Joanna Schroeder isn’t surprised by the horrific, devastating mass murder just outside the campus of UCSB last night.
No, I’m not shocked by the mass murder that happened last night in Santa Barbara. I’m horrified, distraught, devastated and depressed, but I’m not surprised.
Why not? Because it’s something many of us who are aware of the anti-woman hatred of certain (scarily popular) online groups have felt building for years. It’s something many of us were afraid of since we were little kids, well before these online groups brought attention to it: The anger of a man rejected. The anger of a man who hates women.
In seventh grade, I was sitting on the grass with some girl friends during a track meet, stretching for the next race. A bunch of boys were being loud and trying to get our attention, but we were ignoring them. I’d just broken up with one of them—a tall, seemingly sweet, sensitive boy I’ll call Chris—the day before. My relationship with Chris was standard for my seventh grade experience: We talked on the phone and had shared one slow dance in the cafeteria during a school mixer.
That’s when a large branch, thrown by Chris, hit me in the face and cracked my nose. It bled and swelled, but everybody laughed. I even tried to laugh it off, even though I was scared, hurting and upset. I was too scared not to pretend to think it was funny. Chris claimed to have been joking, wanting us to look over at him, and hadn’t meant to hit me. I still have a bump on my nose almost 25 years later, and he didn’t get in any trouble.
I’m not saying my cracked nose is a huge tragedy, but it was the beginning of a lifetime of not wanting to upset men. I’m sure there are a lot of stories from men about women doing the same types of things, as people of any gender can be irrational when they have broken hearts. But after the murder of young, promising Maren Sanchez in her school’s hallway by a kid everyone considered “a good guy”, and now this horrific ending of at least 6 hopeful young lives—allegedly by a young man who seems to have grown up in privilege and comfort, we have to look at what is NOT surprising about these deaths.
Ask any woman who writes online, particularly if she’s writing about feminism, if she’s ever received a death or rape threat. I know I have. Too many to count. Ask them if they’ve been called sluts, bitches or whores from men they’ve never interacted with before (the young man’s confessional said he wanted to kill all the blonde sluts). Ask them if they’ve ever been afraid for their safety or the safety of their families.
See, that’s why I’m not surprised by this young man’s choice to murder these young people. Because I, myself, have been afraid of men who have said these exact same things as this young man did—that they have been rejected by women, that women should pay for what has been done to them, that women only like one type of guy.
Ariel Chesler brilliantly wrote about the ways in which women have to pay for men’s anger, after the awful death of Maren Sanchez:
At the same time, the process of becoming a man for many boys requires them to place themselves into a “man box.” As bell hooks explained in her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, patriarchal culture influences parents to devalue the emotional development of boys and teaches boys that “real men” do not feel or do not express feelings. In essence, patriarchal rules deny the full humanity of boys and prevents them from acknowledging and addressing their emotions and precludes them from learning and practicing empathy.
There is one emotion left to boys that is not “girly” — rage. And, as hooks notes, boys are taught to act out this one emotion through acts of physical aggression, which gets them attention. It is easy to understand why one would express anger when one is not permitted to express any other emotion. Coupled with the mass media’s glorification of violence and social acceptance of violence by boys, it is not a mystery why boys are so violent. In hooks’s words:
“Even though masses of American boys will not commit violent crimes resulting in murder, the truth that no one wants to name is that all boys are being raised to be killers even if they learn to hide the killer within and act as benevolent young patriarchs.”
In many cases, boys also learn violence directly from their fathers or older male relatives, or may experience a lack of emotional connection to their fathers. And, when boys later approach their sexuality and are subjected to pervasive messages telling them to objectify girls and to be the sexual aggressor, we have an explosive cocktail of entitlement, rage, objectification, lack of empathy, and lack of self-control.
Many are wondering why this shooter would (allegedly) choose to do this. Well, we don’t have to wonder. He told us. He told us he’s mad that he was rejected by women for so many years. He told us that he is angry that certain men get the women he thinks he’s entitled to.
People want to point to mental illness, and perhaps that’s a part of it, I’m not a mental health professional and I didn’t know this guy. But I can tell you that there are millions of young men with mental health issues who would never harm another human being. Most of those men probably would have done anything to protect Maren Sanchez or the young people in Santa Barbara last night. Only a very small percentage of people will ever go on a shooting rampage, but statistically they are inclined to be like this guy: young, male, angry, and middle- to upper-middle class.
One insightful male friend pointed out to me today that men are taught to value themselves by the “hotness” or outward value of the women who give them attention. If that’s the way you measure your worth, you can imagine the rage that builds when women won’t give you that attention when you feel you deserve it.
But ultimately, this murderer wouldn’t have targeted these young women had he not hated women and felt they had robbed him of something he was entitled to. I can’t say for sure that he wouldn’t have done it without the nurturing of his hatred by the online groups he is reported to have associated with, but one can’t help but wonder.
Ultimately, one thing we can’t ignore about this story and others like it is that teaching boys they’re entitled to women’s bodies and attention will lead not only to frustration and rage on the boys’ part, but also a dangerous world. Not just in cases like Maren Sanchez or the lives lost in Santa Barbara, but in all the harassment women experience online and off as a result of the resulting rage.
So, no, I’m not surprised this happened. I’m not surprised because I’ve been battered and terrified by men who were only a fraction as angry as this man. I’m not surprised by it because I see the women I love and admire battered and terrified by men who choose to take this frustration out on them with frightening regularity.
Of course, I’m even less surprised by all of the wonderful men who have stood up for me and other women, like the ones who are speaking up right now against this crime. The ones who’ve nurtured me, who’ve been my friend, who’ve been my partner and my lover, who haven’t gotten angry when I broke up with them but were respectful and kind and not like that one angry boy in seventh grade. I’m not surprised by men like Ariel Chesler or any of the incredible guys who stand up against the abuse of women and work toward a world that is better for people of any gender. I’m not surprised by all of the men who are good, kind, loving, and supportive because that’s how almost all the men I know are.
But I don’t want to write this story, and I don’t want to publish it. I don’t want to have the hate rain down around me. I don’t want to be called a slut again, or be told I should be raped, or that my kids will pay for what I’ve said. I don’t want someone to tweet at me and tell me (again) that my husband should punch me in the mouth. But that’s what happens too often when women write articles like this. But I’m going to publish it anyway. And I only hope that if you dare to try it with me this time, that you will feel ashamed and embarrassed, and that you will be called out on it by other men who want to prove that you are not what all men are like.
If we can all work together on these issues, all the good people, that is how we will solve it. But we cannot continue to believe that these killings are rare or happening because one person made a horrible choice. The murders, threats and abuse are happening because of bigger systemic reasons and we must all get to work on solving them.
*Author’s note: We will be deleting any defenses of the groups this mass-murderer may have been associated with. If you continue to comment in this manner, you will be swiftly and permanently banned.
Photo: geceres / flickr