Editor's note: The web has been buzzing with blogs, tweets, and commentary about Elliot Rodger's deadly rampage in Isla Vista. Two local blogs, Screaming in All Caps and The Donald Street Collective, come at the issue from quite different directions. Since there is no room to run both blogs, we're running this Slate piece instead, and encouraging you to check out both of the local posts on your own.
LOS ANGELES -- When Santa Barbara police arrived at Elliot Rodger's apartment last month -- after Rodger's mother alerted authorities to her son's YouTube videos, where he expressed his resentment of women who don't have sex with him, aired his jealousy of the men they do choose, and stated his intentions to remedy this "injustice" through a display of his own "magnificence and power" -- they left with the impression that he was a "perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human." Then Rodger killed six people and himself on May 23, leaving a manifesto that spelled out his virulent hatred for women in more explicit terms, and Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown deemed him a "madman."
Another rude awakening played out on social media last weekend as news of Rodger's attack spread around the world. When women took to Twitter to share their own everyday experiences with men who had reduced them to sexual conquests and threatened them with violence for failing to comply -- filing their anecdotes under the hashtag #YesAllWomen -- some men joined in to express surprise at these revelations, which amassed more quickly than observers could digest. How can some men manage to appear polite, kind, even "wonderful" in public while perpetuating sexism under the radar of other men's notice? And how could this dynamic be so obvious to so many women, yet completely foreign to the men in their lives? Some #YesAllWomen contributors suggested men simply aren't paying attention to misogyny. Others claimed they deliberately ignore it. There could also be a performative aspect to this public outpouring of male shock -- a man who expresses his own lack of awareness of sexism implicitly absolves himself of his own contributions to it.
But there are other, more insidious hurdles that prevent male bystanders from helping to fight violence against women. Among men, misogyny hides in plain sight, and not just because most men are oblivious to the problem or callous toward its effects. Men who objectify and threaten women often strategically obscure their actions from other men, taking care to harass women when other men aren't around.
My experience has shown me aggressive men are more likely to defer to another man's domain than to accept a woman's autonomous rejection of him.
A week before the killings, I went for a jog in Palm Springs, Calif. It was early on a weekend morning, and the streets that had been full of pedestrians the night before were now quiet. When I paused outside a convenience store to stretch, a man sitting at a bus stop across the street from me began yelling obscene comments about my body. When my boyfriend came out of the convenience store, he shut up.
These are forms of male aggression only women see. But even when men are afforded a front seat to harassment, they don't always have the correct vantage point for recognizing the subtlety of its operation. Four years before the slayings, I was sitting in a bar in Washington, D.C., with a male friend. Another young woman was alone at the bar when an older man scooted next to her. He was aggressive, wasted and sitting too close, but she smiled curtly at his ramblings and laughed softly at his jokes as she patiently downed her drink. "Why is she humouring him?" my friend asked me. "You would never do that." I was too embarrassed to say: "Because he looks scary" and "I do it all the time."
Women who have experienced this can recognize that placating these men is a rational choice, a form of self-defence to protect against setting off an aggressor. But to male bystanders, it often looks like a warm welcome. Two weeks before the killings, Louis C.K. -- who has always recognized pervasive male violence against women in his stand-up -- spelled out how this works in an episode of Louie, where he recalls watching a man and a woman walking together on a date. "He goes to kiss her, and she does an amazing thing that women somehow learn how to do -- she hugged him very warmly. Men think this is affection, but what this is is a boxing manoeuvre." Women "are better at rejecting us than we are," C.K. said. "They have the skills to reject men in the way that we can then not kill them."
Rodger hated all the women who did not provide him sex, but he also resented the men he felt had been standing in the way of his conquests, though they were never made aware of this belief. Because Rodger killed and injured men in his rampage, some men are using this death count to claim that Rodger's killings were not motivated by misogyny, but that is a simplistic account of how misogyny operates in a society that privately abides the hatred of women unless it's expressed in its most obvious forms.
See A troll can spot trolls at thedonaldstreetcollective.weebly.com/blog
See On male entitlement at screaminginallcaps.com/