This weekend, a young man in California went on a killing spree. The media has been covering the story extensively, but are highlighting his father’s connection to The Hunger Games movies and speculating about his mental health rather than addressing the vitriolic misogyny at the core of a Youtube screed and a 140 page manifesto the perpetrator left behind. The man was a virgin, and was furious with women for not giving him the attention he felt he was entitled to. He frequented sites run by pick-up artists and men’s rights activists that degrade and dehumanize women, internalized their hateful messages, and then bought a gun and meticulously planned out his vengeful attack.
The whole situation is appalling, and I have nothing to say about the media’s lack of focus on the shooter’s obvious misogyny that hasn’t been said better elsewhere; I suggest Jessica Valenti’s excellent piece in The Guardian. But watching the public reaction to the shootings on Twitter and elsewhere this weekend has been depressing. Those who pointed out the misogyny at the heart of the violence, many of them women, were met with choruses of “not all men.” It seems that certain men, faced with women talking about their own experiences with misogyny, feel compelled to make the conversation all about themselves, essentially proving the original point.
None of this is surprising. “Not all men” is such a common refrain that it’s become a meme. But this weekend, the “not all men” chorus was answered with the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, because while “not all men” threaten women, all women have felt threatened by men. Women related their experiences with sexism and misogyny, highlighting the daily issues they face just by being a woman in a patriarchal society.
It is indisputable that we live in a society that undervalues and dehumanizes women. Rates of sexual violence against women are massive, while the number of prosecutions of rapists and perpetrators of assault is miniscule, much less convictions. In my own field, I regularly write about sexism in the comic book industry and have yet to be threatened in any way, while every woman I know who writes about the same topics has been met with rape and/or death threats. Again, this is not surprising information. Such things have been going on for quite a while; millennia, in fact.
Now, you may be a man who has never threatened a woman, has never committed an act of sexual violence, and has certainly never brought a gun to a sorority house. Congratulations, you’ve reached the lowest bar of human decency by not doing something terrible. But here’s the thing: All of the misogyny that’s out there, this culture of entitlement and disregard for women’s agency that breeds contempt and violence, that’s on us. We are the primary beneficiaries of the patriarchal society that spawned it, and it’s our job to stop it. All men must be better.
Being men, we have it much easier in our society, on account of the fact that the world was designed for us. Men have been in charge for a long, long time, so by and large everything has been created in our best interest. We make more money. We hold more positions of power. Even in the most mundane, everyday experiences, things are better for us; we can ride the subway without being groped, we can talk and people will listen to us, we don’t have to watch our drinks at parties, we don’t have to carry pepper spray or tasers or rape whistles or arrange our keys like a weapon when we walk home alone. And it’s easy not to notice these advantages, because it’s our only experience of the world.
This is exacerbated by a general lack of understanding of anyone else’s experiences. Again, patriarchy. The majority of what we see, hear, read, and experience is through the lens of men. For example, when you go to the movies, on average 75% of the characters are men, 13% of the films are written by women, and only 7% are directed by them, despite the fact that women are half of the population. Our cultural experience is a male experience, and thus male issues and perspectives get amplified. The result is an echo chamber that shapes our view of the world, further entrenching us in the system of male-centrism at the core of our society.
We need to aggressively counter this.
Because if we don’t, we get swallowed up by dominant cultural messages just by going about our day, and thus reinforce the patriarchal system. Women’s voices are marginalized, so we need to seek them out. We need to go out of our way to read, listen to, see, and talk to women so that we can understand their experience of the world. Fiction, non-fiction, music, television, comics, everything; we need to engage. We have to understand their perspectives as best we can, and realize that there are perspectives, plural, because women are not monolithic. We need to value their experiences of the world as much as we value our own.
Not being a sexist jerk isn’t enough, because our society is inherently rigged against women and we’re benefitting from it. We need to counterbalance our own personal experience of the world, and then go out and be better. And show other men how to be better. And most definitely teach boys how to be better. We need to take apart the patriarchy that we’ve built brick by brick, and to do this we have to see it. And hopefully, eventually, things will start to shift.
Seeing women as people and respecting them isn’t even the least we can do. It’s not even step one. It’s step zero; it’s the landing we start on. It’s basic human decency. Step one is engaging, and understanding and actively countering the biased system we are steeped in every day. All men must do this, or we are tacitly enabling its continued existence. All men must be better.