I’ve been reluctant to comment on the horrifying mass shooting in Santa Barbara over Memorial Day weekend, as there is certainly nothing I – nor anyone else – can say to make sense of this tragedy. Yet on Friday I was a panelist on PBS’s To The Contrary, where I had to discuss the incident, and I thought it was appropriate to expand on the discussion here.
There has been no shortage of writers who have felt obliged to share their opinion about this awful event. But this deluge of commentary immediately in the wake of the murders is not only grotesque and self-involved, but also threatens the health of our society.
At the very least we ought to be skeptical of anyone who tries to offer insight – much of which has led to absurd conclusions like blaming actor Seth Rogen for this atrocity. But really we ought to be much angrier – and much more forthright – about those who have tried to extrapolate something larger about American culture, gender relations, or sexual violence from this horrible incident.
On To the Contrary we discussed Jackson Katz’s TED talk in which he argues that we can’t just blame these shootings on mental illness – that this kind of violent behavior is tied to a fundamentally flawed conception of manhood in American society. Katz’s thesis isn’t entirely unreasonable – it’s true that men have committed all of these mass shootings – although I question the idea that we ought to seek out the “gender subtext” of gun culture, of discussions about “liberty,” and the like.
More concerning was the #YesAllWomen social media campaign, sparked by the notion that Elliott Rodger was a terrible misogynist, that spread like wildfire around the globe. At the heart of the Twitter campaign is the notion that American women regularly suffer a wide range of sexual abuse from offensive comments to rape. Certainly there are terrible men who wish to harm women, but I’m loathe to act as if all women are victims in waiting.
But this campaign perfectly encapsulates contemporary “feminism,” which regularly pits men and women against one another, understands women’s success to come at the expense of men’s, and views women as winning only when men are losing. Liberal women’s groups – and unfortunately some “libertarian feminists” as well — have been beating this victim drum for some time now; but in recent months they have created the impression that there is a rampant “rape culture” on college campuses and elsewhere in society, in which men regularly and consistently prey on women.
So if it’s time to make a comment about the California murders here’s what I take away from it. The modern feminist movement today was in “need” of a horrible tragedy like the Elliott Rodger killings. They may pretend to want to see women as agents, but the reality is they need women to remain victims in order to justify their raison d’etre. And this unspeakable event does just that.
This is not meant to undermine the fear that all of us certainly feel from having witnessed too many Columbine-style shootings over the past decade. How could one not want to find an answer – a solution – to these mindless killings?
Sadly, I suspect there is little we can take away from this tragedy; but to create an entire narrative about gender relations in America based on the actions of a single, disturbed man is truly insidious.