On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be focusing on the Elliot Rodger shooting in California, an act of misogynist violence that was specifically compelled by the killer’s belief that women owed him sex and weren’t giving it up. I want to look at the role online misogyny played, of course, but also the role that other media sources play in sending the message to men that they are entitled to own and control women’s bodies, or that women are the ones who are actually oppressing men. It’s dark stuff, but I believe it’s important.
Before I begin, however, a little reminder that while Rodger’s crime was unusual for being a mass shooting, male entitlement to control women that boils into violence is a daily problem in our society.
- remy *
A few minutes before the stabbing, the victim, Jennifer Martel, changed her relationship status on Facebook to “It’s complicated.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, there was a terrible tragedy in the town of Isla Vista, California, where the University of California Santa Barbara is located. A young student there, Elliot Rodger, went on a murder rampage, killing three young men in his apartment, two young women in front of a sorority house, and one young man walking into a convenience store. Sometimes when this happens, it’s hard to really figure out the killer’s motivations, really. But Rodger made sure the entire world knew, leaving behind a YouTube video chronicling his reasons and sending a 141-page manifesto to various news organizations. His argument was that women—specifically conventionally attractive, white women—owed him sex, and because he didn’t get any, he was getting his revenge. Some news media has reported that he was rejected by women, but even that isn’t quite right. By his own account, he never even talked to them. He appears to have believed that young women were obliged to offer him sex without even talking to him, and believed that they failed him by not doing so.
The whole thing stuck a major chord with many women because, for better or worse, Rodger’s various claims that feminism was evil, men are victimized by women’s rejection, and other such misogynist drivel is being aimed like a firehose at any woman who dare speak up online about women’s rights. I have to ban and block people every single day because they say belligerent and disturbing and delusional things about women to me. Most feminist writers were sadly unsurprised by this crime. That many men hating so much all the time, and one was bound to go off, it seemed. NPR had British writer Laurie Penny on to talk about this.
- ucsb 1 *
I think it’s a lot for people to absorb, in no small part because a lot of feminist writers have grown accustomed to these guys being just a buzz of relentless abuse that simply exists and few, if any people, seem to care. But this kind of thing matters, and during the interview segment, this podcast will take a deeper look at how the constant stream of hatred toward women is radicalizing men who might otherwise have gone a different direction with their lives. It’s also critical, as Penny points out, to remember that it’s not just MRAs. The anger and entitlement that Rodger was spewing is everywhere online. His belief that women owe men sex and are oppressing men by not giving it to them is an attitude that is all over any male-dominated space online. Obviously, not all men think this way, but having to repeat that caveat over and over again is getting really tiresome.
- ucsb 2 *
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed: The men who are quickest to rush in and claim that “not all men” are sexist pigs are, in fact, usually sexist pigs. I made a joke about “not all men” on Twitter and literally 100 percent of the responses were from men who have hostile attitudes toward women and their female allies, who also have ugly, hostile attitudes to women not themselves. Men who aren’t sexist, unsurprisingly, don’t get all bunched up and defensive every time someone dares suggest sexism is a bad thing. “Not all men” can safely be seen as the calling card of men who are, in fact, sexist, but are trying to throw up obstacles to prevent discussion of the negative impact of attitudes they personally perpetuate.
Jessica Valenti was on Chris Hayes’ All In to talk about the online misogyny that this killing shines a light on, and how it’s just a miserable, relentless stream of abuse that women have to endure.
- ucsb 3 *
This is a critical point: It’s not just feminist writers. It’s not just online. The #YesAllWomen hashtag was really useful in helping focus on this. The belief that many men have that they are entitled to the attention, affection, and sexuality of any woman they choose plays out in ways big and small for all women. I don’t know a woman alive who hasn’t been followed by a man down the street, called a “bitch” for refusing a man’s advances, or subject to sexual harassment from a man who felt the need to punish her for being unavailable. Women lie to men in bars and give them fake numbers or make up boyfriends because they fear direct rejection could lead to violence. A huge percentage of women are raped or sexually assaulted. Women die every day in this country from domestic violence at the hands of controlling men. The role that the online community plays is that it is a safe zone for men who have these feelings of entitlement, where they can gather and tell each other that women are awful, terrible people who owe men sex, and justify their harassment and abuse of women to each other. And, of course, they can use it harass women. I think I blocked three people on Twitter for harassing me just as I was writing this.
Valenti continued in this vein, explaining how people who wallow in misogyny get the idea that their views are okay.
- ucsb 4 *
And then there’s right-wing media, which, as I point out over and over again on this show, puts out an endless stream of content arguing that women do not own their own bodies and aren’t full people deserving of respect. If Elliot Rodger got it into his head that he was entitled to women’s adoration and submission, it’s because in little ways every day, there are an endless number of people willing to tell men exactly that.
So where do all these seething misogynists online get the idea that men are entitled to own and control women’s bodies, and that men are being oppressed by women? The sources are too many to count, honestly, from movies that portray women as trophies to be won instead of people to those who insist that women should give men their time and attention just to be “polite.” But I want to talk about right wing media and the role it has played in stoking the ridiculous claim that men are oppressed as a class by some kind of evil matriarchy. Indeed, in the days after the shooting, throwing a fit and claiming women are out to get men was the order of the day in many right wing outlets. Before the bodies of the six people murdered by a misogynist were cold, Fox News was having a whine session about the real problem is all the supposed oppression of men by women. Keith Ablow, as usual, was at the center of this.
- reaction 1 *
Ablow is lying here. Lorena Bobbitt did not dismember John Bobbitt for cheating. She argued in court that she snapped after he raped her that night, after enduring years of abuse at his hands. Both the prosecution and defense agreed that he was abusive, though there was some quibbling over how abusive. Either way, the jury was convinced by the evidence. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity because the jury believed that reacting with violence against someone has driven you mad by repeated raping and beating counts as not guilty by reason of insanity. According to Crime Library, even John’s friends testified in court about how he bragged about beating and raping her. A story about a woman who is beaten and raped on the regular and snaps and acts out violently isn’t very good evidence for the claim that women are oppressing men. It is pretty good evidence, however, that men get away with these kinds of horrific crimes on the regular. I’m not saying what she did was right, of course, but the larger context is a story of a man directly and violently oppressing a woman.
Ablow cast around for another way that evil women are oppressing men.
- reaction 2 *
It’s a little garbled, grammar-wise, which can happen in a live setting. But basically he’s saying a man is oppressed because he cannot legally force a woman to bear a child for him. Granted, he’s not saying that a man has a right to grab any random woman and force her to bear a child, but the argument is that a man should have control over your body because he ejaculated in you. This notion, that women’s bodies belong to men and that men should have some veto power over how a woman uses it is being broadcast on the most popular cable news channel in the country. No wonder men like Elliot Rodger felt comfortable expounding on that idea and saying that they, too, are the owners of female bodies. The major difference here is that Ablow is saying a man should be able to legally compel a woman to give birth and Rodger and his online buddies are more worried about being able to compel a woman to have sex, but the basic argument is the same, that men should have final say over how women’s bodies are to be used, and not women.
Glenn Beck isn’t on Fox News anymore, but his website The Blaze and the videos he puts out on it are wildly popular on the right. He spent the days after the shooting accusing anyone and everyone he could of oppressing men. They replayed an old segment accusing the Obama White House of inflating rape statistics, apparently in a bid to rebut people who suggested that misogyny is less than awesome because of the six people that are dead from it. The segment was beyond stupid.
- reaction 3 *
Yes, people have consensual sex under the influence. That’s why, by his own admission, they ask specifically about situations where you were “unable to consent.” The shamelessness here is breathtaking. For people who really are that dumb, let me give you a similar example. Yes, it’s true that people who are drinking often give each other gifts, often by buying each other drinks. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay if someone sees a person passed out from drunkenness and decides to steal his wallet. Consent is not actually confusing. The only people who say it is are people who want you to believe that so that it’s easier for rapists to get away with crimes. Anyway, this is just a small sampling of how right-wing media decided to act in the days after a horrible misogynist killed six people. You know, by doubling down on their own misogyny.
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, yes, please, make misogynist violence all about the hurt feelings of men edition. Glenn Beck continued to hammer at the men-are-the-real-victims narrative on his show, complaining about a hashtag called #YesAllWomen, where women shared their stories of being harassed and abused. Warning, he is extremely sarcastic and angry at women who share their stories.
- glenn beck *
It’s only “man-bashing” if you believe all men rape, harass, and abuse women. That’s why the hashtag was about all women, not all men. All women have been affected by this, but not all men are perpetrators. Duh. When someone like Glenn Beck tries to guilt trip women into lying and covering up for men who do these things to us, I have to ask a very serious question: What are they trying to accomplish? How do they benefit if women sit in silence, being abused but afraid to speak out about it? I think it’s an important question that needs to be asked every time we are told to shut up about things that actually happen in the world to women, every day.