Sunday, 25 May 2014

Misogyny Kills

We live in a society that hates women.

Cards on the table before I get into this: I'm a white, middle class heterosexual man who attended what I'm obliged to refer to as an Elite University. I'm about as privileged as it gets without actually being rich. As such, there's plenty about women's experience of this world that I don't feel I'm equipped to speak to, or at least that I don't feel it's my place to do so. I don't want to talk over anyone, I don't want to prejudice my voice over others. I don't think my Real Important Words have an inherent right to be heard over other people's real, lived, day-to-day experience. But as I see it, unless men are coming to grips with this vale of tears we call the world and our own place and role within the generation of human misery, nothing's going to change. So.

In light of this:

We live in a society that hates women, and I take it as evidence of the very most compelling kind that when a young, privileged white man takes it upon himself to say: "I hate women, the women who have rejected me, who have not provided the sex and affection that the owe me, as a man, and that I will now make them pay - indeed, "bring them to their knees" - with horrific violence," and then acts upon it in a murderous rampage, that a lot of people react by trying to show sympathy with him - oh, he's so lonely! - or to ignore his own explanations for his own violence by resorting to store-brand justifications like nebulously defined mental illness, or, perhaps, violent movies, or in some other way reaching for an excuse or justification which does nothing to understand the root causes of why these things happen and has everything to do with trying to turn an atrocity into an argument for your own personal bugbear.

Misogyny is so much the flesh and bones of our society that we can't - won't - even acknowledge it when things like this happen.

Using the mental illness explanation is lazy, and, worse, it tars people who genuinely do suffer from mental illness and distress as violent and dangerous. Most people who become ill (and very many people will experience some mental illness in their life) are not violent and do not hurt anyone. But so long as words like psycho and the association with killings goes on, people will continue to be victimised and afraid of seeking help.

What is more, as far as I'm aware, this young man showed no signs of being disturbed as such. We know - we know - that people don't actually have to be mentally damaged, disturbed, or ill, to commit atrocities. We know this because of the evidence of the World Wars, among other sources. The Einsatzgruppen who lined up Eastern European Jews and shot them, band by small band, in their hundreds until they filled a mass grave, were not mentally ill. They simply did not believe that their victims were fully human, and so they were able to rationalise away their death. This young man did not believe that the women he killed were fully human. They were a kind of sub-species; a sub-species that owed him. We know this because he said as much, over and over again, in his video and on the forums where he shared his poisonous little ideology with the friends and supporters of that ideology.

And a lot of people - a lot of people - believe the sorts of things this young man did. Not just within the pathetic "Men's Rights" community, but in society at large. Masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity as its superior. A man is held to be reasonable, powerful, right, where a woman is judged to be irrational, weak, and not worth listening to. Our daily lives are full of actions and activities that are gendered and policed along gendered lines. You don't have to look very hard to find this dynamic playing out in every strata of our society. It manifests in the casual cruelties of catcalling and shaming to denial of work or workplace rights, and up to the most vile and inhumane of acts imaginable. It's everywhere to the extent that to  claim you can't see it is an active act of un-seeing - of refusing to acknowledge reality.

Misogyny is intrinsic to the society we live in; by which I mean that hatred and oppression of women is not merely an incidental part of our quasi-democratic capitalist society that could be safely and comfortably excised, but rather that it is crucial for our current social setup to continue. Consider the ways that domestic work has been - and still is - considered women's work; consider how crucial this unpaid, unheralded labour is to maintaining a capitalist workforce. Consider that acquisitiveness, ambition, ruthlessness, and all the wonderful entrepreneurial traits that "lean-in" feminism, which is not actually feminism, is asking women to adopt, are defined as male traits. Consider that Margaret Thatcher knew that power is a thing that is gendered male, and adjusted her behaviour and speech to be as masculine as possible. Consider how hard it is - still - to get authorities to believe a woman who has been abused. Consider the tone of all the arguments that are used against her.

If you're a man thinking: "I'm not like that! I'm a nice guy! I share domestic labour! I don't benefit from this!": well, good for you, but unfortunately, you do benefit from it, and you probably have more internalised misogyny than you realise. As a small example, how many times have people you know and love resorted to arguing that "women are crazy", even in jest? You may, however, also realise that the same systems which hurt, degrade and oppress women also have deleterious consequences for men; that the same gendered social roles are used to drive male behaviour and crush male dreams in other ways: in the prison-industrial complexes or the expectations of male violence. In which case, congratulations! You're on the first step to realising that our society, currently constituted, is the problem. You can do some reading on this; there's plenty of literature out there.

I call myself an anarchist these days because more than anything I believe that the only society truly worth living in is one founded on respect, equality, and above all, consent in all our relationships, whether at work, in love, wherever. There is no excuse for treating people as if they are not fully people. Furthermore I do not believe there are any excuses for justifying, explaining away or otherwise ignoring the systems and ideologies which cause us to hate and to hurt one another. Misogyny kills; misogyny oppresses; misogyny is a fact of our society as sure as racism, homophobia, and all the other systems and ideas that keep us from living as equals. Our world may be a vale of tears, but it doesn't have to be: we all have a duty to share our world peaceably with others, to accord everyone the respect and dignity they deserve, to see to it that everyone can live their life to the fullest, and to fight to stamp out injustice wherever we find it - especially if we are the beneficiaries, unwitting or otherwise, of that injustice.

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