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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shootings should encourage us to rethink attitudes towards women

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 By

There have been two shootings in the past week by men who are angry with women for denying them something the men thought they were owed: sexual and/or romantic relationships.

When I read about these (Elliot Rodger and Keith Binder) and similar killings (Marc Lépine, George Sodini, an unnamed 16-year-old boy), like many women, I reflect on my own experiences. Because it is all about me. No, just kidding. Because shocking tragedies should absolutely make us stop and take stock of ourselves, our communities, and our culture.

The fact is, there are certain members of the population who cannot handle rejection, and who lash out in verbally and physically violent ways. Like Elliott Rodger didWhen those people are bigger, stronger, richer, or more powerful than you are (or crazier, in Rodger's case), it is intelligent to think defensively. And the necessary truth is this: rejecting a man's sexual advance is scary.

Yeah, you heard me. I'm a 40-year-old mother, and I find it frightening to tell a man no. Why? Because it's dangerous. Check out this Tumblr on the subject:

"The final solution to triumph over my enemies was to destroy them, to carry out my Day of Retribution... against all women for rejecting me and starving me of love and sex," Rodger wrote in his manifesto. Click here to read the self-indulgent, sociopathic and terrifying manifesto of Elliot Rodgers. 

I don't let a man pick me up for a date at my house. I don't even let him know where I live ("Oh, I live in West Augusta... near the thing... you know..." I don't even live in West Augusta.) until I've been seeing him for time enough to gauge his crazy as best I can. But once I'm out and about, it's hard to tell a man no in a safe and socially acceptable way.

Women are often nebulous in their rejections - "I'm busy, I have plans, I am working a lot lately, I have a headache," etc. - as opposed to being clear as day - "I am not now, nor will I ever be, interested in you." And men often complain about this and say that women "send mixed signals," or "play games." Because to a male observer, a woman demurring to a man's attentions by laughing off crude jokes, not addressing violations of personal space, and enduring boorish conversation, looks like consent. 

Look harder. Appeasing, placating and enduring the attentions of men in whom you have no interest is a rational form of self-defense to avoid inciting an aggressor. "Letting a guy down easy" isn't just to avoid hurting his feelings. It's also to avoid getting hurt. And these days that doesn't just include physical attacks. It can also include threats, online attacks, reputation smears, etc., that can impact a woman socially and professionally.

"If I can’t have it, I will destroy it. I will destroy all women because I can never have them. I will make them all suffer for rejecting me," Elliot Rodger wrote in his manifesto.

Let me give you a recent personal example:

For a very brief period of time, I dated a man I suspect has never heard the word "no" in his entire life. He is a trust fund baby who behaves like a gentleman - opens the car door, insists on paying for dates, sends flowers, etc. It's Old Hollywood kinds of flattering, and made me feel like a respected lady.

But he comes from towering privilege. And that has instilled in him feelings of righteousness that played out in his "affection" for me in bizarrely controlling behavior - ordering for me in restaurants, complaining about my male friends, and expressing concern that I was "too nice" and "too funny" around other people.

We did not have a physical relationship. But after breaking it off with him, and agreeing to be "just friends," for the first time I allowed him in my home. We were planning to watch a movie. But when his behavior culminated in me rejecting his physical advances permanently, he lashed out at me. Pushed me down on the couch. Yanked down my workout pants. I kicked out at him with both legs, yelled at him to leave. After a moment of hesitation, during which I can only imagine he was assessing my ability and will to fight him off (here's a hint), he left without saying another word. It was maybe 20 seconds of my life. But it shook me up a lot.

Later, he called and texted to tell me that he was sorry, that he was in love with me and just wanted to show his undying affection. I did not feel loved. He could not understand why.

My recent experience is obviously an encounter with a bizarre individual who holds strange attitudes towards relationships - right?

Wrong. Did you not see this above?

If you think this is the first time I've encountered a man who was aggressive about getting what he wanted, you'd be wrong. If you think these kinds of instances are rare and could never happen to someone you know, or only happen to certain "kinds" of women, then you are deluding yourself.

Check out the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen.

I can list statistics here, like the fact that 3.4 million sexual assaults went UNreported last year - but someone would just call me a liar and/or a slut. So let's bypass that whole dynamic and you all take a moment to read some stats for yourselves:

If you're not so much into the reading thing, or if you think those pesky scientists are all part of a global conspiracy, you can listen to Louis C.K. speak some truth:

Many of the men I know have some of the same (but much lesser) entitled attitudes towards women and dating as the man I kicked out of my house. I've heard them complain that a woman is "making me wait so long" for sex that they suspect they have been "friend-zoned." I've heard them complain that a woman is "too easy" after not making him wait long enough. They complain that the sexual experience due to them, by sheer right of being a heterosexual male, has been denied in some way. Raise your hand if you've heard another guy friend express this kind of thinking. Have you ever just nodded your head? Yeah. I'm tired of arguing about it, too

"Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with,’’ Elliot Rodgers wrote in his manifesto. “That decision should made for them by rational men of intelligence." 

Question: What's the perfect amount of time to "make a man wait" for sex?

Answer: Shut the F@#& up.

Guys, no one is making you wait. Women who are "making you wait" are actually waiting for themselves. To feel comfortable. To feel valued. Don't care to wait? Move on. There are plenty of women out there, with varying attitudes towards sex. Some wait, some don't. Or you can choose to value that woman for reasons other than how much access she's willing to give you to her vagina.

I've heard educated, intelligent men refer to a "promiscuous" woman as a "chewed piece of gum." I've heard other clichés reinforcing this (the master key/lock one, primary among them) about a billionty times. Define "promiscuous," please. Where is the Too Much Sex chart? And why doesn't it apply equally to men? Because it's a ridiculous concept that ties a woman's sexual experiences to her worth as a person.

"The ultimate evil behind sexuality is the human female. They are the main instigators of sex. They control which men get it and which men don’t...They think like beasts, and in truth, they are beasts. Women are incapable of having morals or thinking rationally," Elliot Rodgers wrote in his manifesto.

It's an age-old conundrum. Men will deride the character of a woman for exercising her choice to say yes to a sexual advance, and complain about her exercising her choice to say no. They're saying, "Sexually adventurous men are okay; sexually adventurous women are not - unless they're being adventurous with me, on the schedule I have predetermined but not communicated, and about which no one is allowed to judge me, because bros." Or something. That's not a direct quote. This attitude allows men who don't have as much sex as they please to paint themselves as faultless victims and to blame women for their loneliness and celibacy.

"Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy," Elliot Rodgers wrote in his manifesto.

But therein lies the mind-bending confusion about dating for anyone not specifically saving themselves for marriage: Many men (Not all men! I get it, gentlemen; this is not a personal attack) feel entitled to sex. And denying them makes a woman a frigid bitch who is unappreciative of his attention. Because any woman should be flattered that he turned his gaze to her, right? But saying yes automatically reduces a woman's worth as a person. (Unless it doesn't, because not all men are asshats. But there's no guarantee.) 

But back to the point. ALL of these sexual double standards, tied directly to the worth of a woman, contribute to a larger culture that values women only for their contributions to sex-related roles. It's the age-old "virgin-mother-whore" triangle of womanhood. 

Least respected among these - the whore - is a resoundingly negative stereotype, due to her proximity to heterosexual sex (whether or not she comes with a heart of gold). And the worth of the two positively stereotyped characters in our national mythology are both centered on their character being distanced from heterosexual sex. Virgins are prized for their purity, above all else. You can be mean, stupid, and unethical in other ways, but if you're a virgin, you're considered moral and praiseworthy because you have not yet been sullied by the touch of a man. Mothers are prized for their loving self-sacrifice, but even if they meet that expectation to perfection, it is still not allowable for them to pursue personal pleasure (or even time enough to pee alone, amIright, ladies?) if their children still need or desire something from them. 

"I started to frequently ask my mother to seek marriage with this man, or any wealthy man for that matter. She always adamantly refused... I told her that she should sacrifice her well-being for the sake of my happiness, but this only offended her further," Elliot Rodgers wrote in his manifesto.

Modern dating is slightly more forgiving to women. These days, men categorize women in a quadrangle of womanhood: "virgin-mother-slut-bitch." 

Woo. Look at all the choices.

The fact is that none of these are true representations of womanhood, which is to say, true representation of being a real person who also happens to be female. Feminine personalities simply should not be viewed as a rigid dichotomy - either moral, maternal, and lacking sexuality or immoral, neglectful, and sexual. Because neither our being nor our worth are centered around our sexuality. Our worth is ZERO PERCENT PENIS, people. I measured. Worth of a Woman multiplied by Value of the Number of Penises With Which She Has Come Into Contact = Absolutely Nothing Percent Correlation. That is the answer I got. Feel free to check my math.

"My hatred and rage towards all women festered inside me like a plague. Their very existence is the cause of all of my torture, pain and suffering throughout my life," Elliot Rodgers wrote in his manifesto.

Women are not the reason that some men are lonely or celibate. And we don't owe our bodies to anyone, for anything. But it's still difficult for us to say no. Because we feel scared. Because we feel unsafe, no matter the precautions we take. Because we don't have the support of men to stop it. 

Both women and men have the right to be valued for their compassion, intelligence, kindness, work ethic, honesty, patience, courtesy, tolerance, trustworthiness, and vision far above their sexual experiences or sexual orientation.

The only way that we'll be able to stop it is if we work on it together. I'm going to use a word many people have ceased to understand, so don't let it turn you off. Feminism (gasp!) is not just about liking women; it's about viewing them as equals. But you have to fight next to women to make them your equal. Our goals have to be the same goals: equality, for all, in all areas. Because everyone loses when inequality festers.

That means sexual equality, too. Women have to say no more clearly, have to be supported when we say no, and have to feel safe from retribution. And men have to feel as though their masculinity doesn't depend on their physical strength and sexual conquests. This cooperative agreement will free everyone from repressive sexual morays that devalue both men and women, and undermine our ability to experience pleasure and to provide pleasure to one another. When our culture stops objectifying women as sex objects, forcing us to fight back, and when our culture stops short-changing men by narrowing the range of masculine normalcy, we'll all have better relationships. And better sex.

Let's get it on.

Final thoughts: First, this deal entirely with heterosexual relationships, solely in an effort to keep my usual long-winded ranting somewhat streamlined. But this dynamic impacts the LGBTQ community, too, because homophobia and sexism are intrinsically tied together.

Second, In no way do I expect a blog post by yet another mom-blogger on a lonely corner of the Internet to change a single mind. And the awareness this post will raise can be measured in the number of F#@&'s I give about whether or not you think I'm right. More likely, any conversation will follow this well-documented formula.

Third, maybe I'm wrong. I've been wrong before. I'm comfortable with it. But, maybe you read this and thought, "I'm so glad I am not a sexist/misogynist/total jerkface." You don't think you're part of the problem. I get it. But take just a few moments to read back through this obnoxiously long-winded post. And every time you see the word "women," "us," or "we," substitute "my daughter," "my mother," "my wife," or "my sister," and see if that changes the way you feel. If you feel differently when these situations relate directly to the women you love, you have some work to do. 

As do we all.



  1. I hate that something so horrible happened to you! I can totally see you as the sword-bearer in that Princess Bride clip, but wish you- and none of us- ever had to do it again. Your experiences (and that sad, freaky Tumbler) are only some of the many, many signs that we're a long way from having to watch our backs, fronts & sides. Thanks for speaking out- to make a better world for all of us & our daughters!

  2. Thanks, Eileen! But that experience was 20 seconds out of my life, and I really meant it as an example of how entitlement issues can surprisingly surface in even the most well-behaved men. It's up to each of us to examine our roles in society. I believe we have to do good to be good, divine forgiveness notwithstanding. And I hope that people begin to realize soon that equality is still a long way off - for us all! Men and women all suffer because of inequality!

  3. Such a great attitude you have! :) It's true we all suffer, but we're not all equally vulnerable. [sigh] Still living life in fear is no good for anyone. It's hard but a much fuller life to move beyond that & keep going, being & doing. Nix on letting the jerks win!