You’ve probably heard about the tragedy that happened this past weekend. And you’ve probably heard at least some bites of the conversation surrounding its aftermath. I don’t think I can possibly say anything new. But I have to. I actually need to say something, because this conversation intersects with so many things that are very dear to me. So be it repetition or no, I’m going to get it out.
First, the flagship issue: This. Is. About. Misogyny.
To go ahead and get it out of the way, let me just shut down anyone who wants to make the “He never said he was afraid of women! Misogyny = fear of women!” Why is this even happening? Okay. Are we back on the same page now? Good. I think it actually gets more ludicrous from here, which is pretty terrifying. You don’t need to argue that it’s not just about misogyny because the staggeringly large total of no one has made that claim. If you want to participate, you’re going to have to stop chasing the laser pointer and focus on something real.
No, it doesn’t change anything about the tragedy’s misogynistic roots that of the six lives taken, four were men. Things are connected in really subtle ways sometimes. I’ve first hand seen changes in detector performance that correlated very strongly with the duty cycle on the building air conditioner. Even if it’s a stretch, you could say something meaningful regarding the musical influence of The Beatles on One Direction, even if you have to make it by way of synthpop and new-wave. Elliot Rodgers left nearly 140 pages describing why he did what he did, along with videos and a trail of forum posts, and it leaves very little ambiguity. When his original plans became derailed that changed nothing about the thoughts and ideas that set events in motion beforehand.
This didn’t “just happen” because “he was crazy”.
If your next move is the He Just Cray-Cray Gambit, I’ll go ahead and cut you off there as well. Mentally ill folk are not inherently predisposed to violence. Again, there’s no impermeable membrane separating the seething mass of our culture from the minds of us living eyeball deep in it. Here are some facts about mental illness. Also, remember that the mentally ill are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
Even if we shove aside reality for a second and pretend like Rodger’s mental health matters, someone is going to pull out their armchair psychoanalyst licence claiming carte blanche because the news reported that some attorney said he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and was seeing a therapist. I cannot be polite about this, so here goes: Those network news soundbites don’t entitle you to shit, and you’re an awful human being if you think they do.
Which is not to say that I don’t think mental health care should have no part in this conversation, but we’ll all be best served by talking about stigma and removing the cultural forces that discourage people from looking for help when they feel like they need it. Mental health care should be a resource accessible to any and all without judgement. Maybe more men would look to it if it weren’t for the toxic cultural pressure to be independently strong Manly Men, instead of places like the ones described in this Queereka article.
EDITED TO ADD: This Isn’t A Fringe Thing
A critical point I initially neglected to duly illuminate is that this isn’t a fringe issue. Feeling a sense of entitlement over women’s bodies isn’t something unusual, only seen in a few corner case men. It’s rampant and it’s abundant. Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels points out that there’s an outpouring of “ostensibly reasonable people” engaged in active denial that misogyny is at work here. And if you go through the other recent posts you will see plenty more relevant posts with lots of other snapshots demonstrating how widespread this all really is.
A friend on social media, highlighting the ubiquity of the sexist attitudes, linked this NPR article on the snap-chat guy. If the article isn’t enough, the current comments (because I apparently hate myself today) contain this “gem”, which accurately points out the incredible frequency of these misogynistic tendencies but then in the same breath uses their abundance to excuse them. I can understand how one might be able to tune out this kind of thing. If you don’t feel the direct impact you get desensitized to it and stop noticing or caring. And that’s the fucking problem.
I’m worked up right now, and I have been for the better part of a day now, but if everything were right and proper, I’d be this worked up 24/7. Well, if everything were really right and proper in the world, this would not be a conversation we would even be having, but I think my meaning is clear. I get the luxury of not having to deal what, yes, all women have to live with every day. I can be blind to it. My friends can be blind to it. You can be blind to it.
AS YOU WERE…
Nerd Culture (And Also Back To That Misogyny Thing)
Now I ruin any possibility for a coherent outline and plunge headfirst into the stream of consciousness. Misogyny isn’t an issue that impacts me directly. And I don’t care about it because I have a wife and a mother and a best friend and a (hypothetical) sister. I care because women are people just like me. And every person deserves the same assumption of bodily autonomy that I’ve lived with my entire life by default. No one has ever, to the best of my knowledge, felt entitled to any extension of my physical being and the thought of that happening fills me with sick, bile-like bad feelings.
Being a nerd should be about love. The greater amorphous blob of nerd culture has an unfortunately misogynistic streak full of gatekeepers mostly set on preserving a kind of Boy’s Club. I love science, and books, and board games, and video games, and comics (and even though my collection consists of almost entirely Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Gale Simone, some poorly translated Chinese Wuxia comics, and Marjane Satrapi [and, with all due respect, fuck you if you say she doesn’t count] you can’t tell me I don’t). And emacs, because Ctrl-space is the best keyboard shortcut ever and it gives me a little happy feeling every time I get to use it.
Somehow, the amorphous cultural glob has decided that a space that should be about anyone and everyone sharing John-Green-Nerd-Love should be cordoned off from a huge crowd of potential participants. Not only that but, as Arthur Chu discusses in his article Your Princess Is in Another Castle, the amorphous glob also tells those dwelling within it that they are entitled to access to some of the very same people on the other side of that inane guardrail. So somehow, in some sort of pretzel logic, women aren’t allowed to like video games, but video gamers are entitled to access to women? I don’t even.
Which brings me to my kind-of-a-point (I guess?). There is a difference between John-Green-Nerd-Love and the kind of healthy love felt between people. You, me, and everyone is entitled to as much as we care for of the former. The latter is something that takes place between two subjects, not one subject and one object. It’s a different thing. On one hand you have Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, on the other you have another human being. Somehow, there continues to be some confusion between these two categories, I think, and it’s really really gross.
The contingent of nerd culture that’s currently engaged in defensive posturing over attempts to bring a focus on misogyny into the conversation like #YesAllWomen fill me with a frustration I haven’t felt since the crap-splosion over Feminist Frequency. Nerd Culture is important to me. I want it to be healthy and I want it to be accessible. That’s my selfish stake in this. More importantly, though, I want it to be recognized universally that all people, regardless of what regular expression you’re matching against, are autonomous entities and no one else gets to dictate what they can do and who or what they can love.