When news broke of the misogyny-driven mass shooting at UC Santa Barbara last week, I closed my computer, left my house, and turned off my phone. Well first I flipped out after misreading UCSB as the UC that my sister attends, and then figured out it was a different school. Nobody I knew had died. It didn’t affect me. Shame on me.
In usual instances of disaster, I am glued to my computer. During the Malaysian Airlines event earlier this year, I googled “MH370” every hour for updates. I obsessed over different proposed theories. It wasn’t voyeurism–it was my way of making sense of it all. When tragic, unexplainable events happen that I can’t process, consuming every single detail available helps to make things clearer in my head. I can’t process the unexplainable, but I can file, categorize, and make sense of information. But this wasn’t a unexplainable event without answers. This had too many answers. There was a video to watch. I didn’t click.
In retrospect, it wasn’t flippancy that made me ignore my computer and disconnect once my sister’s safety was assured. I’m not prone to turning off my phone or abandoning my computer for long periods of time–in fact, I’m the kind of person who needs to be connected at all times. It wasn't that I thought “this happened far away. This didn't happen to me.” This was fatigue. This was not unexpected–the #YesAllWomen hashtag should make that more than clear. This was the natural progression of the reality of our deeply ingrained, mostly invisible cultural misogyny. None of this is new.
I kept replaying an awful conversation I’ve had too many times, when men who call themselves my friends and say they respect me tell me that feminism is no longer necessary. That feminists are wasting our time. That the world is better, now. We don’t need feminism.
After a few days, I sat down to read about Elliot Rodger, nauseating as it was. The critical analysis leaned towards the conclusion that misogyny kills and was completely on point. While some sickening sources tried every possible way to obscure the fact that Rodger killed out of hatred for women despite his own admission of that very fact (calling him mentally ill or the “Virgin Killer”), everyone capable of reason agreed. Rodger felt entitled to sexual attention from women and he didn’t get it. He hated women, and so he killed them. They deserved to die. They took something from him by not acquiescing. They took his birthright.
The culture of misogyny is etched so deeply that we don’t even see it anymore. That my “friends” tell me there’s no place for feminism in 2014. That we think of the PUA community as harmless, pathetic low lives living in basements (I have said this myself). We think of the MRA as one big joke and not what it really is–an exaggerated version of what our society teaches us about gender roles. We raise men to take, and raise women to be taken. We assign value and worth the moment a gender is specified on an ultrasound, through coded statements about our children’s futures, encouragement of certain activities and school subjects, and our collective “values system.” But when you cut through the coding and the polite ways we've cloaked it, the true meaning is that women are lesser. Being a woman is an assault against our better decency.
I remember learning about puberty in elementary school. We were allowed to write down questions anonymously and I wrote “how can we stop puberty?” I was terrified to grow up. I knew that the only thing worse than being a girl was to be a woman.
The privilege afforded to men (especially white men) is astounding, and far exceeds the usual 80-cents-on-the-dollar argument. It’s the privilege of walking outside without fear. It’s the privilege of not being born cursed into a world that hates you, even if it won’t say so outright. And it’s dangerous, but we don’t call male privilege as the danger that it is. We’re looking the monster square in the face but we’d rather shake his hand than upend his world view. Right until he shoots up his college because women didn’t bend to his desires.
The problem is right in front of us. We teach men that they can have everything they want–the world is theirs for the taking. We teach women that it’s a privilege to be taken. And then we act surprised when they take. We act like we didn’t create him.
What's worse is that we have the tendency to read about gross miscarriages of justice around the world–a woman stoned to death for choosing her own husband, for instance, and think “we don’t do that here. That is a far away problem.” We do do that here. In this country, being a woman is a crime punishable by death. Shame on all of us for not seeing it sooner.
I used to not really care if you did or didn't identify as a feminist–it was always a largely semantic battle to begin with and you can do what you want. But if you want to tell me I'm wasting my time and that there's no need for feminism in the world, that's because you have your eyes closed. Now, I'm at a point where I don't have the patience for that argument anymore. I just don't want to engage.
This isn't about this one event. This is the world at large. Like many women these days, I am so filled with uncontrollable, violent rage, and I have been for a while now. It feels like trying to breathe while someone holds a pillow to your face. Sure, feminism is the pursuit of equality for men and women, and we want equal pay, equal rights, and equal treatment as human beings. We want our identities to not be a handicap.
But it also includes the pursuit of a living without fear, for white, cisgendered, privileged women like me and the sickening reality of the women around the world who have it so much worse. Women are being killed for being women. Literally. And every time some pseudo-progressive, misinformed bro who pretends to be my friend tells me that feminism doesn’t have a purpose, I want to scream that we are being killed. That a woman can be killed for saying no. That "no" means “I might be in fear of my safety.” That walking down the street is an exercise in bravery. That being alone in public means scanning the room and being on the defensive. I want to scream. I want to kick and fight. I want to rip myself into a thousand pieces.
But mostly I’m just tired of reading, tired of yelling and being furious, and I want to close my computer and turn off the world and go for a walk. I was steps from my building when a man told me to smile. I said "okay," and I did.
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images