Overt displays of misogyny are not common, and rarely do we hear of men freely supporting the notion of female oppression. I mean, everyone believes that women have the right to vote and drive and own real estate and be paid an equal salary to their male colleagues, don’t they?
By now you would’ve heard of Elliot Rodger, a young man whose mass murder inspired columnists, bloggers and women’s rights activists to take to their keyboards en masse and offer their two cents. Was Rodger merely a deeply disturbed victim of childhood bullying? Did he have an undiagnosed mental illness, and could this whole tragedy have been prevented by appropriate treatment? Or were his actions a hate-crime against women, fueled by pervasive cultural attitudes of misogyny?
Despite a 140-page manifesto attempting to provide an answer to the ‘why?’, it is hard to appreciate what exactly drove him to commit this act of violence. But whether or not he was the product of a society that indoctrinated him with chauvinistic ideals, the fact remains that this incident emphasizes how misogyny is so normalized that we are unable to recognize its existence.
After all, if we are to consider the meaning of ‘misogyny’ at its most literal, then misogynistic is not a strong enough word to describe Rodger’s violent and utter loathing of women. In his manifesto, he fantasizes about how he would subjugate the world’s female population through confinement and starvation, and about how he would torture and kill not only women, but the men that are the beneficiaries of a woman’s sexual currency. His views are so rancorous that he has been identified as an aberration, a mentally unstable sociopath that is not representative of the male species…and many people reject that internalized male entitlement is related at all. However, the link between Elliot Rodger and sexist ideology lies not in what could’ve caused this shooting. It lies in the public’s response.
Scroll through the YouTube videos on Rodger’s channel, and you will see comments stating that if women had only spread their legs, this shooting could’ve been prevented. An alarming example of victim blaming, but in an age of Internet trolling, it is entirely possible that these comments exist merely to provoke a response. The scariest set of comments on Rodger’s videos are not these — they are the ones that are laced with misogyny, but which remain unchallenged due to the fact that they represent society’s prevailing attitudes. Comments that claim that he would’ve been more successful with ladies if he had lowered his standards; a statement that carries with it the presumption that the less attractive a woman is, the less likely she is to reject a male’s sexual advances. Comments that criticize his lack of ‘game’, reflecting a perception propagated by the Pick-Up Artist community that manipulation is an essential component of courtship. Comments from women that call out his false sense of entitlement to the female body, but which are always prefaced with ‘I am not a feminist’.
Because as women, we have all been conditioned to believe that feminism is a pejorative, dirty insult, and if we want men to listen to us, then we need to remove ourselves from feminism as much as possible. Sure enough, for every comment that suggests that internalized misogyny may be a factor in this shooting, there are twice as many accusing the poster of being a ‘feminist’ and humiliating them into silence.
The Isla Vista shooting is not an example of everyday misogyny. Everyday misogyny is the attitude that rape jokes are okay as long as they’re funny, and that it is acceptable to demonize a woman because she rejects your offer for a date. Everyday misogyny is our refusal to acknowledge that we still live in a patriarchal society, and our immediate dismissal of anyone who proposes this notion as a querulous, hysterical woman who has no right to be upset.
Everyday misogyny is insidious, and it is through its subtlety that it is permitted to perpetuate. It is a bizarre amalgamation – we publicly condemn the type of physical and sexual violence against women that Elliot Rodger envisaged, yet accept a culture that dehumanizes women by either objectifying them or putting them on a pedestal. Our ‘everyday misogyny’ is normalized, and as such we have begun to think that we have won the battle – we think that misogyny doesn’t exist, and that we should resent anyone who thinks otherwise. Regardless of whether we think that Rodger’s crime was caused by this normalization or by a psychiatric pathology, the attitudes towards the concept of gender equality that have surfaced as a result of it should be evidence enough to convince us that where misogyny is concerned, we still have a long way to go.