despite the horrible, humiliating and disfiguring punishments. This happened to coincide with the enclosure of the commons and the beginning of women’s exclusion from trades and professions, which left many of them without other options. Interesting how society has tended to force women into prostitution before considering condoning prostitution.
Many of the gender divisions and concepts which percolate in the the collective consciousness today were forged in that period. When we look back at those times, we don’t think that everyone in Europe was insane. We think that they had fucked up social institutions, backward and dogmatic philosophies, and oppressive power dynamics. When, a mere few centuries later, we look at the pattern of male violence, we only see isolated, unfortunate individuals. It seems to me we have a pathological inability to think holistically.