I don’t write much about gender relations. Actually, I don’t write about them at all. I have generally progressive views, but as a straight man who’s been in a monogamous relationship for 27 years, I figure that whatever I have to say, someone who’s closer to the situation can say it better and with more authority.
But sometimes I just have to say something and this is one of those times.
By now you’ve surely heard the story of Elliot Rodger, who murdered 6 people and injured 13 others. He was angry because women wouldn’t have sex with him. This was his “retribution” which he felt was completely justified.
No, he shouldn’t have had access to guns, but three of his killings were with knives. Yes, he was mentally ill. But mental illness is widespread in this country, and the vast majority of mentally ill people don’t go on murderous rampages. And unlike so many, he had access to treatment. To dismiss him as crazy is to ignore the obvious: he chose to attack women.
I’ve never paid much attention to “men’s rights” activists. I’ve assumed they were fathers who got the short end of divorce settlements and were angry over it, with varying degrees of justification. Let’s just say I was naïve. There are some seriously screwed up men out there spreading some seriously screwed up ideas – ideas that have dangerous consequences for women, ideas that are unhelpful for men, and ideas that quite frankly piss me off.
If any of those ideas resonate with you in the least, or if you feel the slightest bit of kinship with this murderer, I have a few things to say to you.
If a woman rejects you, maybe you’re just not her type. If a woman is rude to you, perhaps she’s just a rude person – rudeness knows no gender bounds. But by the fourth or fifth or tenth rejection, the odds are getting strong the problem isn’t with any given woman, and if you get to the point where you’re thinking – much less talking – about the evils of women in general, the case is settled.
Dude, the problem is you.
I may be an old married guy, but the memories of being a young single guy are still crystal clear. I understand the evolutionary urge to have sex and lots of it, and I remember all too well the social pressure to have sex. If anything, I think the pressure was worse in the pre-AIDS days. I was a virgin longer than I wanted to be and I never had the lots of sex with many partners I thought I was supposed to have. I was “involuntarily celibate” for two years in my 20s and it wasn’t fun.
But in all that time, it never occurred to me to blame my lack of sex on women, not individually and certainly not collectively. It never occurred to me that women were “supposed” to have sex with me, or with anyone else. Actually, it never occurred to me that women were “supposed” to do anything other than what they wanted to do, sexually or otherwise.
If you think they are, the problem is you.
For all my sexual attraction toward women, I’ve always understood that the only way I have a right to approach women is the same way I approach men: as people and as individuals who like what they like and want what they want. Is that one of the reasons I had so few sex partners? Maybe, but you know something? I don’t care. Even in my horniest teenage years the only way I wanted sex was in a truly consensual, mutually satisfying encounter.
I remember what it was like to be “the friend.” In college I heard about family problems, money problems, school problems, and boyfriend problems. On two occasions I heard about abortions. I genuinely didn’t understand why I was good enough to trust with such deep secrets and not good enough to sleep with. But even then it never occurred to me that because I was supportive of a friend I was somehow entitled to sex with her. Yes, of course I wanted to have sex with her – I was a college-age boy – but if I couldn’t have that, at least I had her friendship.
I finally understood many years later when the shoe was on the other foot. A friend was flirting with me (how seriously we’ll never know), and I realized that even if I wasn’t married, sex with her would not be a good thing. It might be fun, but it would bring complications I didn’t want. I was glad to have her as a friend, but only as a friend. And I finally understood the problem way back when wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough, it was that I wasn’t a good match in her eyes.
If you don’t understand that both partners have to see a match – even a short-term fling – as a good thing, the problem is you.
I kept looking until I found someone who saw me as a good match, and I saw her the same way. 27 years later, we still do.
The culture that told me I was a failure because I didn’t have a string of notches on my bedpost is the same culture that told Elliot Rodger he was justified in killing women because they rejected his advances. Yes, there’s a vast difference in degree, but the core problem – the idea that men are supposed to sexually “conquer” women – is the same in both cases.
I’m not claiming victim status and I’m certainly not giving it to Rodger. I’m saying the culture sucks and we need to change it.
The answer isn’t forcing people into one-size-fits-all gender roles. It’s amusing – in a sick sort of way – how those who advocate fixed roles always put themselves in the preferred role. Neither is the answer putting sex back in the closet and insisting people not have sex unless they’re in a heterosexual marriage – that never worked anyway. The world has moved on and it’s not going back and that’s a good thing.
Rather, we need a culture that sees everyone as individual people with their own needs, desires and rights. We need a culture that teaches us to see people first and foremost as individuals in full possession of sovereignty, and to value their sovereignty more than we value their potential to be a sex partner. We need a culture that teaches “consensual” doesn’t just mean not forced, it means mutually desired.
We need a culture that stops telling us we can have more sex if we buy more crap. It’s all lies anyway, but we hear it and see it so much we believe it.
Our hypermasculine culture sets unrealistic expectations and encourages men to see women as potential sex partners instead of as neighbors, co-workers, and friends. All too often it is deadly for women and it’s no friend of the vast majority of men. It’s long past time for it to change to a culture built on mutual respect.
And if you can’t see that, dude, the problem is you.