Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Mainstream Misogyny is a Death Sentence : What cultural anxiety and Alek Minassian have in common

A few days ago the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a national study on  the 2016 presidential election. In it, the authors sought to understand the reasons behind the decisions of a prominent group of mostly white Christian male voters that had voted Democratic in 2012, but then switched to Republican in 2016. The mainstream media narrative has largely been that this group was motivated by economic anxiety, anger at the past, and felt that Hillary Clinton did not address their economic woes and needs. The study debunks that narrative. Using several national survey data sets, the authors showed the following:

"[The study found that] losing a job or income between 2012 and 2016 did not make a person any more likely to support Mr. Trump... neither did the mere perception that one's financial situation had worsened. A person's opinion on how trade affected personal finances had little bearing on political preferences. Neither did unemployment or the density of manufacturing jobs in one's area.... [further data study] showed that anxieties about retirement, education and medical bills also had little impact on whether a person supported Mr. Trump."

"White, Christian and male voters, the study suggests, turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk. It's not a threat to their own economic well-being; it's a threat to their group's dominance in our country over all." This is the second national study of its kind, the first found the top reasons for support for Mr. Trump were adherence to the Republican party, fear of cultural displacement and supporting deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally. 

And a few days later, Alek Minassian drove a van onto a sidewalk in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring around 14 more - the Toronto Police has confirmed that those killed and injured were predominantly women. Minutes before the deadly attack, Mr. Minassian posted on Facebook about his hatred of women and praised Elliot Rodger, who, in 2014, declared he wanted to 'punish women for rejecting him' and did so by going on a murderous rampage, killing 3 women and 3 men and wounding 13 more. Mr. Minassian seemingly identifies as an involuntary celibate, or 'incel' - groups of young men who rail against feminism and promote hate towards women (especially the ones who refuse them sexually) and see themselves as victims of a society moving toward equality. Since the attack in Toronto, online communities of young men have praised Mr. Minassian, calling him a hero, a saint, and celebrated with beers every woman he murdered. 

If only women had paid him attention, dated him, had sex with him, given him what he was owed, none of this might have happened. 

For too long now, fragile male egos have been a source of violence and deadly rage toward women. This fragility is now mainstream and cross-sectoral, with the over-victimization of young men being trodden out as valid reasons for violence and hate. ISIS will provide you with a girlfriend or wife (or any number of captive girls to rape) and promise you innumerable virgins if you devote your life to their ideology, including killing and possibly blowing yourself up to punish the infidels. White nationalists will promise you subservient women who look up to you, women who have no claims to equality and will ensure that your place as the head of the household remains intact, because your strength is needed to fight the immigrants and maintain white purity. Evangelicals will package the whole thing in religious wrapping paper, and turn a blind eye to all the President's divorces, accusations of rape, sexual harassment, affairs with porn stars etcetera, as long as the results include the promotion of abstinence-only sex education, a ban on abortion and the absolute praise of 'family values', harking back to a time where men sat at the head of the table, and everyone else (women and others) knew their place. 

In Hillary Clinton's latest book, "What Happened", she describes misogyny as the hatred of women and gives an example of sexism in the need for men to make more money than their female spouses - they're not quite sure why, they just want it that way. This, for me, is too cute of a definition, although it does make it easy to understand. The underlying truth is that misogyny and sexism feed into each other like slime into mud, and are indeed the slippery slope to the violent actions of men who feel unmoored, older ones in their cultural anxiety votes in the ballot box, younger ones in murderous rampages and online vitriolic chatrooms. 

This unmooring is largely based on reference points, the idea that we look to our past generations to understand how we should act and feel about our current status. If black men in the US look to their fathers and grandfathers, they may feel slightly better about their current situation, rife though it remains with racism of all kinds and the brutal violence that accompanies it. White men may look at their forefathers and feel uncertain about their current place in a changing society. For every person to feel that they are at the top of the mountain there must be people at the bottom, and while the statistics still place white men at the top of all statistical poles in the US, their feelings translate into a cultural anxiety where they don't see themselves quite so at the top longer. 

Feelings are hurt. Truths get silenced. Women are murdered. Police are called on black people to remind them of their place (and they're murdered too).

Being at the top of the mountain means that you feel you are owed certain things. Respect. Priority. Unhindered access to goods and services. Rights and opportunities. Justice and a rule of law that serves you best. A nice house. A good car. A wife who gives you children and cooks for you, who doesn't want or need for too much. And the certainty that the people that don't look like you stay at the bottom of the mountain. 

Now, young white men are seeing that not only are they not getting everything they thought they were owed, but the persons that they felt were owed to them  are building their own lives, devising their own successes, and are no longer in the force business of having to smile, praise, talk, touch, have sex, marry, live with and bear children to men for access to opportunities, resources and fulfillment of the feminine social and religious contract any longer. Women are making decisions of their own without men's help, and without needing men's attention.  

In 1989, a 25-year old man took a gun into L'Ecole Polytechnique, an engineering school in Montreal, separated the women from the men and murdered 14 women, guns to their heads, before shooting himself. In a note he left behind, he blamed feminism for ruining his life.

The link between mass murders or terrorism and domestic violence is well documented. Indeed, the a dominant determining factor of mass murders is if the killer had committed an act of violence toward a wife of girlfriend. As Pamela Shifman and Salamishah Tillet wrote in the New York Times, "Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first. Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men's later actions." This is not to say that all perpetrators of domestic violence will commit mass murders, but the confluence of deep-seated cultural anxiety of a changing society with the growing over-victimization of lonely and angry men in societies where violence is de rigueur the way in which men express anger, fear and loneliness will only lead to more violence, often at the expense of the women around them.

So what do we do, what do we need? There is the need to acknowledge feelings, but that responsibility cannot only fall on the already burdened shoulders of the women and men who carry the deep scars of centuries of real victimization. Trainings can help men understand and highlight the nuances in their feelings of culturally-driven anxiety, but this too cannot be done at the expense of the truth. Indeed, organizations that bring men and boys into the knowledge of what the lives of women really look like, what violence against women really looks like and how pervasive both misogyny and sexism truly are, will be the ones where men can take up the fight to change themselves, their beliefs, their actions and the beliefs and actions of others around them. Many a study has shown that more equal societies are societies where both men and women are happiest - and at the basis of this is access and realization to basic human rights. 

Start by believing women, and people from minority backgrounds, about the experiences they share with you. The internet is a trove of information; do not ask other people to constantly be proving their experiences to you; go out and do some research so you can ask aware and respectful questions. Mind your feelings - is someone's experience really attacking you? And if you do feel attacked, what will you do about it (not demand the other person handle your feelings for you) ? Understanding your own privilege and all its varied expressions will help you to be more aware of it when your feelings (just another word for pride and ego, lets be honest) rear their ugly heads.

And while we're at it, let us come to an understanding that the sharing of experiences, the telling of history, the exposing of inequalities, discrimination, violence and misogyny is the beginning of truth-telling. But describing experiences and situations does not directly mean that punishment must ensue. In a society so built on punishing those who have done even the slightest bit of wrong, it is easy for people to feel threatened and defensive by merely looking like a group of persons who have been perpetrators of violence or injustice. Not everything has to be about punishment - but, and in no uncertain terms, sometimes punishment is and must be a measure of justice - Alek Minassian will bear his 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted homicide as our society's measure of justice. 

In regards to expressions of violence - let men be men, in all their uncertain and various degrees of self. The only way to express a feeling is not through anger or violence or silencing of another. Allow men and boys to cry, to digest, to be introspective, self-aware, creative, resourceful and communicate respectfully among themselves and with the women in their lives. If young men are feeling unmoored and angry because of it, let us find ways to channel that anger that are positive and not self or outwardly destructive. Community centres, sports teams, big brother initiatives, volunteering.... all are group ways of encouragement and serve as supportive peer networks. Let us challenge stereotype representation in our media sources, from magazines to ads to tv shows, and demand that men and women from all backgrounds be shown in their full breadth of self. Let us make sure representation is a policy norm at all levels of government, and healthy communication and relationships are taught in our schools - communication season is year-long, for the rest of your life. 

Feminism makes space for the full representation of self by both sexes, and refuses to box either into traditional heteronormative gender roles. Indeed a 40-year study of 70 countries found that a strong independent feminist movement "was more important in reducing violence against women than the economic wealth of a nation, the representation of women in government or the presence of progressive political parties. Strong thriving feminist movements help to shape public and government agendas and create the political will to address violence against women."

Don't make me persuade you - read up on it by yourself. 

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