On May 23, disgruntled student and raging misogynist Elliot Rodger, 22, killed six people and injured 13 more before apparently turning the gun on himself in a mass shooting in Isla Vista, Calif. A 141-page manifesto and a series of videos explained why, revealing a troubling trifecta of racism, sexism and sense of entitlement with low self-esteem thrown in for good measure.
I’ll leave it to the professionals to debate which (or how many) behavioral disorders or mental-health issues Rodger had—because it’s clear he had them—that led to the killings. But it’s up to the cultural critics to point out the surprising commonness of Rodger’s casual sexism and sense of entitlement. Actually, you don’t need to be an observational expert; all you need to understand the pervasiveness of Rodger’s mindset is to date—or, hell, just live—while female and human. Exhibit A: #yesallwomen on Twitter.
Men think I’m being dramatic when I make these types of assessments. Recently, a male friend reposted a status update of a woman on Facebook who, after a Northeast winter that seemed to last longer than a season in Game of Thrones, complained about better weather. She referred to summer as “harassment season” (though, if you live in a walkable city, there really isn’t much difference between cold and warm weather). My guy friend’s status update was sort of mocking the woman’s observation.
“Ladies, is it really that serious?” he asked, as only someone who has the luxury of walking down the street mostly unbothered can. An overwhelming number of women commented on his page to say, basically, “Yes, it’s that serious.” Then they detailed their experiences of being yelled at and called out of their names, spit at (that’s my story) and even assaulted for not saying “Hi,” not smiling on demand and/or daring to ignore a stranger who calls out to a woman, not by her name, but by her most jiggly body part.
After reading all those testimonies, he was still incredulous. Unfortunately, not in the “I can’t believe this happens and I, despite having a mother, a wife, a sister and a teenage daughter, never noticed!” kind of way but in the “I’ve never seen any men do that, so it must not be happening!” kind of way. So many guys, even the so-called good ones, don’t get it, or perhaps they don’t want to. It would require an entire shift in the way many men, even unconsciously, view women.
It’s hard to make it into adulthood as a woman and not interact with more than a few guys (not the elusive strangers on the street who can easily objectify you because they don’t know you) you actually get to know, think are pretty cool and then realize their startling views on women. Too often there’s the guy who loves his mom and perhaps you, too, but can’t refrain from using the words “female” and “bitch” when he’s mad at you. When you dare to complain about his use of “female” or “bitch,” you pretty much get what my Facebook friend offered: “Is it that serious?” For some men, anything that requires them to change even a bit isn’t worth the effort.
If you’re unlucky, you’ve had a boyfriend who finds it acceptable to pout and/or become sullen or just plain mean when, for whatever reason, you deny him access to sex, to which, based on his actions, he seems entitled. You might encounter the guy who thinks, because he spends a lot of money on you, he’s entitled to have sex with you whenever and however he prefers.
There may also be the guy who doesn’t ask if you want sex (really, it’s because you might say no), so he “assumes” you mean yes, because he didn’t ask and you didn’t tell. There’s the guy who hears no and interprets that to mean you wanted it but were playing hard to get.
In my 20s, I once said to a friend something like, “I’m tired of dating these misogynistic a–holes.” She replied, “So what you’re saying is you’re going to date women.” We laughed. But we both dated a lot, and way too many guys fit that description. Maybe it was us (and every woman we know).
Or maybe there’s a cultural problem, one in which men see women as “equals” until a woman’s wants/desires/needs or her plain ol’ autonomy runs counter to his, and then it’s a problem. You can try pointing that out to guys—as I have—but so often you’re met with a blank stare, a “Who me?” Or, worse, you’re told, again, that you’re overreacting. Few things are more frustrating.