In writing about the frightening Isla Vista shooting this week, I focused on what the shooting dredged up online—a cavalcade of opinions and rants that show the hidden army of men willing to see women’s dead bodies as an acceptable sacrifice to their own lusts and entitlements. The number of people willing to tacitly justify what happened by suggesting, with terroristic logic, that women should give in to sexual advances we do not want, or indulge male entitlement at every turn in the name of forestalling more dead men and women, is horrifying.
In that article, I also drew a connection between what happened in Isla Vista and the suicide of women like Alyssa Funke, the young college student and sex worker. “But a crime like Rodger’s, or George Sodini’s or Marc Lepine’s,” I argued, “remind us that sometimes a man means it when he says he wants to kill us. Or, we see too often nowadays, that men mean it when they say they want us to kill ourselves.”
Dr. Jill McDevitt, a sexologist, did us the grim public service of dramatically expanding on this connection, assembling a number of tweets and Facebook comments that remind us of the dehumanizing hatred of women online, too easily refracted by the disinhibiting forces of internet-use into a sharp terror. One which now has an unambiguous body count. One tweet she collected read:
[Funke] killed herself because she can’t handle the fact that she’s a fucking whore. Nobody even gives a fuck. P.S. fapped to your vid.
While ugly commentary is cheaper than a dime a dozen, it’s not every day that one comment says so much about the morbidities of our society in 140 characters or less. She deserved to die for being a “whore,” said the author of the tweet, James Andrew Mayes, but he also masturbated to her videos. It’s patriarchy in one tweet: men want us to sexually perform for them, then they want us to die for it. The other tweets and comments, some related to Funke’s suicide, others to Isla Vista, make for nightmarish reading. Men, in particular, should not look away.
I cannot better Dr. McDevitt’s passionate words:
“If some men believe the death penalty should be the punishment women, and women alone, receive for saying yes to sex, they must believe that sex is the worst of crimes, and we should therefore say no to sex. But saying no to sex resulted in women’s deaths this week too. The double standard isn’t just damned if you do, damned if you don’t anymore. It’s dead if you do, dead if you don’t.”
This is why we cannot say that the malevolence of Elliot Rodger died with him. Such an idea masks his ordinariness; not so long ago, he would have been one of those men carping on Twitter or Facebook or a web forum, dehumanizing women, baying for our blood as retribution for the sins we commit with our bodies simply by existing.
These comments, and the tens of thousands of others like them, meet spirited opposition from men and women alike, people of good conscience who see the evil winding its way through the pixels and resist the demands of inhumanity our society freights us with. We cannot lose hope; we must keep challenging such commentary where ever its weeds shoot through the concrete of human decency.
The terrorism of such comments is that they demand something utterly soul-wrenching of all women, no matter our race, no matter our class, no matter if we are cis or trans, PWD or not: it demands that we pay men rent for the right to keep breathing. We offer a sacrifice of some bit of our agency, some bit of our self-respect, some bit of our dignity, as collateral against having our lives taken away. Or the lives of our friends, or those of strangers we do not know.
I did not quite realize how my practice of sending texts to my loved ones to let them know I made it home safe was a product of this culture; I did not fully accept that when I text my partner or friend asking if they made it home from work, I’m subconsciously offering a digital prayer that patriarchy did not reach out and touch them.
The intersectional inflections of this are just as serrated. As I said above, all women experience some version of this economy of bodies, but not all of us experience it in the same way. Its wavelength shifts when we talk about prisons and policing, or when we talk about the lives of trans women, whose bodies are the ultimate public property, or the lives of women of color who experience a mortgaging not only to men, but to some white women who claim some manner of objectifying stewardship over our lives and histories. The other day, two trans women of color in Atlanta were victims of men acting on their entitlement to their bodies, stripping and beating them on public transport, while onlookers and transit police did nothing.
And the dead men of color, slain by Rodger’s misogyny and internalized racism, are also a testament to this complexity: patriarchy does not just make bodies of women, it demands hierarchies of men. Ones whose boundaries are enforced violently. Whether it was Rodger’s bullets or a police officer’s, the end result is the same: patriarchy is white supremacy, and white supremacy is patriarchy.
These cultural norms, entitlements, fears, threats, and hatred, are the malodorous mire we all walk through to live our daily lives. Through that hatred, we enter the population of loss, bits of ourselves falling away as we go.
Just the other day, a woman I love rejected the advances of a man while she was out walking. His reply? “Bitch! You’re why that fuckin’ guy killed those people! FUCKING BITCH!”
And it only seems that I can offer digital prayers, hoping for the best.