Not all misogynists

It is apparently impossible to discuss even the most commonplace sexism without being reminded that “not all men” are like that. Which seems like a fairly poor response, given that those exceptions, however many they may be – even if they are the majority of men – have not yet managed to end the wage gap, institute equality in housework and caring duties, or prevent two women a week in the UK from being murdered by current or former partners. Not all men are patriarchy incarnate. Not enough men are actively trying to undo the harms of patriarchy for the exceptions to be any kind of riposte to the structural analysis of feminism.

But when it comes to an incident as extreme as Elliot Rodger’s spree-killing of six people in a misogynistic rage at his inability to possess a woman (and he wished to possess, not to love or be loved), the “not all men” reply seems even more redundant than usual. Of course “not all men” are multiple murderers. That would be, at the very least, a numerical impossibility. What it seems to me that people are actually saying in the rush for cavilling nuance about Rodger is: not all misogynists. And again, this is true. Rodger’s actions place him on the far edge of the continuum of hatred for women. He shares a cultural nook with Peter Sutcliffe, the Boston Strangler and Fred West.

The mass killing is an aberration, but the hatred of women is normal – not universal, but tolerated within the general run of human relations. I’ve met men who hate women. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve known socially; several were treated as oddballs or eccentrics to be indulged, but none were regarded as beyond the pale of society. Often, I would coach myself to repress that prickle of fear at the back of my neck that comes from talking to someone who looks at you with obliterating inhumanity, tell myself I was being irrational. Always, I have been repaid for that forbearance with some incident that confirmed my suspicions. I am not saying my spidey sense for misogyny is infallible, just that it’s given me no false positives so far.

Not all misogynists kill several people: some kill just one woman, generally the one they live with. Not all kill: some rape, or commit sexual assaults. Some emotionally terrorise and control their partners. Some bully female colleagues. Some make abusive phone calls and threats to women they deem non-compliant. And all misogyny is part of the mass threat that makes the world less safe for women, and every single person in the world is implicated in misogyny whatever their sex, because the belief that women are a subclass of inferior human is foundational to and endemic within our society.

Take this as a final statement: I know completely that not all misogynists are spree killers. It is self-evident that misogyny is a necessary but not sufficient condition for cases like this to occur, and that sufficiency must include the availability of weapons (a hammer will do) and the existence of particular psychological states. This is obvious. In fact, it is so obvious that I wonder why anyone would think it in any way complicates our understanding of Rodger’s motivation, because none of it alters the fact that misogyny exists and causes violence.

Not all misogynists kill. But all misogyny creates the conditions in which women are killed, raped and abused, and in which women fear being killed, raped or abused. This is not complicated. It is simple, it is deadly, and it is the reason feminism is necessary.

17 thoughts on “Not all misogynists

  1. Couldn’t agree more, and I think you’ve nailed something that I’ve been really struggling to put properly into words. I waded into the whole ‘not all’ etc issue, again around the recent spree, because I was pretty shocked at just how often it came up. My initial reaction was “do you genuinely think that is what anyone is asserting? That all men are serial killers?” because but it feels like a lot of this stems from (sometimes genuine, often wilful) misunderstanding. Of course you’re right and of course – to a certain extent – what you’re saying should be clear to anyone. That it isn’t clear to everyone pretty much proves your point, I think.

    Also – ‘not all men are patriarchy incarnate’ – good point. I think when I’ve wandered into arguments like this before I’ve been met with a fair amount of outrage on the part of men who think that ‘patriarchy’ equals ‘what they as an individual believe and consciously do.’ I think one of the things feminism is doing well (and needs to be doing more of at the moment) is elucidating exactly what patriarchy is, and why it damages all of us. I’m not saying ‘we need to explain how it affects men’ as if that’s the most important thing we can ever do, but I think there’s a huge knowledge gap when it comes to the positive effects feminism has had on men (particularly in the last 30 years or so) and why – as you say at the beginning – men need to be actively working to undo the harms of patriarchy too.

    Sorry, I probably haven’t put that very well at all. But basically: excellent blog, thank you =)

  2. ‘Not enough men are actively trying to undo the harms of patriarchy,,,’ excellent point – if there are all these super good men out there let them prove it with their actions and their words

  3. I am totally nitpicking here, and I apologise in advance. “He shares a cultural nook with Peter Sutcliffe, the Boston Strangler and Fred West.” No. These are serial killers: Rodger, a spree killer. No question that they exhibited extreme misogyny (I might query your inculsion of de Salvo – so many others to choice from, after all – as his actual guilt is questionable) but there are so many terms being already thrown around inconsequentially concerning Rodger… repressed homosexual, mentally ill, ad nauseum… and so many people weighing in with incorrect information and ill-formed opinion, I feel that it’s important to get the facts right. Sorry. Have at me.

  4. I’m aware of the difference between a spree killer and a serial killer. But I am talking about the scale and extremity of the violence, not the time frame it takes place over. So I appreciate the distinction, but I didn’t consider it germane.

  5. (apology to be off topic, comments in the new statesman closed) – these words blow my mind – Everything I learned under the May Pole, I unlearned through the kindness of feminists – you write with grace and we are so lucky to have your important work – thank you !!

  6. “Not all men are like that” (NAMALT) not only means nothing to me as a survivor of a lifetime of men’s violence, but it does nothing to ensure my safety in the future. It is denial, which I interpret as men setting up women (often a particular woman in their surroundings) for more incidents of abuse. I’m highly suspicious of anyone who uses any variation of “NAMALT.”

    Even if you can accept the lie that only a small number of men commit violence against women (I cannot accept the lie because I know the truth all too well), this means nothing to all of us who are the potential victims.

    Men’s problem is getting bigger. What are they going to do? Are they going to do something about their violence or keep on raping and murdering us? That’s what any men who seriously see themselves as not being part of the problem should be trying to figure out right now. Anything less than that is treachery.

  7. Eve Ensler once said, at a conference I attended: “What greater tragedy is there than for a man to be separated from his own heart.” Misogyny kills, and that should be awful enough. But it does so much more. It is at the root of men’s choices to harm women they know and women they don’t know. It is at the root of inequality in every area of our social, political, economic and religious lives. Rodger’s didn’t care what women, just any or all of them. In Lahore, Pakistan this morning, a father, two brothers and a cousin beat a young woman to death because she chose to be married without permission. Imagine. This woman’s choice to love whom she wanted motivated the men in her lives who were supposed to love her to kill her. In this case, these men cared deeply about whom they hated and whom they killed.

    In my work, I see so many men (and boys) incapable of empathy, intent on exercising power and control in their lives over women, and having so-called relationships with women that have nothing to do with love and everything to do with ownership. I have talked with men who care about and take care of their cars way better than their partners.

    The attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that boys learn all too often grow up into an adult misogyny that threatens every woman in uncountable ways.

  8. And one man every other week is murdered by his current or former partner. Is that evidence of misandry?

  9. Woman of the woods- what percentage of men do you think commit violence against men? And vice versa.

  10. Hi there. Thanks for posting this interesting article. I’m not trying to troll, just want to understand your world view a bit better. I’m sure you know that more men are murdered than women. Why do you think that is? i.e. if misogyny creates the conditions in which women are killed, what do you think creates the conditions in which men are killed (in greater numbers)?

  11. It’s obvious that severe psychiatric disorder was the foundation of Rodgers’ psychosis. The dismissal of this as if it’s just like being a bit depressed or having anxiety disorder seems quite prevalent among journalists commenting over the last few days. Borderline personality disorder and paranoid schizophrenia are not simply an additional backdrop to the story that we can choose to incorporate or leave out.

    Rodgers’s view of reality would have been totally distorted because of his condition: the ‘role’ he adopted as a misogynist gave him the language, delusions and grievances through which his psychosis found apparent ‘meaning’ and coherence (of a sort)

    He was ‘performing’ maleness, at a perceptible distance to it, his voice stilted, his writing theatrical and self-conscious. This is typical of a narcissistic disorder and of Asperger’s; the sufferer can only ‘impersonate’ social identity, there is an underlying depersonalisation.
    Misogyny itself is a sign of failed socialisation in a man: hatred of women is not the norm, even in a society that it still deeply sexist in many ways.

    But the misogyny and the psychiatric disorder don’t occupy an equal place like selections on a menu: the psychiatric disorder absolutely and comprehensively is the main factor here from which all other factors flow: his absent father who sells photos of naked women, the pressures of the Hollywood lifestyle, the Twitter age of self-celebrity and, yes, the anti PUA forums etc etc etc All are factors in a truly robust investigation of causes but none are relevant without understanding the all-encompassing distortion and horror of untreated psychosis.
    To dismiss the complete breakdown of identity that comes with acute psychosis as just another ‘excuse’ doesn’t help to further the serious feminist analysis that this terrible event deserves.

  12. Let’s do some replies:

    Scum (I do appreciate the openness about your lack of good faith demonstrated in your choice of name): the most recent homicide stats from the ONS are here.–2012-13/rpt—chapter-2—homicide.html?format=print

    “Women were far more likely than men to be killed by partners/ex-partners, and men were far more likely than women to be killed by friends/acquaintances.” The pattern of violence suggests that men kill the women they feel entitled too, and the men they feel present some kind of competition or threat. This supports the theory that cultural imagery and ideology of male possession of women gives rise to violence against women. Also notable: the figures from 2010-11:

    Homicide/manslaughter victims: 400 male, 180 female
    Homicide/manslaughter suspects: 197 male, 22 female
    31% of victims were female; 10% of suspects were female

    Even the most belligerently hostile denier of misogyny’s existence should accept in the face of this data that violence has a gender, its gender is male, and the less-muderous sec is disproportionately the victim of the more-murderous.

    Chris: your assertion that “no men are like that” during a discussion of one man who was exactly like that is admirably bald, but also stupid.

    Danno28: my opinion is that the construction of men as violent is necessary for the perpetuation of patriarchy and the control of women. If men stopped seeing women as subhuman, and if men stopped tolerating their own violence, more male lives than female would be saved. That saving demands a drastic reconstruction of the things we believe to be “proper” to men and women: it can only happen when men surrender their assumed right to dominate and possess women.

    Susannah: that is a lot of words to say you don’t understand what I mean by “misogyny is a necessary but not sufficient condition for cases like this to occur”. I didn’t use the word excuse. I also didn’t indulge in the kind of armchair diagnosis you did, preferring instead to analyse the relationship between Rodger’s statements and established cultural trends. I am not a psychiatric doctor, and I’m fairly certain that if you were one, your code of ethics would prevent you from making elaborate conclusions about a subject you’ve never met.

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