When a ‘Gentleman’ Is Linked to Mass Murder

The hashtag #YesAllWomen is giving women a forum to express their experiences with sexism and anti-female violence, but our writer says some men are feeling unfairly blamed.

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A public memorial service on the Day of Mourning and Reflection for the victims of a killing spree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, May 27, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif.

David McNew/Getty Images

A gentleman. 

A mass murderer. 

Same thing? Now let me explain.

Picture this: A young man parks his car in a mall parking lot. He gets out and heads toward the mall entrance. As he approaches the door, out of the corner of his eye, he sees a young woman walking in the same direction. She’s several steps behind him, but when he gets to the door, instead of heading inside the mall, he holds the door open and waits for her to catch up and enter.

But she doesn’t enter with a nod or a quiet “thank you” or even silently. She doesn’t enter at all.  Instead she berates him. She tells him she can get the door for herself. She doesn’t need a man to hold the door for her and is surprised that men still feel like they should coddle women.

This happened. I was the sexist holding the door.

This could easily be dismissed as an extreme and rare case, but a few months ago, I was labeled a sexist and criticized mightily on Twitter after posting “A Modern Gentleman’s 30 Rules.” The backlash came from people who took issue with the suggestion that a gentleman should open doors, offer his arm to a lady, pay for a meal, etc. As I wrote at the time, my critics said the rules “reek of sexism because they put men and women in traditional societal roles: men as the strong protectors of the weaker, more vulnerable or lesser sex, women.”

I took that criticism to heart and at the time re-examined my attitude toward women. One of the great benefits of the #YesAllWomen Twitter phenomenon is that it gives men who are willing a chance to sit back, listen and do some introspection. Most men don’t aim to be sexist in their thinking or behavior, but sometimes we don’t recognize it when it’s happening. Sometimes we ignore it.   

Granted, the women speaking out on Twitter are overwhelmingly referring to sexism that results in daily harassment, threats and disrespect. They’re not complaining about the guy whose sexism leads him to open a door for them. In the current debate, however, there’s sometimes no distinction made between the sexism inherent in some common behavior and the sexism and hatred that led to mass murder in Isla Vista, Calif.  “Every guy looking away is letting them [violent men] get away with it. By virtue of existence, you’re in on it,” writes Denise Balkissoon of the Globe and Mail.

Lauren McEwen of the Washington Post says, “It might be troubling to think that everyday occurrences have anything in common with a mass shooting, but that doesn’t make it untrue.”

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