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.