When I wrote about atheism’s MRA problem, I wrote that it was imperative to drive these sexists off because of the harm they do through harassment and threats against women. Now there’s a much more graphic and horrible example of the threat posed by misogynists: a mass shooting in the California town of Isla Vista this weekend, in which seven people died including the shooter.
The apparent killer left a video monologue ranting about how he had been unfairly spurned by women, whom he accused of preferring “obnoxious brutes” over a “supreme gentleman” like himself (this mentality is well known to feminists and allies, who call it Nice Guy Syndrome), and how he was going to pay them back by killing as many women as possible. He also wrote a much longer manifesto raging at women (“There is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female”) and graphically outlining his grandiose murder plans.
There are those who want to dismiss this as the isolated act of a madman, including the county sheriff, but mental illness is a poor explanation in this case. If this were a random, one-off act unlike anything else that had ever happened, with no stated or apparent motive, then that would be more plausible. There have been mass shootings where it’s hard to imagine what other motivation there could have been, besides a pure derangement of reason.
But this shooter didn’t spring from nowhere. We know what motivated him, because he said so explicitly: he was bathed in a malevolent ideology which teaches men that they’re entitled to women’s time and attention, entitled to a relationship, entitled to love and sex. And this male-entitlement mentality easily curdles into hatred and violent resentment when women refuse to play their designated role.
Nor is this the first time that men driven by misogynist rage have gone on murder sprees. Earlier this year, a Connecticut high school student was stabbed to death by a classmate after she turned down his invitation to the prom. There was also the 2009 shooting at a women’s aerobics class in Pittsburgh, or the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, where a murderer who claimed he was “fighting feminism” shot and killed fourteen women. And that’s not even to mention the constant, mundane toll of women killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
There’s unquestionably an element of motivated reasoning in the refusal to see this. This same weekend, there was a shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, but I doubt anyone would attribute that tragedy to the random act of a madman; rather, we conclude the murderer was driven by a poisonous anti-Semitic ideology which taught him to purge the earth of those he deemed inferior. Similarly, when Christian terrorists shoot abortion providers, or Islamist fanatics bomb schools or marketplaces, we don’t leap to blame mental illness. But in this case, there are people who disregard the murderer’s own clearly stated motivation, because that would force them to admit that sexism is a much more serious danger than they’d previously believed. (That said, anti-hate groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have recognized this for a long time.)
There have also been MRAs and sympathizers who argue that more men than women were killed in this rampage. And this is true. Of the six people who were murdered, only two were women. Three of them appear to have been the killer’s male housemates, whom he stabbed to death at the beginning of his rampage, and one more was a male student who was shot at a convenience store.
But this just underscores the fact that men, as well as women, have a reason to care about stopping sexist hate. Misogyny turned this man into a killer, and both his male and female victims paid the price. We men can’t write this off as a women’s issue – it’s a danger to us as well.
And we can put a stop to it, we men. Women can’t stop it – at least, not alone – but we can. This follows trivially from the fact that we created it. We created the culture that led to acts of violence like this: not individually, not single-handedly, but collectively, through a million small acts that add up to a background radiation of sexism, a subtle devaluing of women’s lives and autonomy that’s pervasive in our culture. When this poison becomes concentrated in a single person, it creates killers.
But we can stop it, by refusing to consent to it or reinforce it any longer. We can change the channel when the peddlers of misogyny come on; we can starve them of the attention they need to survive. We can let friends and family know, when they spew prejudice, that we don’t appreciate hearing anyone talk about women that way. We can reject the demand that men prove their masculinity through casual sexism or aggression. We can see that discrimination in the workplace, or harassment on the street, or abuse and degradation on the internet, is treated with the seriousness it deserves. We can listen to women when they talk about their experiences, and believe them. Doing all this ought to be a matter of basic decency and humanity, but if the events of this weekend have taught us anything, it’s an urgent matter of self-interest for men as well. The sense of frustrated male entitlement is deadly, and if we don’t put a stop to it, it will continue to endanger all of us.