So it’s been almost a week since Elliott Rodgers misogynistic rampage. I’ve been back and forth about writing anything about it. In the initial shock and anger I very much wanted to, but nothing I typed was right, either circling back to my own feelings or spiraling out of control. I thought I’d given up. I spent a lot of time reading twitter posts — especially those tagged #YesAllWomen — and articles and (heavily, sadly, angrily) comments.
It should go without saying that Rodgers was an awful misogynist; that his ideas and actions are just patently wrong from top to bottom. It should but of course… nope. Instead, hundreds and thousands of ugly, despicable subhumans immediately started praising the man from all corners of the internet, lauding his kills, and wailing that he needn’t have died, that he should have just raped all the women that shunned him, and lived on.
It’s enough to drive out your sense of good existing in the world.
The truth, really, is that we’re all — all of us, men — already complicit to some degree in the prevailing misogyny of our culture. We have — all of us — denigrated a woman at some time. We’ve talked about women as objects. We’ve laughed at a joke about rape or a woman’s shame.
In college we even said it outright. A woman returning to her dorm across campus in the early morning wearing the dress she’d gone out in the night before: The Walk of Shame. We didn’t think about it. It wasn’t really an insult. Often we were frankly jealous. And yet now I’m compelled to consider how many of those women were returning to their dorms from the scene of their rape, and am devastated to know it wasn’t zero.
Many of us have learned the errors of (some of) our awful ways. We’ve been called out on problematic language by our friends and family members, schooled by writers — remarkably brave ones, knowing as I do what they recieve in reply — on the internet and elsewhere. I started out fairly decent, thanks to my parents, yet still I’m humbled by how much I had to learn, and honored that so many women took the time to educate me on their own dime, as it were. None had to. None ought to have had to feel the need.
Ultimately I decided that my silence would be a kind of complicity; that one of the smallest things I can do to help things in this world is offer reply to voices of hate and fear. I want to support women by using my voice alongside theirs, rather than talking over it or past it. That would be exactly part of the problem.
So in the end, what I want to say first and foremost is thank you to all the women — all women — who endure the awfulness of men every day and still manage to not just carry on, but take the time to drag us up out of the muck of our unexamined privilege. It’s a life we haven’t lived, and the only way to do some good is to listen to those who have and then amend ourselves.
I’ve started to learn how to listen, but it’s easy to forget at times. You have to keep reminding yourself to stop thinking and pay closer attention first.
To the men, a different message. Most of you probably aren’t monsters either. You’re more than likely disgusted by rape, and don’t call women ugly names or actively try to keep them beneath you. That’s a start!
Literally, that’s exactly the start, the lowest possible level of decency. The point isn’t to simply collect some number of “Wasn’t awful today!” tokens and then pat yourself on the back. Rather, it’s a process of developing awareness, and a practice of using that awareness for something.
Because you have been in the locker room and listened to a man saying vile things about women. And you have chuckled at the coworker’s sexist joke. Until those events are met with rebuke and disapproval, whatever decency you have is kind of wasted. That little diffusing chuckle becomes tacit approval; silence becomes complicit.
Sometimes you won’t feel able to engage. It happens. The very least you can do is frown or shake your head. You can walk away without condoning. At least do that.
And you’ll fuck up. I sometimes say careless, thoughtless things and am called out or recall them later with regret, or else don’t, and go unchastened. It’s a process.
You should be trying to attain a state of thoughtfulness and examination, of paying close attention and learning from it all. There’s no badge to be given, no final state of completion, and like it or not, you’re kind of at a disadvantage, because you’ve internalized some pretty terrible shit.
“Not being awful to women” isn’t where the work ends. It’s where it starts.