Ever since I heard about the shooting at UC Santa Barbara late on Saturday night I have been engrossed in the social media discourse which has arisen from it. I originally planned to write my own blog post, but by this afternoon I had already encountered four people who had said much of what I wanted to say, and likely better than I would if I hastily mashed something together for this space. So rather than reiterate what has already been said beautifully by others, I have curated them here in a list for you, with my own commentary.
The conversation that is emerging from this tragedy is not new, but it is more widespread than I’ve ever seen it. But for me, something is missing… and has been missing for a while. I hope the next five bits will help you see what I mean.
The first three things I will show you constitute PART ONE of THREE of this blog post. They consist of concise, well-argued presentations on the subject of violent masculinity and misogyny and the role they play in our culture. If this were a curriculum, Jessica’s piece would the be 101**, and Laci’s would be 201. Jessica outlines the essential argument, Laci takes it a step further and fleshes it out.
**100 is reserved for people who still need to learn what “feminism” means. Hint: feminism is not synonymous with misandry.
1) Jessica Valenti’s commentary in the Guardian. Which speaks for itself.
“So when we say that these things are unstoppable, what we are really saying is that we’re unwilling to do the work to stop them. Violence against women does not have to be inevitable, but it is almost always foreseeable: what matters is what we do about it.”
2) Laci Green’s recap and nailing down of points related to the role that narratives about hyper-violent masculinity play in our culture. Some trolls on youtube have flagged it as “age inappropriate” so you may see a warning. It is not technically NSFW in any way, though it does contain a clip from the UCSB gunman’s youtube rant, which you can find a transcript of elsewhere. I skipped that part. He’s gross and I don’t need to feel more disturbed than I already do, and neither do you unless you want to.
As a follow up, Laci posted the following on her tumblr:
“I want to address what I think is a really important point that a few of you have messaged me about: the fact that all the coverage saying elliot killed people because he’s “mentally ill” is incredibly stigmatizing.
This was originally a big part of my video—but then this morning it surfaced that he may actually have had some mental health struggles. With the facts up in the air, I tried to focus on the fact that whether or not he actually was mentally ill is irrelevant because misogyny was the clear motive for his actions (not illness). I also didn’t want people to become derailed arguing about whether or not he was actually mentally ill and miss the point. I regret not putting in a quick note about the stigma factor in the video.
The APA states that the risk of violence amongst the mentally ill is very small and that most violent crime is perpetrated by those who do not suffer from mental health issues. The reality is that the mentally ill are more likely to be on the receiving end of violence. And yet mental illness is so often scapegoated as the motive for terrible crimes. Add race into the mix and we rarely see men of color labeled “mentally ill”…no, they’re “violent thugs” or “terrorists”. It’s a big ignorant, ableist, racist, and stigmatizing mess.
I just wanted to let y’all know that I hear you, I 100% agree with you, and I hope you understand why I approached the video the way I did. I plan to do a separate video specifically addressing mental health stigma in future so that it can be given the thorough discussion it deserves. Those of you who have followed my tumblr for awhile know I’ve struggled with depression my whole life, it’s an issue that’s quite personal to me. I truly believe that stigma keeps us quiet and afraid to seek help, and that’s something that’s got to change.”
PART II: A New Hope – This Blog Post 302: So, what now?!?!
By a new hope I really mean, let’s look at this in a slightly different way, where we actually give some credence and validity to the pain being expressed on all sides, and maybe we can change something.
DrNerdLove speaks very ably to what I felt was frequently missing from this conversation – the part where boys are raised not to know that it is okay to be vulnerable, to have needs, and to ask for help – the part where we glimpse a deeper reason why we need feminism – because oppression hurts the oppressors too – it is an oppression turned inward.
When we get lost in the us vs. them “battles of the sexes” (or, more accurately, of the genders) we fight a losing battle. It is important to remember that people who get far enough into the kind of toxic mindset that misogyny is are people who are deeply in pain and have very poor tools for dealing effectively, healthily, reasonably, whatever, with life. Let me be clear. This pain does NOT excuse their behavior in any way. But if we want to really address the root causes of this centuries-old cultural disease, however, we need to remember to look at the open sores, and consider how they are made, and consider our role as a culture in fostering the wounds which express themselves in outward violence — and we need to be able to offer better replacement narratives to reach those who are suffering from the kind of self-dehumanization that turns into outward, gendered violence.
3) Listen to Dr. Nerd Love on the price of toxic masculinity – found on Twitter via a friend.
“Let’s just imagine a world where being a virgin wasn’t stigmatizing, where men didn’t fear being inexperienced or unsure around women. Where their value isn’t in the number of women they fuck or don’t fuck. Where they don’t believe that sex is something owed to them or negotiated for but a collaboration between equals. Where they’re not shamed for not having sex and women aren’t shamed for doing so. Where women aren’t “the enemy”, the “other”, our antagonists, our inferiors…”
My thoughts: Suffice it to say, that though calling MRAs and their ilk of various extremes, etc assholes may be true and it may feel good to those of us who constantly have to deal with their bullshit — it may not be the most productive way of getting anything to be much different. I mean, if you think feminists hate men and then a bunch of self-proclaimed feminists call you an asshole (even if you ARE being an asshole) are you going to believe them when they say they don’t? A lot of people DO feel attacked, and maybe they SHOULD, but being righteous doesn’t generally help us get through to other righteous people.
I have persuaded far more people to listen to me by listening to them and responding to the stories they tell than by name calling. Dismissal and shunning of horrible asshats is a legitimate self-protection tool, but when there are lives on the line, having a cultural conversation about humanity and personhood and the ultimate interconnectedness and wholeness and okayness of every person under all the baggage and bullshit is the only way I can possibly think of getting anything done. Dismissing douchebags is sometimes necessary, but it also amounts to giving up.
People can change. People can grow. It is not our responsibility as random adults on the street to teach men how to grow up… but we can certainly start with our own children… and ourselves.
PART III: Denouement
We have arrived now at the follow-up commentary, the bits and pieces that are highly relevant, but don’t actually contain information about the UCSB shooting. There is SO MUCH I could say, but it is late, and I want to trust my excellent readers to take meaning from the following links for themselves.
4) Angieup offered this excellent open letter to her son. Found via @beatonna on Twitter.
5) So What Else Can Men Do? Found this one on Facebook.
“So why do I overreact more egregiously to criticism from women, when all of my childhood bullies were boys? The answer, I think, has less to do with the boys who bullied me, and more to do with the well-intentioned adults who tried to “help” me through that bullying: When I was a nerdy kid, adults regularly assured me that the abuse I suffered was acceptable because one day I would be entitled to constant positive sexual attention from women.
If you were a computer-loving male child who took a lot of shit from your peers, I suspect you heard something similar from the adults in your life. Maybe it was “Sure, things are bad now, but when you’re a little bit older, women will LOVE guys like you!” Or maybe it was “That kid who makes fun of you now will be working at a gas station when you run a big fancy computer company and marry a supermodel!” If you were once young, nerdy and male, it is not unlikely that your future sense of self-worth was funded with a non-consensual IOU from the world’s women.
It’s taken me a long time, but at this point I genuinely believe that much of this “GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH” rhetoric is little more than patriarchy’s bespectacled wingman. It excuses the pain that systems of power exert on children by promising little boys future dominion over little girls. It is deeply and massively fucked.”
5) And while we’re on the subject of checking privilege – in addition to #yesallwomen check out #yesALLWhiteWomen and #cisgaze on Twitter. It is especially important to me to acknowledge my immense privilege as a white cis-woman and to practice listening to voices that are different from my own so that in my own efforts to make the world a better place for women I can actually be a decent ally to people whose oppression is not like my own, or in whose oppression I unknowingly, inherently, unwillingly even, participate. It is also important to me to share those voices with more people and encourage more listening. I’m definitely not perfect at this. I know the desire to fix fix fix. But listening is important.
The stories we tell are the stories we live, and if we don’t hear stories from other people, how will we ever know how to live in ways that help rather than hurt? Join me.
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Finally, a note to any passing trolls:
I am not interested in justifying the value of feminism or debating the size of your willy. I will not be persuaded to believe less of myself or the authors whose work I have posted here by any means you can conceive of. However, I offer you my compassion. I imagine you must be in a great deal of pain if you find it relieving to spend time wandering the internet looking for avatars to yell angry insults and threats at. I hope your pain is lessened somehow. I hope you can breathe. I hope you can cry. I hope you can step back from the welter of fear and hurt that consumes you and escape the vapid confines of your self-hatred and find tools to help you stop crashing into the walls of the Cave in which you are blindly stumbling. I hope you can find it in yourself to love yourself, and forgive yourself. I hear your pain, your fear, your anger; it shines through, clear as day, as you bully. I believe in your wounds. Believe me, I believe in them. There is no better explanation for your existence. And I offer you this completely unasked for advice: Neither sex nor guns will heal those wounds. Insulting me at length will only make you feel better for about ten seconds and then you will have to find someone else to rail against. Much like cigarettes, I think you will find yourself healthier in the long run if you drop the habit. I expect you’ll find that when you stop shouting, all the scary voices inside you come out, telling you you aren’t good enough. I suggest you tell THEM to fuck off, look in the mirror, and tell yourself again and again, “I love you,” until you actually mean it. I don’t mean until you think you are perfect. No one is perfect. Ever. I mean you Love yourself for yourself, including all your flaws. You are not your flaws. You are not your feelings, either, though that may seem impossible sometimes. You cannot control your emotions. You can choose what you do about them. And you are not a troll unless you act like one. You have a choice. If you make the wrong one, I will block you. And also you will probably feel worse about yourself.
Also the fact I felt the need to post that last bit preemptively is another reason for #yesallwomen.
P.S. – The image I’ve attached to this post is a picture I took of this robin that kept repeatedly throwing himself against his reflection in my kitchen window every morning this spring. He thought he had a rival for his nesting ground, and he kept slamming into the glass, leaving little bits of dirt and bird saliva. It sounded super painful but he wouldn’t stop. Seemed like a fitting metaphor.