The Object and the Missing Subject, the Effect and the Missing Cause (Part 1)

Roy Moore just lost by a mere four votes or so despite the fact that he’s a serial child molester who lives in his own private version of Gunsmoke. The president is a rapist. Every famous dude in America — of every political stripe — has been fired or has stepped down from his job for sexually assaulting someone. Still, while the #metoo movement is laying bare the ubiquity of the abuse that all women face, there is no real concomitant movement to recognize the ubiquity of abusive behavior among men and boys or to determine the source of that behavior.

I’ll tell you a little about the source of that behavior.

Southern California is an exceedingly harsh environment to grow up in. The emotional depravity that seems to emanate from the starkly bright, spiritually empty, inescapably dull, brown landscape isn’t unique in the world, but it stopped seeming natural or unavoidable once I finally left and life, thankfully, ceased to resemble a Bret Easton Ellis novel. After recently reading about the suicide of 13-year-old Rosalie Avila after she had endured years of torment from her peers in Yucaipa — a smallish town just outside of San Bernardino — memories of growing up female in suburban San Diego began to reemerge from whatever part of my mind they have been sequestered in.

Thankfully, for Rosalie’s sake, the content of the social media bullying she endured hasn’t been made public (though I’m sure I could find it were I to make the slightest prurient effort). Still, it wouldn’t be an outrageous stretch to guess that she was terrorized for being brown and female. Everyone knows what form bullying takes when directed at an adolescent girl. Double that for girls of color.

I often wonder how one could quantify the potential, kindness, and brilliance the world loses when it is routinely beaten out of children by their families and by popular culture, and when those children turn around and unleash their anguish on other young victims (and go on to do so as adults). What would Rosalie have become if she had survived the abuse heaped upon her? How many other girls are enduring the same abuse now, and how will it alter their futures? How many imaginations have been snuffed out by the hatred this culture has for young women and people of color? How many little boys who were on track to become decent men have succumbed to the pressure to suppress their decency in favor of the capricious cruelty that adolescent society, the cult of masculinity, and popular media culture promote and reward?

How can these young people be convinced that anything outside of the nightmare they live in exists? What is the mechanism by which some victims of childhood and adolescent abuse survive and come to use their experiences to better the world, and how can it be provided to those who need it the most?

That list of questions makes it sound as though I have no hope for addressing the behavior of the culprits. That’s because I don’t. It’s a rare childhood bully who will even recognize their youthful behavior as a problem when confronted with it in adulthood, probably because emotionally terrorizing others isn’t a behavior that people easily grow out of. That would require a level of self-awareness and empathy that is hard to amass out of thin air. Besides, where would the motivation even come from when the public is too recalcitrant to shift its focus away from victim-blaming and toward the behavior of perpetrators?

Adolescents are routinely exposed to and forced to reckon with behaviors and ideas that are far too harrowing and complex for their young minds to cope with. They all commit and endure cruelties and subjugations that they are completely incapable of comprehending. Some people have argued that this is a result of the lack of purpose and meaning assigned to the life stage of adolescence in Western society. Adolescents are no longer children and aren’t yet adults, existing in a liminal zone of frustration and confusion about why they even exist. There’s nothing to do but emulate and wait, enduring a keen feeling of powerlessness and depersonalization wrought by a materialistic and power-obsessed culture. Cruelty, then, becomes a form of power for people who feel like they’ve been excluded from control over their lives.

Nothing novel there. But there was something peculiar about the social and cultural tenor of Southern California in particular that exacerbated this already noxious reality, and it seems to have metastasized to the entirety of the culture in recent years. When I grew up in Southern California, it was palpably uncool to have feelings of any kind. You didn’t respond to cruelty with tears. You didn’t respond to a reciprocated crush with honest excitement. You maintained the empty, dead demeanor of a sociopath lest you be vulnerable to the terrifying emotional possibilities around every corner. It was also extremely uncool to be intelligent, emotionally or otherwise. You forgot highfalutin words on purpose to prevent the idiot arbiters of coolness from descending upon you with their brutishly stupid rebukes. Everyone was smoothly empty and dull on the surface, their interiority completely invisible if not totally excised.

I think it took me an entire decade to recover. It’s been long enough now that I can afford to reflect on some of it in public, if only for the sake of other women and girls who might need to relate. What I’m about to recount didn’t occur in a trailer park. It wasn’t aberrant. We weren’t “the bad kids.” (Harmony Korine — retch — and Larry Clark were onto something bigger than they realized). This is not an extreme example, but rather the everyday reality that adolescent girls endure in this society until they either die emotionally, actually kill themselves, or rediscover the last glimmer of humanity inside themselves in time to escape and resist.

Sometime near the middle of my sophomore year in high school, I lost the only form of protection teenage girls have from the predations of teenage boys: my boyfriend. Well, I didn’t “lose” him; he decided to sleep with one of my friends while he was watching my parents’ house while we were on vacation. Being only fifteen, I handled it poorly, which means I partied a lot and was susceptible to predatory male attention because having been cheated on had made me doubt my self-worth. Some guy I had had a mild crush on in junior high started paying attention to me. Let’s call him Jack Phillips. At one of many Mickey’s-soaked house parties I attended that winter, I had three too many Hornets and blacked out, only to learn later that Phillips had intercourse with me.

I only discovered this had occurred because it immediately became the talk of the town. Another piece of evidence that something untoward had happened: while hanging out at my best friend’s house playing Toejam and Earl, I discovered a photo of myself and that best friend in which I had been rendered invisible under the etched letters “fuken hor.” I asked him who had done it, and he told me Phillips had, then asked me why I hung out with him. I didn’t know. I was too young to understand the mechanisms at work in my poor decision-making, and I was certainly not emotionally sophisticated enough to shrug it off and recognize Phillips as a psychopath (and an idiot). I mean, I did shrug it off — because that was a social requirement — but I internalized the message in the etching and the idea that Phillips’s stupidity and warped psyche and sexuality were somehow something for me to be ashamed of.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself at yet another party with Phillips. He suggested we drive up to some remote area where teenagers went to party unmolested by parents or cops. I was drunk, I desperately needed to misunderstand the obvious meaning of his treatment of me, and my naivete/denial told me the invitation meant he actually did like me but didn’t know how to express it (dear god, everyone, STOP telling young girls that boys’ abuse is a sign of a crush). We went. He demanded I have sex with him, threatening to leave me at the top of the mountain we had driven up if I didn’t. It was 1993. There were no cell phones. I certainly wasn’t going to knock at the gate of one of the “estates” up there and ask to call my parents to come pick me up, so I started walking downhill. He pulled alongside me and apologized, and I got in the car and let him drunk-drive me home.

That would have been the end of our interactions were it not for the fact that he continued to call me constantly. One night, a friend I’ll call Sarah was spending the night at my house. She had just moved to the area from Utah, which rendered her woefully ill-prepared for the viciousness of a social environment informed more by Sublime lyrics than human decency. She was impressionable and eager to fit in, and for some reason found my interactions with Phillips fascinating. He called while we were sitting in my bedroom drinking yet more Mickey’s (I still can’t explain what I was doing drinking the official fine malt liquor of House of Pain so often; maybe we were white trash) and she told me to invite him over. I did so reluctantly, knowing no good would come of it, and none did.

They ended up having sex in front of me, these two inebriated children with no inkling of the social or emotional consequences of their actions beyond the immediate moment. I didn’t consider it socially acceptable to have obvious feelings about it, so I got up and wandered out into the house so as not to be forced to watch and listen, wandering back in to find Sarah crying after Phillips had climbed back out the window he had climbed in to drive drunk to his next destination. We went to sleep hugging each other, both engulfed in a confused fog of shame and fear.

The next day, she was an absolute mess. Shortly after she went home, she attempted to kill herself by taking upwards of 100 ibuprofen. Her mother called my parents to ask what had happened and they were astounded, having slept through the pointless drunken destruction that had occurred a mere 75 feet from their bedroom door. They naturally demanded that I tell them what went on, but I refused out of shame and some sense of obligation to protect Sarah from the intervention of adults I was sure could not possibly understand what she (or I) was going through. It netted me a month without a phone or a social life outside of school, which was probably for the best.

You know who wasn’t engulfed in shame, fear, parental punishment, and social opprobrium? Phillips. He was at a party the following weekend bragging that Sarah had tried to kill herself because she had had sex with him. In other words, this teenage kid was celebrating the fact that he had enough power to ruin someone’s life by having sex with them.

Men — adolescent ones especially — are so incapable of self-reflection that they can consider a woman defiled, ruined, permanently tainted by having come into contact with their dicks without thinking about what that says about them. He wasn’t ashamed of anything from what anyone could tell. He wasn’t shunned from any social circle, no one bothered to interrupt him to tell him there might be something wrong with what he was saying and doing, and he presumably continued to do it for all I know. He suffered zero social consequences for multiple instances of what today is considered sexual assault and for taking advantage of someone’s natural human need to be liked to the extent that she wanted to die.

Oddly enough (wink wink), people had plenty to say about me and about Sarah and our decisions. It disrupted our lives to the extent that we were prevented from thinking about literally anything else for months. I’m frankly shocked, given how poorly-developed our coping skills and emotional intelligence were at that age, and given the systemic psychological sickness of our social environment, that we didn’t both end up actually killing ourselves.

This incident was maybe a four on the “most fucked up things that happened between the time I grew boobs and turned 22” scale. It was part of what made me a mistrustful, angry jerk by the time I was 16, which didn’t help protect me as much as it led me further away from my true nature. And it was just one small speck of dust in a vast and dark universe of adolescent depravity.

Things are not better for young women today than they were in the 90s, they are exponentially worse. Internet porn, the vicious recent backlash against feminism, the death of the counterculture messages that used to compete with the materialistic and emotionally violent messages of popular media, and the rise of intrusive and inescapable social media have left young women in a much more emotionally precarious position than I ever found myself in, which beleaguers the imagination.

Which brings me back to my main point: I’m not surprised that suicide is on the rise among an ever-younger demographic. Just days before Rosalie Avila did so, a ten-year-old girl hanged herself after being bullied. Months before, an eight-year-old boy did the exact same thing for the exact same reason.

A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear about an adolescent girl committing suicide after being coerced into sending revealing photographs to some porn-conditioned teenage boy (or some adult predator) who immediately turns around and shares them with all his friends at a minimum, and often with the whole world via social media and revenge porn sites. It’s downright pedestrian these days to read about a teenage girl being gang raped at some party, only to find out later that her assailants have recorded and shared images of her humiliation with everyone they know. The social consequences then fall squarely on her while the rapists get high-fived by their boys.

Teenage society, the law, and even the media have a never-ending supply of opprobrium for these girls, but there is somehow never enough left over for the boys and men who take advantage of them.

Anti-bullying campaigns are not an indication that things are getting better; they’re a begrudging recognition of the enormity of the problem of psychological and physical abuse against and among children and adolescents. The search for the root cause of this epidemic bears no fruit because those doing the searching don’t want to find the answer. Each “investigation” of adolescent suicide comes to the same conclusion: social media is beyond adult control and makes it easier for bullies to target victims.

It’s a facile explanation that allows everyone to shrug and move on without asking why the culture is becoming crueler, meaner, more atomized (and what role social media is playing in that process). It allows the parents of shitty little people to evade the examination of their own behavior and parenting practices. It offers nothing in the way of a solution for the millions of girls (and boys) in America who suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD as a result of the way they’re treated by a growing number of underage sociopaths. And it completely elides the role of the perpetrators and a culture that foments and rewards cruelty, and then conveniently overlooks or excuses the behavioral excesses it inculcates.

It isn’t like we don’t know how these kids will turn out. It isn’t like we don’t know how the cycle of abuse works. I wonder how much more filthy laundry will have to be aired before the focus ends up where it belongs: on the perpetrators and the sociopolitical/economic systems that create them.

Me too, son.

The mainstream media has collectively lost its mind in the past week over the “shocking” revelation that a movie producer would abuse his power over the careers of aspiring actors in order to sexually harass and assault them, then scare them into silence with the exact same set of implied threats that allowed him to commit the crimes in the first place. Since the vast majority of my readership is female, I’m sure none of you were floored by the revelation, given that this kind of shit goes on literally everywhere all the time and has since the dawn of the age of homo sapiens (and, of course, earlier). While it’s heartening to see the dark and dirty truth blip into the public consciousness, it’s likely that the furor will die down in short order and that everyone will resume the charade. Everything is cool, ladies. We caught the bad guy.

I moved to Hollywood in 1999, just after I turned 21. I had zero interest in being an actor (or having anything to do with the film and television industry); I just moved there because it was an affordable neighborhood (this was 1999) in the closest big city to San Diego, where the people I was hanging out with were such degenerates that I decided I had to jet in order to avoid jail or an overdose. I’d like to say that situation improved after the move, but I just traded in a crew of reprobate upper-middle-class bros for a city full of predatory gutterballs with more money.

One needn’t seek employment in the entertainment industry to attract the attention of unctuous perverts in LA. One of my first jobs on arrival was as a waitress at the semi-infamous Mel’s Drive-In, where James Woods propositioned Amber Tamblyn, 16 at the time, with an impromptu jaunt to Vegas with him and some other senior citizen. He must have made a serious habit of propositioning women a third of his age at Mel’s, because he did the same thing to me (though I had at least reached the age of majority; he was 52 at the time). The remainder of the transaction was as awkward as you would imagine. James Woods was — in my mind — only marginally famous, yet he felt like he was a big enough deal that teenagers ought to jump at the chance to be molested by him. Andrew Dice Clay, the epitome of a has-been at the time, had been 86ed from the establishment for groping waitresses just months earlier.

But it wasn’t just the town’s well-known actors, producers, and talent agents who considered the city of Los Angeles a smorgasbord of potential victims. At that same restaurant, I had two male coworkers who had moved to the city to become famous and were just waiting tables until the entertainment elite recognized their mediocre looks and revolting personalities as star material (the cliché is real, y’all). One was a dude from somewhere in the Northeast named Anthony who insisted on being called “London.” Most interactions I had with him consisted of him pointing at bananas and then at his own dick. (You can find this specimen in the archives of the dating show Fifth Wheel if you’re interested.) The other one, Reagan, managed to behave like a reasonable (though dorky) person at work most of the time, but once put on a Frank Sinatra song and tried to make out with me, despite my obvious lack of interest (that quickly morphed into mortified laughter once he tried to Swingers me).

Then there were the mystery men who sat in my section and, shortly before paying their bill (and just before they decided what kind of tip to leave), would ask me if I was an actress. When I replied that, no, unlike every other young woman in town waiting tables, I had no interest in acting, they would say something like, “Well, you’re gorgeous and you should be. Why don’t you give me your number and I can introduce you to some people.” The conditions attached were unspoken, but were louder than a Miami bass war.

I had to “grow up” sometime, so I left Mel’s and got a job at the corporate office of a national chain of lingerie stores headquartered in Hollywood. The office was mercifully free of men, despite the fact that the company produced clownish lingerie ostensibly designed for men’s entertainment and titillation.  (I mean, I couldn’t see the draw of a red bra with underwires but no cups, so men must have been the target market.) Still, I spent at least 2% of my time at work fielding obscene phone calls.

It got so old that, while perusing online job ads at work one day, I decided to apply for a job as a receptionist at Creative Artists Agency, a fairly influential organization in the entertainment world. The interviewer was about 60 and I was still 21. He spent the entirety of the thirty years or so that I was in his office alternating between licking his lips and telling me I would look good up front and lowballing me on the job’s pay. He kept dangling the promise of becoming an assistant to one of their agents, assuring me that one day I would be a big deal Hollywood agent provided that I was up to the task of working there (and would accept poverty wages). The task was in his shorts. I still don’t know what this asshole’s job title was, or why he was selected to interview me, but I have to assume the intent was to weed out the kind of spoilsports who couldn’t handle a little sexual harassment.

All work and no play makes for a boring account of the wide world of Hollywood sexual misconduct. Through some very odd circumstances, I ended up spending a lot of time with a couple of *dudes who had been famous as teen heartthrobs in the early 90s. They were decent people (they had probably endured some sexual abuse themselves, having been child actors) despite the fact that one was a Scientologist (wasn’t everyone in LA in 1999). But their friends were unbelievable. A crew of trust-fund twentysomethings whose only connection to the entertainment industry was their parents, they were brazen and merciless in their tactics of manipulating hopeful young women into having sex with them by pretending to have connections they didn’t have and promising opportunities they had no access to (and no intention of following through on if they did).

They once took me to a club that was nigh impossible to get into at the time, Barfly, where I stood around picking at my clothing while Corey Feldman (he wasn’t there with us) made an ass of himself on the dance floor and an old fat man chased attractive young women around the room with handfuls of hundred dollar bills. Though it was an odd sight, the only reason anyone made sport of his behavior was that he made plain the (usually) unspoken but pervasive assumption that all young women in Los Angeles are for sale. (Hey, loser, get some game and quit being so extra.)

Then there’s the kid we all used to refer to affectionately as “little Will.” We found it amusing to see a 13-year-old trying to breakdance while in a K-hole. You might know him as The Gaslamp Killer, who has raped who knows how many women now that he’s all grown up and famous and has access to roofies and female fans.

Then there was ol’ “shocked and apalled” Ben Affleck, who regularly staggered his way around my neighborhood breakfast cafe, drunkenly sexually harassing the female staff at 7 AM because he could.

Then there was the *globular millionaire son of a director who had no friends whatsoever and would invite young people (male and female) to his house when the bars closed, shove piles of “free” cocaine at them, and then demand that they perform sexual entertainment as payment at the end of the night, later sending them big-screen televisions in the hopes of a repeat engagement. And the *”photographer” who actually made his living selling ecstasy at Garden of Eden and used the proceeds to lure women half his age to his apartment down the street, where he fed them drugs and bullshit until they acquiesced to his sexual demands (free headshots, anyone?).

These vignettes all derive from the outskirts — if not from outside of — the entertainment industry. You can imagine — and have learned in the past few weeks the specifics of — the heights of sexual menace inside the offices of people with actual power in Hollywood. A city brimming with young women (and men) intent on becoming famous makes a great hunting ground for manipulative sexual predators up and down the payscale.

And let me tell you, I’ve got a lot more where this comes from involving men who are about as closely connected to the entertainment industry as I am to Richard Spencer.

Harvey Weinstein isn’t an outlier. He’s an example of the entitlement of nearly all men in positions of power over women’s careers, and all men who know the threat of violence, rape, and public humiliation keep women polite in the face of harassment and quiet about what happens to us after the fact. Men like Weinstein are a dime a dozen. Every woman I know has a list as long as The Brothers Karamazov of stories of sexual harassment and assault at work, on the street, at school, at parties, at the liquor store, on the subway, at Jimmy John’s, at Home Depot, in court, at a funeral, at a wedding, in line for tickets to see Cats, while shopping for diarrhea medication, and so on ad infinitum.

I’ll dip out with a plea to everyone who can safely do so to come out with their lists in every public forum available to them. I may even recount my workplace sexual harassment stories from my teenage years in a sequel-as-prequel to this post.

*I’d include these people’s names, but I’m sure they Google themselves constantly and would instantly guess who wrote this.

Elliot Rodger and the Pandemic of Masculinity

I read Elliot Rodger’s manifesto yesterday. It was, without a doubt, the least surprising document I’ve ever read. It wasn’t hard to follow; it wasn’t bizarre; it wasn’t a collection of the meanderings of a mind that had lost touch with reality. Instead, it was boring, trite, obvious, and exactly what I expected it to be: a rant by a spoiled brat with an overweening sense of entitlement. To women, to sex, to wealth, to attention and adoration. Frankly, I suspected at times that it was written by a Marxist feminist satirizing privileged male entitlement in general and MRAs in particular.

Elliot Rodger wasn’t Holden Caulfield, he was a bratty little asshole who assumed he was somehow superior to everyone else and thus deserved rewards simply for existing. The rage that he felt wasn’t caused by the cruelty of others, but by his own unreasonable expectations, expectations shared by the majority of men. He may have been less equipped to deal with frustration than the average person, but his reaction to that frustration shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the directions the culture has been taking over the course of the last decade or so.

About that manifesto. I’d call it a memoir of a cult member rather than a manifesto, since it doesn’t contain an idea of any kind. Rodger spends 141 pages narcissistically recounting every detail of his privileged childhood, describing in excruciatingly boring detail each family trip to some “exotic” locale or other, each luxurious Japanese dinner, each wasteful birthday celebration, each time he and his family attended a media industry event as someone else’s plus-one. Save a few bits of ham-fisted foreshadowing, the story up until Rodger hits puberty reads like the autobiography of every kid I went to elementary school with in Southern California: upper middle class parents who have no interest in raising a child but plenty of money and help doing so raise a kid with a profound sense of both entitlement and abandonment. His family clearly had just enough money and social status to gain entry to the outer circles of extreme privilege, and to afford Rodger a glimpse of what could be his if only he were fabulously, disgustingly wealthy instead of just comfortable in the extreme.

In fact, the story Rodger tells of his life after puberty reads like a tale of the rude awakening to the fact that his parents were not that rich after all. He makes repeated reference to puberty as the mainspring of his disillusionment with life and humanity, as the catalyst to his confrontation with the cruel realities of the world, but he is clearly projecting a concept he has adopted from the Men’s Rights Movement and from the Pick-Up Artist (PUA) scene onto his own adolescent understanding of the world, while his recounting of his own memories illustrates a gradual realization that he was not, after all, a member of the Hollywood gentry.

Is it just me, or are there more cult-ish movements around these days than there were a few years ago? Rodger makes mention of his attempt to follow the advice contained in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book that encourages readers to think they are multi-millionaires to whom life’s rewards flow unremittingly and without effort, which will result in them actually becoming one-per-centers. Though Rodger ultimately dismisses The Secret when putting its methods into practice doesn’t result in his winning the lottery and thus becoming a pussy magnet, the fact that he tried it in the first place, coupled with his wholesale adoption of MRA and PUA theories of how the world works, indicates that he shared something in common with tens of millions of people: the willingness to believe that disappointments and frustrations can be explained by nebulous, ill-fitting, simplistic principles propounded by self-help mountebanks in the pursuit of book and seminar ticket sales.

The culture told Rodger that sex, money, and attention were his birthright. When the system failed to deliver, Rodger flailed around, seeking an explanation. At first, it seemed that he turned his frustration inward and assumed that he was lonely because he was somehow defective. At that point in the narrative, I almost felt sorry for him. We’ve all been bullied, we’ve all questioned our worth as human beings based on the way that others treat us, and we’ve all wondered if life would be better for us if we were somehow constitutionally different than we are. It’s gross. Some of us respond to that kind of fundamental uncertainty about our value by entering into a pattern of self-abuse, some of us begin to question the system of social values that leads to such misery, and some of us fall prey to explanations that place the blame for our unhappiness on the people who reject us. Some of us do all three. But disorder arises when someone like Rodger fails to differentiate between fantasy and reality and never grows out of the expectation that life will turn out like a Bud Light commercial. Or a porn video.

So, what did the culture tell Rodger he could expect from the world? As a privileged child, he was given everything he expressed a desire for, it would appear. Rodger, cared for by a series of nannies, also grew accustomed to being doted on by young women in his childhood years. He grew up on the edges of Hollywood’s elite, a world in which power and wealth command attention and favors from what must look to a child to be an unending parade of young, beautiful women. Once Rodger learned about sex (from porn, naturally), he reached the seemingly obvious conclusion that he was owed sex due to his superior social position.

The culture tells all men that they are owed access to women’s bodies and energy. Sitcoms feature attractive women married to and putting up with mountains of bullshit from blundering schlubs. Movies hammer the idea into boys’ minds that young, hot women, though they may resist at first, will eventually fall into the laps of lazy, misogynistic, overgrown infants like those played by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill. Porn tells young boys with no other knowledge of sex that women are filthy pigs who just love being gangbanged and ejaculated on by abusive, sneering monsters.

I don’t know why girls rejected Elliot Rodger when he entered adolescence, or whether they even did. There seemed to have been a window in junior high — before he started consuming porn — when that was not the case. He might have been a little awkward, he may have lacked social skills, but it appears that his obsessive sense of entitlement to what he believed other boys enjoyed (whether that was the case or not) took over, coloring all of his interactions and probably preempting any chance he had at relating to girls. He was consumed by the foolish belief that porn and bullshit adolescent male bragging were reality for everyone but him. Once that set in, his anger and desperation probably became palpable in social situations to the point that women — who learn from a young age how to spot signs of danger in male behavior — steered clear.

Without any real contact with women, for Rodger, they became cartoon characters, aliens, beasts, non-human. They were an enemy to be vanquished, a prize to be collected for the achievement of having been born male, the source of all of his frustrated expectations. He absorbed those messages wholesale from mass media culture. Rodger’s memoir reads like a catalog of his consumption of popular media, from Pokemon through World of Warcraft through Halo 2, from Star Wars to the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Game of Thrones, to internet pornography, to MRA discussion forums populated by legions of men railing against women for not fulfilling the fantasies instilled in them by that same media culture.

Several feminist bloggers have made the argument that writing Rodger off as mentally ill takes the focus off of systemic misogyny and allows a worldwide epidemic of woman-hating and gynophobic violence to go unexamined. They aren’t wrong. But Rodger was mentally ill. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.

By that definition, Rodger was certainly mentally ill, and so are most men. What set Rodger apart was his willingness to participate directly in violence against women as women in order to punish them for refusing to provide him with the sex he felt entitled to, rather than simply doing so by proxy via the consumption of violent and degrading porn and other products of a capitalo-misogynistic society. The existence of masculinity requires that men be unable to relate to women, as masculinity and femininity are the institutions upon which male supremacy rests. A man who is capable of relating to women — who does not suffer from the mental illness known as masculinity — is incapable of abusing them, either in person or by proxy.

Why I Hate Men Part 3: There Seems to Be A Pattern Here

I’ve been away for awhile, and I’m a little surprised at what has been going on in my absence. People are still using porn? Seriously? Get with the program, dorks. And what’s up with all this pro-rape nonsense? Men are reacting to the proliferation of feminist discourse in popular culture by proving feminists right? Good job, idiots. Am I to understand that men’s failure to come to grips with reality and their verbally and physically violent reactions to women’s assertions of their own humanity mean that men are unfit for membership in civilized society? Surely we don’t want to go there.

As valuable as I find the recent spate of female-supremacist tracts making their way around my circle of political acquaintances (an example can be found here) in shifting the discursive framework away from the baseline assumption of male superiority, I’m not ready to release my grip on the hope that my dearly-held theory is correct: gender isn’t real, there’s no such thing as “female” or “male” behavior, social conditioning rather than biology dictates the structure of social hierarchies and ensures the perpetuation of male supremacy. But lately it’s REAL hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that there is just something wrong  with men.

You see, though I’ve been absent from the ol’ blogosphere, I haven’t managed to avoid learning of the more egregious instances of recent local and international male behavior.

In the space of the past week or so, a 40-year-old man in Yemen married an eight-year-old child against her will and then raped her to death on their “wedding night;” a man in India raped a four-year-old on a bus; as many as FIFTY men in Lahore, Pakistan raped a five-year-old girl and left her in the hospital for going on six days now; and a UN study emerged that claims that one in four men in the Asia-Pacific region admits to having raped a woman or child (and lord knows how many of them have done so but would not admit to it). Forty percent of those who admit having raped claim to have done so because they “wanted to punish the victim.” Half expressed no remorse. I could go on.

But lest we fall into the trap of exoticizing sexual abuse — i.e. allowing the men in our midst to deflect attention from their own behavior by invoking the caricatured image of the depraved “Oriental” savage who sexually enslaves his women as a foil to the purported relatively gentlemanly deportment of the Western male* — let us have a look at what men have been up to closer to home. A man in Raleigh, North Carolina raped a twelve-year-old girl the other day. A New Jersey man raped a ten-year-old girl several times over the course of the last few months, threatening to murder her family if she told anyone what he had done to her. A new report indicates that the number of women in the US Navy who have been raped by men in the US Navy has increased by 50 percent in the past year. At least ten boys cheered as one of their friends recently raped a woman in Wilmington, Delaware and injured another woman with a knife. I could go on.

In recent weeks, a teacher in Laredo was busted for spreading child pornography, an Air Force master sergeant in Maryland was arrested for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old girl and a six-month-old BABY in the making of child porn, a school photographer in Florida (Florida — of course) was charged with raping a fifteen-year-old “escort” and distributing child pornography, a Virginia elementary school art teacher was arrested for possessing and distributing child pornography. I could go on.

George Zimmerman, high on impunity (which he apparently still enjoys), recently threatened his wife and her father, claiming to have a weapon. Shellie Zimmerman, after the incident, stated through her lawyer that she would like to “end her marriage with a whimper and not a bang,” likely a reference to the fact that domestic homicide (read: the murder of women by men in their own homes) can be predicted based on the kinds of behavior Zimmerman has habitually exhibited. In Connecticut alone, at least six men have killed their wives or girlfriends since the beginning of this year, the most recent being Gregory Pawloski, a man who had spent ten years terrorizing his wife before he eventually shot her. A man in San Jose, California stabbed his female partner to death last weekend. A man in Granite Hills, Minnesota shot his girlfriend to death a few days before that. I could go on.

Speaking of guns, has anyone other than me nearly lost count of the mass murders that men have committed in recent memory? In case you were wondering, the average in the US has been one mass murder for every two weeks since 2006, and men have committed mass murders claiming the lives of four or more victims TWENTY TIMES since the beginning of this year. A man shot and killed at least thirteen people just yesterday morning, for fuck’s sake. I could go on.

I’m not digging very deep here. These are cases that made the news within the last few weeks. A few other things made the news recently. “Bestiality brothels” are all the rage these days in Germany (Germany — of course), where raping animals is now being described as a “lifestyle choice” by the men who frequent them. There is — I swear to god — an organization in Germany called ZETA that plans to protect men’s “right” to rape animals should the Bundesrepublik choose to outlaw doing so.  In related news, a man in Shropshire, Great Britain made a video of himself having sex with a horse and two dogs. The night before his court hearing on bestiality charges, he was looking for work online as a stablehand. An elderly man in Australia recently shoved a fork handle four inches into his urethra for “autoerotic” purposes. I could go on.

What in the hell is the matter with these people? I mean, really.

Clearly, we have a problem. MRAs and male supremacy apologists seem fond of the pseudo-sciences of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology as explanations for sociopathic male behavior. I’ll admit that it’s tempting to simply acquiesce and grant that they’re correct: men are simply constitutionally unsuited to civilized society.  Few men are prepared to eschew aggression in the face of challenges to their sense of entitlement. Few are capable of allowing anything to stand in the way of their sexual urges, no matter what the consequences (usually to others, naturally). Few seem willing to take anyone’s humanity other than their own into account. The number who are capable of recognizing — let alone remedying — the existence of male privilege and its daily social manifestations is downright infinitesimal. Could it be possible that men are just fucked?

Maybe I’m less of a misandrist than the average MRA, because I’m still not ready to give up on the possibility that men can behave like decent human beings. Men aren’t biologically destined to become rapists, they’re not hardwired to be destructive perverts, they don’t have to derive their lifeforce from the suffering of women, children, and other men. Men aren’t all ineluctably doomed to witlessly wander the Earth, oblivious to the effects of their behavior on others’ lives and on the planet. When they do so, it’s a choice. It’s a choice that appears predetermined, but it’s a choice.

The choice men face in their everyday lives is whether to participate in the cult of masculinity in the face of evidence that to do so is destructive. Each of the examples above of sociopathic male behavior began in a moment in which a man had to choose between sating his own (however warped) desires and behaving like a civilized member of society. In all but one case (ol’ fork-dick), the key personality trait these men seem to be missing is empathy. It’s quite likely that empathy inheres in all human beings and is beaten out of little boys (while society encourages women to exercise empathy to the ouster of consideration of their own needs). These men were probably all aware that to fulfill their own desires would cause negative consequences for the people they used, damaged, or killed in the process, but that awareness was not enough to limit their behavior because it was purely abstract, unattached to a feeling that could approach the intensity of the emotions or desires that catalyzed their actions. In other words, they lack a well-developed sense of empathy.

Abandoning ingrained behaviors and the social benefits that derive from them makes life difficult for men in the current milieu, but it’s probably a lot easier than confronting the fallout of the continued effects of masculinity on the world will be. The question remains, however, whether it will be possible — before it’s simply too late — to force men to not only realize that aggressive masculinity is the root of war, environmental degradation, and the destruction of women’s and children’s lives and bodies the world over, but to also take on the task of reclaiming a sense of empathy and exercising it.

(I should really change the name of the series to “Why I Hate Masculinity,” but MRAs really seem to like the current title.)

* See Philippa Levine, Gender and Empire.

An Open Letter to Bang-on Custom T-Shirts

Dear Head Canadian T-shirt Bro (or, President and/or CEO of Bang-on Custom T-Shirts Ltd.) Craig Doyle,

I’m not sure that I expect much from people who are making novelty/faux-vintage t-shirts in 2012, but I felt compelled to write after a recent visit to your Atlanta, Georgia outlet in the carnival of ill-conceived attempts at rebellion known as the Little Five Points neighborhood. While perusing the otherwise banal and innocuous bits of disjointed pop culture detritus that make up the bulk of your t-shirt designs, I found myself facing the back wall of the store, where my eyes came to rest upon a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I choked Linda Lovelace” in a VH-1-attempts-a-70s-look font.

While I can probably follow the train of thought that deposited your designers into the trough of depraved stupidity from which they dispatched this particular design, I wonder if you or your management team have done likewise. If not, you’re too stupid to run a company. If so, you’re too big of an asshole.

Let me elaborate. It’s likely (nay, it’s nearly impossible that it’s otherwise) that the dude who brought this sartorial satori to the world was just some thoughtless dick who doesn’t think much one way or the other about the porn industry and its effects on women. He’s probably heard of (or seen — retro porn to match one’s retro camera) Deep Throat, is familiar with the subject matter, and figured he’d stumbled upon a way to make an “I have a big dick” t-shirt clever and/or funny. While that’s a worthy pursuit, he’d have been far better off going with one that said “I have a big dick.” Instead, he submitted — and your company produced — a t-shirt that says, “To me, women’s bodies are just dick-measuring instruments in a never-ending contest between supposedly heterosexual men.”

Your design dude (one would hope) was probably not aware that Linda Lovelace was coerced into participating in the production of Deep Throat and several other works of pornography — including a bestiality film — and that Chuck Traynor, her “manager” and husband, beat her, raped her, allowed other men to gang rape her, kept her prisoner, and threatened her life with deadly weapons on several occasions. Whoops! Making a dick joke at the expense of a brutalized woman is a faux-pas all the way, dude.

As embarrassed as you ought to be by this bit of egregiously obtuse insensitivity, it’s only half of the problem. Let’s say — as might most dudes who are invested in believing that women enjoy being sexually abused so half-wit men like those who design your t-shirts can jack off more efficiently — that Lovelace lied about having been raped and actually participated in the making of Deep Throat willingly (despite never having received any compensation for her participation). Deep Throat is a movie about a woman whose clitoris is located in her esophagus, and who therefore seeks out opportunities to fellate men, inserting their penises down her throat to a point that would make anyone on Earth choke and likely puke. Quick, find me a real, live woman with a clitoris in her throat, or even one who reaches orgasm via deep-throating penises. Not one who is paid to pretend so, but an actual woman who has a clitoris in her throat or enjoys the sensation of impending organ damage. If you find the former, I’ll give you a million dollars. If you find the latter, I’ll be shocked, and I’ll show you a woman who has been so psychologically traumatized by men and the porn industry that her body no longer heeds its own instincts. No man believes that such a woman exists. Ergo, men who are excited by the concept or actualization of deep-throating find it arousing despite (or because of) the fact that they know it causes pain and instinctive fear.

Linda Lovelace — even though you’ve probably seen her blow someone on film — was a human being. I know that this is a difficult concept for porn users to grasp, but she had emotions, she had nerve endings that detected pain and bodily damage, she had an esophagus that existed to protect her digestive system from intrusion. Women’s bodies do not exist to be used and abused by men, even if men are willing to pay a lot of money for the privilege. No one wants to be choked, injured, or gagged for the sake of assuaging some narcissistic dunce’s penis anxiety, nor does the absence of a gag reflex indicate that a particular woman was created by the cosmos as a dick receptacle.

The lack of consideration for women’s humanity evinced in a t-shirt that reads “I choked Linda Lovelace” would be shocking if it weren’t so ubiquitous. That we have been so desensitized to the sexual abuse of women by the porn industry and by societal misogyny that people continue to shop at a store that sells a shirt that basically says my human dignity and bodily integrity are less important than the size of your dick ought to worry you enough to make you question your participation in the perpetuation of that idea. If that’s too much to ask, then at least stick to designs with less room for interpretation. Say, “Fuck Art Let’s Dance!” for example. It’s safer that way.

Until then, I’ll encourage as many people as I can to boycott your stores.

Sincerely,

ND

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Just the Tip

A few weeks ago, while wondering whether the avalanche of uterus-related GOP bullshit might just be an elaborate ruse by a few anti-Mormon Evangelical Republicans to ensure Romney doesn’t win the presidency and force us all to start calling him Heavenly Father, I overheard a few bros at the adjacent table at the coffee joint regaling each other with tales of their sexual exploits. One bro, somewhat jocularly ribbing the other for his lack of manipulative mojo, asked the other, “Dude, don’t you know the ‘just the tip’ trick?” It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a “just the tip” “joke” this month. It’s become a ubiquitous meme in contemporary dude media to the point that urban Comedy Central intellectuals have begun to use it as a parody of the frat scene that they share everything but a sense of irony with but somehow still disdain.

That such a “joke” can reach the level of saturation that it has ought to indicate to the public that now isn’t the time to pare down our already gruesomely uncomprehensive definition of rape.

In case you live under a magical rock that shields you from rape culture, the “just the tip trick” refers to a dude pressuring someone into intercourse by striking a bargain in which he will purportedly insert “just the tip” into whatever orifice into which he’s seeking entry. No one has ever tried out the “just the tip” strategy on me, but as a heterosexual female over the age of fifteen, I’ve been privy to various other forms of male sexual deal-making and they’ve never turned out well for me (or any of the other women I’ve discussed this topic with). The reason for this is that there is usually a fundamental difference in the motives of the parties negotiating booty treaties, or it wouldn’t occur in the first place.

When one partner doesn’t want to be penetrated and the other refuses to simply accept that reality and fuck off, rape culture shows its smug, smirking face. Any bargain entered into in such a scenario constitutes an unrequited concession on the part of the penetrated made in order to get the penetrator to leave her (or him) alone. The penetrator, on the other hand, seeks to forge these bargains in the hopes that, once penetration has occurred, he can just continue on to do whatever he wanted to do before he was refused entry in the first place, following the logic of rape culture that assures us all that once consent to penetration has been given (or, once the penetrated has been worn down enough), even if the penetrated has only consented to “just the tip,” rape becomes an ontological impossibility.

And no dude in the history of the entire world, after having struck a “just the tip” deal, has ever held to his side of the bargain. Which is why it is imperative that we not only refuse to allow men of any political stripe to define rape and to usurp our emperorship over our own bodies, but that we step up and do the defining ourselves. “Just the tip” is a form of rape. “Just for a second” is a form of rape. “You have to carry a fetus you don’t want to carry” might even be called a form of rape.

If I have to memorize the name of one more smarmy, bank-owned suit rack who can’t tell the difference between a Penis Intake/Baby Delivery Module™ and a human being, I’ll run out of time for devising satirical Guy Fieri-isms (“Up next on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the bacon pastrami dog at this joint in Annapolis will make you say, ‘Oh, snap-olis!'”). Thus, I’ll henceforth be referring to all men with opinions on my right to bodily sovereignty as Ryan Aiken.

Ryan Aiken and Ryan Aiken, likely preparing to pen new legislation on how women ought to pee

Feminist bloggers and activists have, over the course of the development of this new brand of lunacy that appears to “outpace parody,”* done a lovely (and often hilarious) job of calling to light just how comically incorrect these men’s proclamations about female anatomy and sexual experience are. But digging below the extreme-right GOP folderol unearths some basic cultural assumptions that just aren’t that funny.

Reading this piece  by Lissa Harris on her experience as a rape victim at The Nation a few weeks ago got me to thinking. I’ve been a little bewildered by my own lack of interest in Rapeapalooza, at least when I guiltily compare my own silence to the enraged repudiations of Ryan Aiken’s statements by other feminist bloggers and various political commentators. At least, that is, until I read this bit in Harris’s post:

Being myself a rapee, and also an empirically minded sort of person, I find myself wondering what would have been different about my life so far if I’d grown up under Todd Akin Law. And, being fully committed to empiricism even when it conflicts with dearly held personal beliefs, I have to confess: Not much.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t plan to sit around smoking weed and watching Through the Wormhole while a horde of Ryan Aikens legislates women back to the nineteenth century. But I, like Lissa Harris, don’t see a huge difference between the way the world works today and the way Ryan Aiken would like it to operate, at least with regard to sexual assault (abortion, of course, is another matter). (I suppose my lack of rage at reading and listening to arrogant, presumptuous quotes from smug phallocrats who are at best indifferent to the effect rape has on the individual woman or girl and on women and girls as a whole might be a symptom of rape fatigue, but I suspect I’ve been suffering from it for far longer than a few months, and that it has something to do with the paucity of posts around here. If the Kübler-Ross model is correct, then I’d say I’ve passed through the denial and anger phases and entered the acceptance phase in grieving the loss of the idea that men give a shit about women.)

There’s no real way to know whether Ryan Aiken even cares one way or the other about fetuses. He may have just decided to get on board with the GOP because he figured he’d have an easier time keeping his story straight if he went to work for the party that openly admits its absolute allegiance to big business and finance rather than the one that pretends otherwise. But it doesn’t really matter either way.  What matters is that some very large, very proximate, very important dots be connected.

In a culture saturated with misogynistic pornography, in a society in which “just the tip” describes the average male attitude toward women’s sexual autonomy, we ought to quit pretending Ryan Aiken’s ideas are all that bizarre. For Ryan Aiken, narrowly defining rape as “forcible vaginal copulation” and denying women the right to pursue their own reproductive decisions even when they have been robbed of the right to decide whether to conceive in the first place is the logical next step once male supremacists of all political leanings have just-the-tipped the public into the idea that abortion should be restricted at all and that rape is somehow less rapey when there is no visible physical trauma.

Rape culture exists with or without Ryan Aiken. Pornography, “just the tip,” and Ryan Aiken’s views on female anatomy and sexuality are all part and parcel of a rape culture in which women are seen not as fully autonomous human beings but as vessels and canvasses for male ambitions and desires. The Aikens might offer up some benzo-doped fish in a barrel, but liberal feminists are going to have to confront the fact that, underneath all of the borderline-satirical rhetoric, the Aikens’ conception of women hardly makes them outliers.

* See Ben Lerner, “Contest of Words: High school debate and the demise of public speech,” Harper’s Magazine, Oct. 2012.

If women were human, no one would read books about serial killers.

If people were capable of viewing women as human beings, their murders would not evoke prurient fascination and bolster book sales. Big “if,” I know.

After reading an excellent post at The F Word yesterday related to a serial killer whose existence I was theretofore unaware of, I made the foolish decision to google the Robert Pickton case to learn more about it. In the first page of results I came across a collection of salacious accounts of a man raping, killing, and dismembering prostituted women and feeding their body parts to the pigs on his farm (and, possibly, to other humans, as some accounts claim he mixed the dead women’s flesh with pork and served it to those who visited the farm).

The public just loves serial killers, and this case had all of the elements that make for the kind of serial killer story a misogynistic society can really get down with. First — and most telling — the victims were nearly all prostitutes, many of whom are said to have had drug problems. That element is mentioned early in every account of the case in order to assure the reader that he or she may proceed to revel in maximum prurience without any feelings of fear or guilt, because everyone knows that prostituted women with drug problems are about as worthless as anyone can get and deserved to be raped and murdered. With that concern out of the way, the authors of the stories delve into the gory details of what they choose to pretend was a bizarre aberration, treating the salivating reader to the fine points of how Pickton lured, trapped, brutalized, raped, and murdered up to 49 female human beings.

Each account that I read made mention of Pickton’s farm, the Piggy Palace, where he held parties that hundreds of people attended. They also mention Pickton’s 1997 arrest for the attempted murder of  a woman who escaped after Pickton handcuffed and stabbed her, and of the many times police visited Pickford’s farm on the suspicion that he was connected to a growing list of missing women. Despite those visits and several searches of the farm, Pickton managed to murder several more women before being caught in 2002. Each of the stories also mentioned that, though he had only been convicted of killing six women, police were aware that the number of women Pickton had murdered was likely 49. They were aware of that number because Pickton admitted to an undercover cop posing as a cell mate that he had killed 49 women and wished he could have had the chance to kill one more to make it an even 50.

It doesn’t take a philologist to understand the underlying messages glossed over in the reporting on this and other serial killer cases. Pickton felt comfortable enough to admit to a near stranger that he had killed 49 human beings, which means two things. First, he had to have disclosed his activities to several people with whom he had closer relationships prior to having been caught, and none of those people came forward. Second, he was so secure in the knowledge that other men hate women as much as he does that he didn’t expect his new “cell mate” to blink when he admitted to 43 murders he had not yet been charged with. Then there is the fact that scores of bands played and hundreds of men partied at Pickton’s farm, many of whom recalled later having witnessed violent scenes involving prostituted women and deeming the place creepy. One dude who frequented the farm reported to police that there were purses and women’s IDs all over the place, but that information resulted in a search that — either because Pickton was coincidentally slightly less secure and careless in his assumption that everyone would overlook his murdering prostituted women on that day or because the police did a half-assed job (likely both) — turned up nothing that would put a stop to Pickton’s activities. In short, the hundreds of men who had the chance to didn’t care enough about prostituted women to bother putting forth a smidgen of effort to prevent them from being raped and murdered.

There are marathons of biographies of serial killers on television nearly constantly, and books written about serial killers perennially occupy the upper reaches of bestseller lists. People revel in serial killer stories because serial killers generally tend to kill women, and the culture is so desensitized to the murder of women that it can be taken as pure entertainment, especially when those women are prostitutes. Prostitutes, in the fictional account of their existence provided by libertarian, individualistic, boot-strap ideology, became prostitutes out of some moral failing of their own, and thus deserve far less sympathy and police resources than other women (whose murders are still entertaining, though slightly scarier — to women).

Serial killers take revenge on women on behalf of misogynistic society for rejecting men and for straying outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and they scare other women back into line by doing so. Serial killers punish prostitutes for being prostitutes — despite the fact that their being prostituted in the first place is already usually punishment for their having been born poor or having been victims of abuse — and everyone but prostitutes and feminists seems to find that acceptable. Societal obsession with men who compulsively murder women and the fact that no one seems all that interested in the thoughts of men who routinely shoot other men indicate that the fascination comes not from the purportedly bizarre landscape of serial killers’ psyches, but from the fact that they are murdering women. What is interesting about serial killers and the cultural enthrallment with them is not how aberrant their psychology is, but how banal and pedestrian their hatred of women is. An obsession with serial killers might go really well with the general thoughtless consumption of macabre bullshit like Norwegian death metal and horror movies, but it does not indicate anything about the obsessor other than that he has mistakenly come to believe that men who sexualize violence by murdering women are doing anything but reflecting the logical conclusion of mainstream societal misogyny.