Not All Men, but Yes All Women

20 / 06 / 2014

In 1985 Margaret Atwood wrote the dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – a “futuristic” story about a patriarchal militaristic religious society in which women are kept for breeding purposes. In the wake of the recent Isla Vista massacre in the United States, videos and thoughts posted by the perpetrator provide a terrifying snapshot of a misogynist – some even invoke the world of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ including the perpetrator’s belief that women should not be able to choose who they can “mate and breed with”, as that should be left to men of “intelligence”.

In a welcome return to Sheilas, writer Clementine Ford looks at the entrenched cultural attitudes of how men and women respond towards gendered violence – including the Isla Vista killings.  She notes the lengths to which we point out that ‘not all men’ victimise women – but also notes how less likely we are to emphasize that all women have an experience of being victimised by a man. Clem’s piece also includes a poignant line from Atwood – how women’s biggest fear is that men will kill them, while men’s biggest fear is that women will laugh at them – and how we might need to develop a more contemporary take on this quote. 

 

By Clementine Ford

Since the devastating 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been ten school massacres of a similar scale across America. For the most part, they haven’t received the same level of media attention. Perhaps a school massacre only becomes interesting or shocking when the perpetrator behind it is a quiet boy from a middle class background; the kind of person who can be said to be a lone wolf struggling with poor mental health and loneliness rather than a sociopath determined to punish the world for failing to recognise his superiority.

And so when a wealthy university student in Santa Barbara took an arsenal of weapons on a rampage through Isla Vista, killing three people before turning the gun on himself, people were quick to diagnose him as mentally ill. He was a product of a broken system, one in which access to mental health services was limited while access to guns was enshrined in law. He was lonely. He had Asperger’s, and “everyone knows” people like that struggle to empathise with others.

It didn’t matter that the shooter had begun his murderous rampage by fatally stabbing his three housemates. It didn’t matter that there are no causal links between violence and Asperger’s, and that assuming them is both incredibly offensive and potentially damaging to the people who have it. And it certainly didn’t seem to matter that the shooter had left a 140 page manifesto and a stack of YouTube videos in which he talked about his hatred of women and his desire to punish them for the ways in which they had rejected him. It didn’t matter that he fantasised about eradicating women from the world almost entirely, save for a few who would be kept in breeding pens for reproduction, or that he detailed how he would enact revenge on the ‘alpha’ men these women had chosen to ‘give’ their bodies to, instead of him.

Because misogyny isn’t real and it certainly doesn’t cause men to kill women. Right? And even if it is, the important thing to remember – the one thing that MUST be established before we can legitimise this conversation – is that ‘not all men’ are guilty of it.

Comedian and feminist writer Lindy West recently wrote a blog post detailing the year long battle she’s had with a handful of male comics in Seattle who took umbrage at her suggestion that misogyny in the comedy scene remained a problem. West was specifically referring to the entitlement many male comedians seem to feel when it comes to making jokes about rape.

In response to her argument, West was beset by the kind of online harassment typically reserved for women who dare to use their voice in public (particularly on the internet). She received numerous rape threats, dehumanising jokes about her appearance and weight and general threats of violence – all things that women are pompously instructed to ignore, as if complaining about them is not only a sign of weakness, but also sensitivity.

Robert Lackey, one of the comedians who targeted West, was challenged by West’s fiance over a comment Lackey made in which he said he would love to see West fall down a flight of stairs. During the email conversation (documented on West’s blog), Aham Oluo told Lackey that he would love to talk about it in person.

Lackey’s response was to take a knife and a gun to the local comedy club in which the trio would all be appearing together ‘just in case’. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “I had a switchblade on me, a 9mm in my trunk and I was ready for anything. I know that sounds insane but I’ve had a wayward past and like I said, any time another man threatens me, I take it seriously.”

Just think about that line. Any time another man threatens me, I take it seriously. Women, you see, are not allowed to interpret men’s actions as threatening because it hurts their feelings. We are not allowed to ‘take seriously’ the words and vague intimations of men who make us feel uncomfortable, because not only is that casting judgment on his intentions it’s also besmirching all men by painting them as rapists, woman-beaters and misogynists.

Imagine, for a moment, the incandescent outrage that a woman would receive if she announced on the internet that she had taken a gun to a public venue because a man she’d argued with had said he wanted to see her and “any time a man threatens me, I take it seriously.”

Not all men.

Every week, a woman in Australia is killed at the hands of her partner or ex-partner. Not all men.

One in five women will experience sexual violence after the age of 15. Not all men.

Domestic violence and Intimate Partner Violence is the leading cause of ill health and premature death in Victorian women aged 15-44. Not all men.

On average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. Not all men.

All of this is connected – the misogynist intent behind the Isla Vista shootings; the derisive silencing of women who speak out against violence, even in its benign, socialised form; the insistence that any discussion regarding gendered violence be prefaced with the disclaimer that ‘not all men’ are like this so that most of them don’t actually have to charge themselves with being part of the solution; the fever with which people rush to discount the feminist challenge against gendered violence by declaring it just a glorified attack on men (and this time, ALL men, not just the few). Not all men victimise women, but all women have an experience of being victimised by a man. No amount of twisting and manipulating the words changes that.

Margaret Atwood famously wrote that women’s biggest fear is that men will kill them while men’s biggest fear is that women will laugh at them. While Atwood is a literary genius and legend, the incredulity of the NAM crowd leads me to think that we need to update her rule of thumb for a modern audience, one in which these conversations are taking place openly and with clear condemnation.

In 2014, women’s biggest fear is still, sadly, that men will kill them – but men’s biggest fear seems to now be that women will talk about it.

 

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