(what follows is not an attempt to sympathize or excuse, and most certainly not intended to function as a minimization of the role all men play in structural societal misogyny but an attempt to explore the explicitly ideological misogyny that is flourishing in certain dank corners of the internet)
On Friday a 22-year-old man killed six people and wounded over a dozen more. He was found later with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The day before he posted an online YouTube video and a ‘manifesto’ both of which are a compendium of hate, misogyny, self-loathing and clear social issues, parroting the tropes and language of the so-called ‘Men’s Rights Movement.’ The reaction has ranged across a whole spectrum of responses in multiple attempts to dissect his actions and bring so much of our hidden cultural misogyny into conscious public discourse.
Over on Twitter I’ve been reading the hashtag #YesAllWomen for the past two days. It’s been a brutally depressing and enraging thing to scroll through, and the courage and righteous anger of the contributors has been something that has the potential to be genuinely transformative. a space for women to vent, rage, hurt and openly discuss so much of the ingrained and everyday hatred thrown their way that society claims should be invisible, ignored or just accepted.
For someone from a theoretical background the response is necessarily quite different – despite the temptation to immediately jump into action, we must pause. We must think.
To learn anything from the heinous crime in California we must first acknowledge what this is not. This is not an isolated incident. This is not excusable – the predictable minimizing response that this young man was mentally ill is, firstly, completely unsubstantiated and secondly serves only to further demonize those with any kind of mental health problem. This isn’t a nice guy acting out of some sense of offended dignity.
What this is is the logical end point of culturally ingrained and explicitly fostered ideological misogyny – what David Futrelle over at the excellent wehuntedthemammoth.com terms the ‘New Misogyny.’ Personally there is nothing new about this kind of misogyny but the internet has certainly allowed it to form around new and emergent online communities. Whilst the subtle and implicit traces of the broader societal misogyny are perhaps more difficult to map, the explicit misogyny of this latest crime against women can be traced to one source.
It’s time to talk about Men’s Rights Activists. Ignoring the fact that these so-called Activists spend their time doing no discernible activism, no time campaigning for rights and support for trans men, black men, poor men and incarcerated men – aside from using them as point in internet arguments – ignoring their colossal hypocrisy and self-involvement for better and more nuanced writers than I, it is worth talking about their responsibility in getting six people murdered.
The great French theorist Louis Althusser used the term interpellation to discuss how specific ideologies expressed through institutions and organisations constitute the nature of the individuals’ identity. Existing, as most of his generation do online the murderer from California was an active member of MRA websites, forums and a subscriber to several MRA Youtube channels – the modern institutions of our technological ideological expression.
These institutions and other authority figures in the “Men’s Rights Movement”, like Pick Up Artist and self-admitted rapist Roosh V and the detestable site run by violent fantasist Paul Elam explicitly position their audiences as victims of a wider, pernicious ideological control. The MRA is denied his own agency as a victim of feminism and encouraged to disregard the agency of anyone who happens to be female. Men such as that one who committed murder are spoken about in terms of alpha or beta – individual identity becomes subsumed to a state of oppression and thus identity becomes reflexively self proving. It becomes impossible to argue with the Men’s Right Activist as their ideology relies upon nothing external to itself for proof and justification. The other is systematically dehumanized – through presentations and through language all designed to make women not only people without their own agency but less than human. The world external to their ideological belief set becomes not only impossible to access, but impossible to conceive of.
So stripped of their own sense of self and constantly “hailed” by their online communities as victims of feminism, of society, of whatever circumstances they come from these men are formed into the extremists of sexual and gender politics. The murders frequent posts, videos and online manifesto all serve as both individual moments and part of the ongoing process of recognition of interaction with the ideology at hand – all reinforcing his identity as a “victim alpha”. It’s easy to laugh at the Men’s Rights Movement, but their ideology must be exposed and the process by which such dangerous ideas are so deeply ingrained into the identities of the vulnerable must be confronted.
And from there we must go further. Misogyny kills, and the next MRA murder must be forced further away than just a gun and a choice.