This is going to cover some emotional and hurtful topics pertaining to recent events, gender, sexuality, and guns.
So – as we surely all know by now – a young man in California published an incredibly long manifesto about why he hates all women (to the point of wanting to torture and starve to death the entire gender in concentration camps) and went on a murderous rampage. Since he started with his roommates, and since he was put on the run early on in his fantasized sorority-ending shootout and started just shooting whoever, the majority of people who have actually died at his hands were men. I mention that because some people will use that statistic to show that it wasn’t “really” about misogyny, he was just plain crazy and wanted to shoot people. This ignores that he extensively documented his intentions, which were to destroy the entire sorority, specifically because they were his idea of attractive young women. It just didn’t work out like he planned. The deaths of these men who happened to be in his way are, of course, every bit as unjust as the deaths of the sorority women he did succeed in murdering, as are the injuries of the dozen or so survivors, which also includes both men and women (and possibly nonbinary people). Everyone who was murdered by this young man died for his misogynistic cause. Trying to dismiss misogyny from the discussion or minimize its importance by pointing out that he murdered men too is to miss the entire point of what happened and why. I don’t object to characterizing the desire to walk out into a crowd of strangers and murder them over ideology as “crazy.” It’s hard to imagine a more suboptimal human behavior. Stopping at “crazy,” however, which we tend to conceptualize as an inevitable force of nature, means enabling this exact thing to just happen again.
As many people pointed out on Twitter yesterday, man-on-woman violence motivated by rejection happens literally nonstop, to a far greater extent than any other gender combination, but it’s usually a one-to-one ratio of aggressor to victim. The incidents that don’t end in murder are disproportionately under-reported by the victim compared to most other types of crimes, due to fear of retribution and other societal factors that can make life even worse for the victim than “merely” being physically abused. Meanwhile, many MRAs are convinced that a large portion of rape cases brought by women against men are deliberate lies. MRAs: Men’s Rights Activists. You may not have heard of them. People (mostly men) who explicitly identify as such are relatively fringe. However, many people (not necessarily mostly men) hold some MRA beliefs. Men’s Rights Activism has an unhappy relationship with feminism, because, as a cursory glance at world history will show you, men’s rights have always preceded women’s rights on a scale of decades to millennia in pretty much everything. (This is a non-intersectional simplification with respect to things like race and class.)
At its mildest, Men’s Rights are concerned with the rights of fatherhood. And you know what? On some points, they have a good case. It really is true that (American) court systems systematically make decisions that show they assume mothers are better parents than fathers. Here’s the thing, though: I consider this a feminist issue. A modern feminist should stand for it not being knowable a priori whether a father or a mother is the “better parent” when it comes to a custody case and each situation must be handled individually. Since Men’s Rights defines itself entirely in opposition to feminism, however, this thing we should agree on falls apart. What a waste.
The sorts of men one finds on online MRA forums, however, don’t seem like fathers worried about maintaining access to their children. They may be aware of this problem, certainly, and agree something needs to be changed, but that’s not really the issue which drew them to the MRA online community. This is my perception of who they are after lurking a bit around their activity: they tend to be young – many are still boys, really. They tend to be college-educated or college-bound, which implies a host of correlations about family background, financial resources, and future outcomes. They’re the platonic ideal of a redditor, really, not to imply redditors are all MRAs. (Technically, I’m a redditor, with tens of thousands of karma.) Reddit is, in fact, a major hub for the exchange of MRA news. /r/mensrights is approaching a hundred thousand subscribers, and there are many smaller, more specialized subs. They certainly have the subs I frequent beat.
There is a lot of overlap between these young MRAs and PUAs (pick-up artists). Not one-to-one, of course, but the Venn diagram certainly cuddles close. Pick-up artistry is, frankly, a scam. A few men who have some natural charisma and flair (but probably not a good personality to establish a long-term relationship with) capitalize on it to sell how-to books to desperate young men who, for whatever reason, can’t get a date. They then try the algorithmic approach, and predictably usually fail entirely or don’t find the type of connection with a woman they were hoping for. This has spawned an entire second community of men who have ragequit the PUA system but still have the problem they started with. So, you have this loose grouping of young men who a) want sex and/or a relationship, b) haven’t gotten it or can’t keep it going consistently, c) have actively tried to remedy the problem with suggestions from other men, d) still failed. Enter the incel.
Incel – short for involuntary celibacy – describes the state of actively desiring sex but being consistently turned down by potential partners. Being “incel” is relatively common, especially at a young and awkward age, but most people wouldn’t particularly feel the need to find the word “incel” to describe it. If someone has taken the step of self-identifying as incel, they have framed their situation as adversarial: they are involuntarily celibate, which is language used to describe coercion; sexual satisfaction is being withheld from them against their will. Whether or not it’s deliberate, they’re priming themselves to see the targets of their desire as collectively working against them. (For the rest of this discussion, assume I’m referring to straight male incels, and the targets are women in general. Incel can of course work in any direction but that’s not highly relevant here.)
Whence “involuntary celibacy”? The root cause can be any number of issues, of course, ranging from physical disabilities to perceived ugliness to social problems, and most of these are not the incel’s fault, which can easily lead to entrenched bitterness against their bad luck. It genuinely isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean it’s the people turning the incel down who have done something wrong. Consent is a two-way street. Some incels will eventually fulfill the dream of finding that special someone who is attracted to them. Some never will. Some may eventually decide that resorting to rape is acceptable. And then there’s our murderer, who, again, is not in a class of his own for using murder as a tool for vengeance; only the scale of the attack, targeted against strangers, is unusual.
I want to make a point of something: some male incels are incel specifically because they give off “I will snap and murder you the moment you no longer please me” vibes to women. Almost every woman has met a guy she got this vibe from, if not a dozen. Clearly, not all of them will ever snap and murder someone, but don’t tell us that we’re being totally irrational to fear that outcome. The murderer in question is exactly the worst-case outcome we fear and I would be willing to bet that more than one woman turned him down or backed out of the early stages of a relationship because she got that “I’m going to get murdered if I stick around” feeling. We are not imagining that this is a common problem. In my country (United States), a woman is more likely to be harmed at the hands of her sexual partner (usually male) than any other type of violent crime, and that’s after we apply the “murder vibes” filter. This means that boyfriends are literally the most dangerous threat women face. I’m sorry if you, a non-violent and consent-respecting man, have missed out on a possible good relationship because you unintentionally emitted the Murder Vibes. Please understand that women, collectively, cannot afford false negatives. We’re not trying to hurt you with overcautious rejection: we’re trying to do everything within our power to make sure we’re not the one who gets raped or murdered.
The murderer filled his papers, videos, and forum posts with the language of the male right to sex. A man’s rights, defined in opposition to a woman’s rights: sound familiar? In this extremist version – which, I delicately emphasize, is not held by all or even most MRAs – a man literally has a right to however much sex he needs to feel fulfilled, and it’s womenkind’s responsibility to provide it, which totally ignores their collective individual rights to dissent. This is not an idea he came up with in total isolation due to being infected with The Crazy. I have personally seen about a dozen other men post the exact same idea. One or two even said so directly to me online, but they usually stick to posting such things in places already known to be predominantly if not exclusively male. They post such things to forums and blogs associated with the MRA community. They meet with agreement or at the very least the toleration one affords an ideal slightly outside of one’s own. Such things are often highly ephemeral, and sometimes they are deleted after an outside group discovers them, so I can’t provide you an exhaustively cited list of hyperlinks of individual examples. Trying to dig them back up with google would only open a black hole of intense distress anyway. You can try if you feel particularly emotionally armored today.
The MRA community has not been unified in its response to the revelation that the murderer was pretty clearly associated with the MRA movement. Some insist that he’s not an MRA because MRAs don’t advocate shooting up sororities (well that’s good I suppose). Others insist that since he watched more Pokemon by volume than MRA materials on Youtube, you might as well blame Pokemon. Others yet that he just wasn’t a good enough PUA: that he was “beta,” and if he had manned up his “game” enough to be more alpha, he’d be swimming in babes and there’d be no issue. Others take it to the very extreme that motivated him to murder in the first place: the issue has nothing to do with MRA or PUA, the issue is that women failed in their responsibility to sex him up!
I think it’s irresponsible to deny that the murderer used language and articulated ideas that come from the loose coalition of MRAs. That doesn’t mean I think all MRAs are murderous psychopaths waiting to happen. It means they need to fix their movement, because, again, the murderer is not a lone wolf in his extremist version of men’s rights. They exist and they flourish, almost entirely unhindered. In the past, their existence has been repeatedly dismissed to me as mere boys posting mere words that they would never, ever act on. Never, ever, ever, and that’s why six people are dead.
I want to close with something slightly tangental. I’ve been involved in a Twitter spat over my stance on guns. My stance is: I don’t want to be in the same room as a gun. I’m scared of guns and I request that you keep them away from me. In particular I am scared of a man I don’t know and trust having a gun near me.
Several men said, to me or behind my back, that I should be thanking male strangers for carrying guns in public because it’s to protect me.
From who? Well, from other strange men with guns, primarily. It’s a nice fantasy, I guess, that they hope to be the noble hero rescuing the damsel in distress.
But usually, when a woman finds herself staring down the barrel of a gun,
There’s no male power fantasy hero there to save her. Only the male power fantasy of sexual domination, which rapes and kills her.