“I get it now. I don’t get it. I’ve been trying to say that I understand how you feel, but, I’ll never understand.”
Stan, South Park Episode 1101 “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson”
In many ways, it was inevitable. The shooting spree of Eliot Rodger was bound to happen some day to a young man surrounded by wealth and a sense of entitlement. The rambling screed he left behind made it clear that this was a flip-side to the ridiculous standards of beauty foisted onto women. Misogyny is a poison that affects everyone.
But the reaction to the shooting was not as inevitable – yet long overdue. The first wave of social media comments included some horrific cheers for the shooter, later met with cries that “Not all men” are like this. No, we aren’t, but that doesn’t matter. Somewhere, deep inside millions of women, a rage bubbled out because the point was being missed. All women have to deal with misogyny and fear that any man, any time, any where they are vulnerable might be a threat. Yes, all women.
The tweets filled the screen of twitter that Saturday when my kids came over. My daughter was a bit distracted and distraught but said nothing at first about what was bothering her. Finally, she broke down in tears and blurted out that some of her school mates on social media were saying awful things and sharing some of the comments left on Elliot Rodger’s YouTube pronouncement. It was horrible. There was nothing for a Dad to say.
All I could do was to steer her to the reaction that was just starting to boil in response. Women were speaking up, and not just the women we knew were active in the political fight for equality and fairness. All of them. Women I never knew were affected by violence related their own stories of fear of being raped or killed by men just like Rodger, and all had good reason to be afraid. The spectacle of this public event was more powerful than the endemic domestic violence that strikes thousands every day. The hashtag #YesAllWomen started to take over the conversation, and we men fell silent for a while.
I knew that violence against women was frightfully common. It wasn’t until it was made this plain that I could feel it, deep in my guts. It wasn’t until my daughter found strength enough in the sheer number to dry her tears and turn her fear into anger that I realized. Yes, all women.
No one comment left on twitter can possibly capture the moments when so many voices were raised, but one stood out for me. “Imagine a bowl of M&Ms. 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead. Eat a handful. Not all M&Ms are poison.” There was a coldness to that logic that cuts through the deep gut-check that men on social media were hit with that night. This wasn’t a pointless rant against men, this was a matter of survival. Women have to assume the worst. Yes, all women.
The three phases of reaction to this event had run their course in a way that might yet set the world alight. First there were the sick ones, the men who had been poisoned by misogyny themselves and expressed their support for the horrible actions. Then came the many more men who do their best but feared being labeled, yet again, by the behavior of the worst among us. Lastly, there was even larger chorus of women who made it clear that we all, men and women, have to deal with this and put a stop to it.
All of these phases were necessary to have the long overdue conversation. Women had to become angry enough to tell us what they have to deal with in plain, simple terms. It’s been unspoken for far too long. We will never be able to deal with this until it becomes obvious that we have to. It has finally become obvious. Women have to deal with far more than men will ever understand. Yes, all women.
The power of this moment has made many men like me shut up for a while, overwhelmed by the realization made so clear in front of us. That was good, there was a time when we had to listen. But after that comes a time to act.
Do you want to be a good guy, one who is not a threat to women? It takes a lot more than being passively kind. We have actively be respectful and supportive. We have to not accept sexist comments even when there are no women around. We have to get involved and stand between those men who make us all look bad and tell them to cut it the Hell out – even if that might mean we wind up getting our faces punched in. It’s worth it if for no other reason than women have been in that situation for far too long and made to feel far too alone in dealing with it. Yes, all women.
While it’s terrible that it took the murder of innocent people at the hands of a young man who was clearly mentally disturbed to get us to this point, we have to seize the moment. We cannot tolerate violent language and a sense of entitlement to a woman among men. Intimacy is something that has to be earned, not taken.
Men will probably never really “get it” because we don’t have to. What we can make sure we are not just not just apart from the problem but actively part of the solution. It starts with a lot of honesty about what is going on around us and what it means to us. This weekend we got a lot more openness about this situation than we’ve ever seen before. Let’s not pretend to understand until we’ve joined the fight, because doing something about it will take men and women working together. Yes, all of us.