Gender inequality is not something new but it is something that too many people in the world comfortably ignore. Sexism is rampant in every culture and harassment is an everyday occurrence. We use titles like misogynist, chauvinist, feminist. The news is littered with stories of sexual abuse. Online sexual harassment has become a normal part of most female journalists’, activists’, gamers’, bloggers’, etc. experience as men express their perceived entitlement to a woman’s body through slut shaming, rape threats, revenge porn, etc. Rape apologism and denialism threaten women (and men) and fuel rape culture. The media – from talk show hosts to music lyrics and videos to advertisements – is saturated with sexism and rape culture.
By global approximation 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. The numbers are similar for domestic violence. Meanwhile, there are still people insisting that violence is not an epidemic, that rape culture is an over-exaggeration. It’s easy to “other” abuse – it only happens to other people, over there – but the truth of the matter is violence is not biased. It is not limited to any one culture, country, gender, or economic status. If you haven’t already experienced it yourself, you know people who have been abused, raped, harassed, etc. Statistically speaking, if you’re reading this, you’ve experienced at least one.
There have been plenty of tragic news items over the past few months that highlight the seriousness of sexism, misogyny, and gender violence. The kidnapping of a few hundred schoolgirls in Nigeria ought to come to our minds when we think of current events involving gender violence and misogyny. Only this morning, two separate stories of honour killings caught my attention.
When a person – male or female – is viewed as subhuman, violence and abuse will inevitably ensue.
As Lauren Wolfe stated in her piece The Lost Girls: Crimes against women and girls are not only commonplace, but they go ignored, unprosecuted, and unreported by the international media every single day.
Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy that reaches international news for most of the world to begin to sit up and pay attention to the fact that gender violence is not just a woman’s issue or a woman’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem because everyone – men, women, and children – is affected by gender violence. When a young man influenced by extreme misogyny unleashed his anger toward women by killing 6 people and wounding 13 more in California over the past weekend, his actions reaffirmed that combating gender hate speech, inequality, and violence is an absolute necessity for everyone. It’s not the responsibility of one gender to prevent and protect against gender violence; it’s everyone’s responsibility. Everyone suffers when half the population is alienated, objectified, and abused. (Note: this is NOT to say that all men are violent and sexist NOR that women cannot be sexist of do not commit acts of violence.)
Numerous pieces have been written over the last few days addressing the underlying cultural notions that prompted the violence of the past weekend. One in particular that I want to highlight was written by Laurie Penny for the NewStatesmen. She writes:
Why can we not speak about misogynist extremism – why can we not speak about misogyny at all – even when the language used by Elliot Rodger is everywhere online?
We are told, repeatedly, to ignore it. It’s not real. It’s just “crazy”, lonely guys who we should feel sorry for. But as a mental health activist, I have no time for the language of emotional distress being used to excuse an atrocity, and as a compassionate person I am sick of being told to empathise with the perpetrators of violence any time I try to talk about the victims and survivors. That’s what women are supposed to do. We’re supposed to be infinitely compassionate. We’re supposed to feel sorry for these poor, confused, vengeful individuals. Sometimes we’re allowed to talk about our fear, as long as we don’t get angry. Most of all, we mustn’t get angry.
We have allowed ourselves to believe, for a long time, that the misogynist subcultures flourishing on- and offline in the past half-decade, the vengeful sexism seeding in resentment in a time of rage and austerity, is best ignored. We have allowed ourselves to believe that those fetid currents aren’t really real, that they don’t matter, that they have no relation to “real-world” violence. But if the Isla Vista massacre is the first confirmed incident of an incident of gross and bloody violence directly linked to the culture of ‘Men’s Rights’ activism and Pickup Artist (PUA) ideology, an ideology that preys on lost, angry men, then it cannot be ignored or dismissed any more.
We like to think that violent misogyny – not sexism, but misogyny, woman-hatred as ideology and practice, weaponised contempt for one half of the human race – isn’t something that really happens in the so-called West. No matter how many wives and girlfriends are murdered by their husbands, no matter how many rapists are let off because of their “promising careers”, violence against women is something that happens elsewhere, somewhere foreign, or historical, or both. So anxious are we to retain this convenient delusion that any person, particularly any female person, who attempts to raise a counter argument can expect to be harassed and shouted down.
Other articles of note, written in response to the weekend’s murders and the manifesto written by the gunman explaining his planned attack include:
For more on violence at universities: