Thursday, December 3, 2015

The terrorist war on women

Original artwork by Natalie Lochwin
By A.M.

“[T]he feminists have always enraged me. They want to keep the advantages of women (e.g. cheaper insurance, extended maternity leave preceded by a preventative leave, etc.) while seizing for themselves those of men.”

There is a moment in Denis Villeneuve’s movie Polytechnique where, more than any other, you truly feel the gravity of what you are seeing onscreen. It is after the murderer (unnamed in the film, but clearly analogous to Marc Lépine) has shot several women point blank with his hunting rifle. He leaves them on the floor of their classroom and goes to find more victims. Most of the women in the classroom are dead, but two remain breathing.

They lie face-to-face on the ground, covered in their own blood and that of others. One of the women, Stéphanie, tells her friend (who is also unnamed) that she cannot feel her legs. Her friend knows she must do something, and gathers her remaining physical and emotional strength to search for help. She gets to the entrance of the classroom, looks out, and sees the murderer. She knows now that she has no chance to save Stéphanie. The film never shows it, and we are left to only imagine what those final moments between them must have been. Did they express sheer terror and anger, or did they use their remaining moments to express love and sympathy?

We, of course, have no way of knowing – and that’s part of the point. Villeneuve’s artistic choices are shown very clearly (the two young women softly sob while embracing) but this is only one director’s interpretation. It is entirely possible that the women murdered at L’Ecole Polytehcnique in Montreal were too terrified to do anything other than plead for mercy from an unforgiving terrorist. A more ‘Hollywood’ approach, of course, would be to save the lives of at least these two women, after some valiant and 'Very Important' struggle to overcome their attacker. Real life – real violence – doesn’t look like this. It looks like the faces of the two women we see later in the film who attempt to escape Lépine and are shot as they cower on the ground.

Anytime a man kills a woman, or multiple women, there is a very obvious and significant effort made by many and often by the media to de-politicize the violence that has occurred. Lépine was summarily dismissed as a crazy, sexually unfulfilled narcissist. His great acts of terror – simultaneously physical, emotional and political – were reduced to a very extreme, but ultimately unavoidable, manifestation of everyday sexual frustration and lack of financial success. The labels thrown at misogynistic killers are often quite accurate (a point to which I will return), but they miss the real issue entirely.

Was Marc Lépine an egotistical, self-absorbed jackass without any serious capacity for empathy? Probably. He was, however, raised in a violently pornographic culture that exalts in real violence against real women in the real world. To pretend otherwise is not only misinformed and misleading - it is also callously disrespectful to the trail of victims left in his wake. Lépine himself made it clear, beyond any sort of reasonable doubt, that he hated women and feminists in particular. The crime of these women was not that they denied him sex, or were successful, or laughed at him. The crime was that they were women.

As I learned of the 2014 Isla Vista massacre, where Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured fourteen others, I (like all sane people) condemned the murders as disgraceful, atrocious, evil, and so on. I have, however, come to associate another, more politically and emotionally charged word with these killings. It is the same one I used above to describe the murders at L’Ecole Polytechnique --terrorism.

Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”

Marc Lépine and Elliot Rodger both believed that they were on a mission – much like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Ted Cruz – to make the world safer for what they believed to be a persecuted minority. If we are so ready to (rightly) condemn Muslim and Christian terrorists for politically and religiously motivated terror campaigns against infidels, immigrants, and others, why do we not call Elliot Rodger a terrorist?

Elliot Rodger seems, to all accounts, to have been a relatively 'normal' young man. He played video games, went to school and probably masturbated to sexually violent and exploitative videos on the Internet. He believed, again like so many heterosexual men, that he was owed sexual access by women he condemns in his manifesto with an assortment of ugly misogynistic epithets.

He details, "I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there. All those girls I've desired so much. They have all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man. But what if we replace the word ‘slaughter’ with the word ‘fuck.’ What are you left with? An entirely run-of-the-mill and actually comparatively tame sentiment in and framing of many of the pornographic videos that literally millions of men are watching as you read this. I can think of no easier way to illustrate the pervasiveness and underlying ugliness of pornographic language and thinking.

Any remotely honest man can give you at least a few examples of times he has felt angry, disappointed or even borderline violent as a result of sexual rejection. Many men - far, far too many - could even tell you about times they verbally and/or physically assaulted women for rejecting them.

Elliot Rodger's case, however, really stuck out to me -- and not just for the obvious reasons. He was dismissed by many as a jealous child, upset that he had yet to lose his virginity. At the time (and actually to this very day)  I am still a 'virgin' in the traditional sense of the term.  I am, by all accounts, a reasonably well-adjusted young heterosexual male. So why haven't I been able to 'lose it?' This question has, unsurprisingly, caused me no small amount of anguish and discomfort. I have been routinely left out of conversations as a result of my lack of sexual experience. What could I really offer to a discussion of favourite sexual stories, positions, experiences, and so on? Very little. This is one of many reasons why I was so terrified by the Isla Vista killings.

Elliot Rodger was and is, in a very real sense, a kind of reflection of me. Had I gone down a different path in my adolescence, I might very well have enacted my own Isla Vista. However unlikely this may seem, it is a very distinct possibility with countless young men growing up in a society where they are encouraged to load themselves up, like I did, with cultural fantasies imposed by other men -- watching pornography for hours on end, enjoying videos with names like "Cum Soaked Sluts” and "Six Way Gang Bang” and far worse.

Perhaps I was not as into pornography as other men, and perhaps I always imagined myself as more on the bullshit 'romantic' side of sexuality, but the aggression of a male culture of violent pornography and sexuality was there. Perhaps that's the most frightening thing about the Isla Vista killings. Elliot Rodger showed me not only what I could have been, but also what altogether too many men in future will one day be, whether the violence is committed on an individual or mass scale.

It is very tempting to imagine that Elliot Rodger and so many others like him were merely individuals acting on depraved impulses. But to imagine this murderer and terrorist as merely 'one man' is to reject one's responsibility as a man to stop other Elliot Rodgers from coming into existence. Misogynistic killings, which happen every day on a massive scale all around the world, are part of an ongoing patriarchal campaign to terrorize women and are often directly connected to a culture of pornography that portrays women as objects of male desire to be sexually exploited, used and forgotten.

Blaming misogynist violence simply on individual men is lazy and useless serving no purpose other than to wash ourselves of the responsibility to act as men, in however small a way, to save our sisters from the violence of male supremacy.

Hatred towards women is a learned behaviour and we desperately need to unlearn it.

A.M. is a writer in Toronto. 

See also: Part of the problem: Talking about systemic oppression

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