Tag Archives: feminism

What Comes Next? A Guide for How to React to the Election

I should start off by saying I am not a political scientist or commentator or expert. I study and write about media and rhetoric will get back to that soon. But I also study gender, race, and culture and, thus, like most people, have been consumed by this election. In short, I have a lot of thoughts.

There have already been many articles written about what to do after the election, but they have been targeted at a narrow audience. Regardless of partisan affiliation, Americans need to come together now. It may sound clichéd, but it’s true. We are already more ideologically divided than ever before. Now, Americans have elected a man who more often than not uses divisive rhetoric rather than unific, empowering segments of the population who already have power while further disaffecting the marginalized.

No one wants to be made to feel they are complicit in someone else’s pain. While many, many Trump voters are not explicitly and overtly sexist, racist, xenophobic, or homophobic, they voted for a man who is. White people overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump. These votes are emblematic of a white supremacist system that privileges some lives over others. (I highly recommend you read this for a primer on whiteness.) It is time for white people to recognize what they have done. White liberals also need to reckon with this.

Below, I have listed some things that everyone can do following the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Unless we want the divide between Americans to grow further, it is time for all of us to talk and listen to each other, and treat each other as human beings.

If you voted for/supported Trump:

  • Talk to someone who is different than you. Many people are scared right now. Trump ran on a platform promising to ban Muslims, build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and repeal marriage equality, just to name a few of his platform issues. He has flip-flopped on many of these issues and it will remain to be seen what he will do in office. However, he has actively sought support from radicals and hate-mongerors like Alex Jones, and appointed Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist to his cabinet, not to mention David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Thus, it is easy to see why people may be afraid. Even if you personally do not feel this fear, and may even be excited, talk to someone who is not white/not straight/not Christian/not a natural-born citizen. Listen to them. Attempt to understand their fears and where they are coming from. What can you do as an individual to make these fears lesser? Can you talk to your fellow friends and family members who supported Trump about these fears?
  • Vary your information diet. Nonprofit, nonpartisan fact checkers have found that Donald Trump lies more often than he does not. Of course, virtually all politicians (and people), lie and bend the truth from time to time. But when comparing Trump to other politicians, he lies far more often. Read and listen to nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism to help parse through what Trump says. NPR and BBC are two well-established organizations that you can read, listen to, and watch. (Additionally, reading/listening to news sources outside of the States allows for objectivity on our politics.) Most states also have nonprofit/nonpartisan publications (for example, Oklahoma Watch or California Watch). ProPublica is also a good source for investigative journalism.

If you voted for/supported Clinton:

  • Don’t just wear a safety pin. Be a true advocate. By all means, wear what you want. But as Roxane Gay, along with several other people, got at on Twitter, the safety pin has logistical issues (how hard is it to find someone with a safety pin when you’re being harassed?) in addition to kind of being a cop-out. I tend to agree. It feels a bit like hashtag activism to me. Rather than wearing something, show your beliefs and values through your words and actions. If someone is being bullied or harassed, step in. Don’t be a safe space for people to come to. Push back against those who are making public spaces dangerous.
  • Support diverse and independent voices. The Trump campaign has spent a year and half attacking the media and sewing distrust in journalistic institutions. Liberals, too, blame the media for the rise of Trump. Yet, we will need them more then ever to hold Trump accountable. Subscribe to a newspaper (The Washington Post and The New York Times have been particularly excellent this year). Donate to your local NPR or PBS stations. Furthermore, as diverse voices are pushed to the margins, we need to support artists of color, female artists, LGBTQ artists, and more who will create vital and important counterculture under the Trump presidency.
  • Listen and talk to Trump supporters to the extent that you can. I said it once, I’ll say it again:  don’t block/unfollow/unfriend someone purely because of how they voted. If they are attacking you in the way that the alt-right does, protect yourself. But do not groom your newsfeed and timeline so that only people who think like you live in it. Now is the time to talk to people who voted for Trump. Ask them why. What do they think he will do as President? Communicate to them your hopes and fears. While some Trump supporters have engaged in reprehensible activity, many of them are average people who are concerned about the economy and ISIS. Connect with them on a human level. Work to bridge the divides that Trump won’t.
  • Support your favorite cause. Slate already compiled a great list of things you can do depending on what you care most about. Planned Parenthood and ACLU have seen spikes in donations after the election. Not everyone can afford to donate. Then you should volunteer your time. Those who can do both absolutely should.

If you voted for/supported Third Party candidates:

  • Find and support a strong candidate. There is a lot to be said for the argument that we need a strong third party in this country. This election may have shown more than any in recent history why. However, neither Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or even Evan McMullin were those candidates, for a variety of reasons. If you truly care about building a third party, find a strong candidate and support their campaign from the ground up.

If you didn’t vote/don’t care:

  • Engage. We are taught that talking about politics is rude. I used to think the same. But frankly, this is a way for the elite to disempower the public. Politics effects every aspect of our lives. If you care about the cost of gas, your health, whether your brother or sister may see combat, civil rights, or education, these are all issues we elect politicians to decide. If you don’t vote and engage in civil discourse, you have no control over what happens to you, your friends, or your family. That said, as someone who got a terrible education in civics and government, I felt stupid when people discussed politics and disengaged for that reason as well. But I finally started asking questions because I wanted to know. I did my own research. I started listening to podcasts and public radio. (I cannot recommend the NPR Politics Podcast enough.) Read. Discuss. Engage.

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments.

Molly

Obligatory Post About President-Elect Trump

Nausea. Heartburn. Migraine.

Those were my literal initial feelings as the electoral votes climbed higher for Trump Tuesday night. My brother-in-law voiced them first, asking for the Tums. I compulsively checked Five Thirty Eight and watched Clinton’s chance at the presidency sink lower and lower. Once I realized the inevitable, I felt sunken and low. I, of course, was devastated for Hillary. One of the most brilliant women to ever exist in this country, let alone serve it for thirty years, was defeated by a racist, sexist, homophobe who can’t keep his hands to himself.

I had a 7:30 am. flight to Philly with my sister for a conference. I didn’t want this to ruin my trip. So I went to bed before it was officially called and turned on Drunk History. (Incidentally, I highly recommend this show right now. It is more inspirational & patriotic than it seems, and incredibly funny. Perfect balm for the soul.) But I couldn’t stay off social media as much as I tried. I couldn’t sleep. I can’t turn off my brain most nights, but Tuesday night, my brain was cranked up to 11.

What would my mom think if she were here, a woman who fought for equality and education her whole life? How sick and degraded must President Obama feel, our first black president, to hand the president over to someone who doesn’t understand the Constitution. What world will my incredible niece and nephew grow uo in? Had I done enough? What could I do now to protect those who must feel so scared and terrified at losing their hard-won (and, for many, still not guaranteed) rights?

My sister was already spinning a positive. My brother valiantly tried to explain and defend my position to our dad who gleefully celebrated Hillary’s demise and Mike Pence’s “nice attitude.” Our mother taught us to always be optimistic and positive, to never stay down for long. Feel your feelings, then pick yourself up and do something about it. As previously written, I spent my undergraduate career working with my local community to protest rape culture. Why did I stop? Lack of resources and infrastructure. Frankly, I was also tired.

But now I am ready to go. I don’t know how or what but I will be organizing and doing it soon. We need to express our first amendment rights now more than ever before they are repressed and strangled. (If you are with me, let me know. I am with you.)

This is far from the darkest day in my life, and far from the darkest day in our country’s. This country was born on the backs of slaves and the blood of indigienous peoples. We have done worse and survived amd grown. I am scared and afraid and sad and know you are, too. But I believe in my fellow humans and I believe in our democracy. Now is not the time to let anger allow us to shut others out. Listen and talk. Dialogue and expression are our greatest tools right now.

In closing, I keep thinking about a broken flag. I am incredibly privileged to have attended President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. I remember watching him win in 2008 and feeling so incredibly proud of our country and inspired for the change and progress he promised. In Washington that January, it was freezing cold, but thousands of people filled the National Mall to watch history. Our country was proud. While not everyone is upset with the outcomes, and people were certainly upset with them in 2008, the feeling in our country is markedly different now. There are sharp lines in the sand marked by gender, race, and class. They have always been there, but Trump shone a brighter light. We have to work now to cross these lines and unite the country. It will be hard and messy, but it is fudamental and necessary.

They gave us little American flags to wave the day of the inauguration. I brought mine back with me, but it broke on the way home. i still have it. It sits on my bookshelf, hanging  together by a few splinters.

What a difference eight years can make.

Molly

What it Feels Like to be a Woman During the 2016 Presidential Campaign

Women make up 51% of the population but hold less than 20% of U.S. Congressional seats. It wasn’t until 1920 that white women earned the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1972 that women could get birth control without written consent from their husbands. It wasn’t until 2015 that all military combat roles were open to women. Women still earn less than men. Thus, for women, the political has always been deeply personal. Deny it as much as you want, but sex and gender matter, just like race, ethnicity, nationality, class, sexual orientation, and religion. During a historic presidential campaign with the first female presidential nominee from a major party and the most openly misogynistic and sexist presidential candidate ever, being a woman has once again become a political act.

This election has been weird to say the least. On one hand, it has been gratifying and vindicating to watch Hillary Clinton break through barriers despite unprecedented sexism and misogyny. (If you say her gender doesn’t matter, you’re wrong.) It is truly strange to see someone you can relate to in such a public platform. The fact that “mansplaining” and “manterruption” have become slang words people used to discuss the first presidential debate points to something nearly every woman is familiar with–the feeling of being shouted over, condescended to, and having to simply smile and wait your turn. Rarely is there a national conversation about this feeling, however.

Another common criticism of Hillary Clinton is her seemingly cold, robotic, calculated demeanor. If she doesn’t smile, it’s because she’s hateful. If she does, it’s smug. I realized after reading the reactions to the first debate that I have experienced this exact same double bind in my own life. I don’t know if I can say that I’ve truly related so much to someone in this type of position before. Many women are undoubtedly also experiencing this, and thus, having their feelings validated.

This is why representation matters. If you can’t see someone who looks like you in a role, you can’t imagine yourself doing it. I never thought a woman president would ever be possible until this year. I imagine it’s how many Black Americans felt during similar moments when President Obama ran in 2008 and 2012.

Then there’s the unrelenting storm of misogyny and sexism from Donald Trump. From the moment he announced his intention to run over a year ago, my position has been to ignore him as much as possible and thus deny him legitimacy. The xenophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and pure hatred from him aside, he lacks the basic knowledge of how our Constitution works. The fact that he can even be considered a viable candidate for our highest office is proof positive of White Straight Male Privilege.

Despite my attempts to ignore him, though, his words hurt me and millions of other Americans. Even when they are not directed at me (a woman), his beliefs on Muslims and Mexicans pain me. They make me ache for my friends and neighbors who must be living in fear from the violent rhetoric of this campaign. His words hurt because America was not founded on the belief of isolating a single group of people and banning them. The times we have done this have been the darkest in our history.

Trump’s comments about women really hit home for me, though. This latest news did not surprise me. The man we have come to know has never spoken about women in terms of anything but their sexual value. He famously speaks about his own daughters as though they are sexual conquests.

Nonetheless, this latest news was the tipping point for me. Reading the transcript of his words literally turned my stomach. I am not a survivor of sexual assault, but I am a staunch advocate for those who are. I spent three years of my undergraduate career working with my college and hometown community fighting against rape culture, the dehumanizing idea that women who are survivors of sexual assault and violence ask for it in anyway shape or form; the idea that women are nothing more than sexual objects made to please men. When someone with as much power and privilege as Donald Trump continually talks about women the way he does–what more proof do you need that rape culture is real, that misogyny is real, that sexism is real?

1 in 4 college women will be raped. I shouldn’t feel lucky that I escaped college without being a statistic. That is sick and wrong. I refuse to let our country’s values be synonymous with the worldview that women are less than human. We make up more than half of this country. It is time for us to stop being viewed as a minority. To casually speak about grabbing a woman’s vagina is an implicit endorsement of sexual assault and violence. 1 in 5 women have been raped. Too many women have experienced this exact action.

In short, this campaign has reminded me daily that I am inferior because of the parts I was born with. One of the most powerful and influential people in the country sees me for nothing less than my sexual capabilities. It adds up. It is tiring and wearing. Again, Trump has spoken about virtually every group of people in a disparaging manner, so I doubt I am alone. But I can only speak to my experience.

I write this not to tell you who to vote for. I, of course, have my opinions on this which are probably not hard to guess. I write this to implore you to continue to engage in a civil discourse and reevaluate the way you talk about yourself and your neighbors. I write this because empathy is deeply important and I fear it is quickly fading from our day-to-day interactions with each other. You don’t have to agree with, condone, or even understand another person to empathize and see them as fully human and treat them with respect.

Americans are more ideologically divided than ever before. I have seen too many people proudly unfriending each other and blocking individuals on Facebook and Twitter over who they are voting for in 30 days. This does not help. If we ever want our country to close this divide, we have to bridge that gap, value others’ viewpoints, and continue the conversation, not only with each other, but with ourselves.

In closing, a reminder of what makes America great:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Molly

Farewell, Leslie Knope, and Thanks for Everything

Dear Leslie Knope,

You don’t know me but I’m very familiar with your work. For the past 6 years, I’ve watched in awe as you have worked tirelessly to better your crazy little town of Pawnee, Indiana–not unlike my own hometown. Tonight, that all comes to an end (at least, until I delve into my Netflix queue again) and I just wanted to take a minute to say thanks.

First, thank you for introducing me to the world you live in. I won’t just miss you, but also your friends and the family you’ve built in the Parks and Recreation department. Donna and her unending love for her Benz. Tom and his many pursuits of both businesses and the ladies. Andy and April’s weirdly perfect loving relationship. Chris and Ann’s unending support for those around them (who I’ve already made my peace with). Ben’s love of the calzone. Ron Effing Swanson. All of these people go into making Pawnee, and you, the wonderful thing I’ve born witness to for the past 6 years.

Oh, and Jerry/Garry/Larry/Terry I guess. Whatever.

Second, thank you for being one of the first blatantly feminist characters I ever saw on television. I’ll never forget being introduced to the Pawnee Goddesses and wishing I could go back in time to when I was a kid and be a member of that troop. I loved that you considered not dating Dave because he didn’t know enough about the female political icons who adorned your office. The fact that you eventually became friends with Madeleine Albright was amazing. Thank you for slamming the media about the way women in politics are treated.

In short, Leslie, thank you for being you. You showed me that it’s OK to make mistakes and have flaws as long as you care passionately and never give up. We can use more women–people–like you in the world and you have undoubtedly inspired countless young women to speak a little louder, push a little harder, and down some whipped cream unabashedly.

I like you and I love you. And I will miss you, Leslie. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Molly

The series finale of Parks and Recreation airs tonight on NBC at 10/9c.

Rest in Peace, Joanie: The Loss of Joan Rivers

I realize I’m a little late, but this has been a tough one.

One of my favorite movies growing up, and my earliest memory of Joan Rivers, was Spaceballs. In it, Rivers played a C-3PO Android Jewess named Dot Matrix with a Joan Rivers-esque wig of the times and some of the best lines of the movie. Rivers’ own wit was injected into the character:

Can we talk? OK, we all know Prince Valium is a pill. But you could have married him for your father’s sake and had a headache for the next 25 years.

Of course, while she was trained in the famed Actors’ Studio, Joan Rivers was known more for her stand-up career and later her interviews on the red carpet.

Since her death, Joan has been lauded for what she did for women in comedy. And it’s true. Without a Joan Rivers, there likely would be no Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman or perhaps even Lena Dunham today. Joan paved the way for all free-thinking women to get their say in the din of white male sameness.

Chris Rock perhaps said it best, though:

I know people are like, ‘Joan Rivers broke down all these barriers for women, blah blah blah,’…I think it’s a disservice to even group her in any — Joan Rivers is one of the greatest stand-up comedians to ever live. She’s better than [Don] Rickles. She’s one of the best female stand-ups to ever live. No man ever said, ‘Yeah, I want to go on after Joan.’ No, Joan Rivers closed the show every night.

People have said Joan was shocking for her time, and she was, having joked about sex, marriage, and abortions in ways that weren’t done until Phyllis Diller before her. But she was shocking everyone right up to the day she died, which was why she was so important. Joan Rivers’s humor and voice was the kind that could be at once outrageously horrifying and yet make you think about things on a systemic level.

In short, Joan was Joan to the end:

When I heard she did a one-hour set the night before she died, I cried. I can’t help but feel she was taken from us too soon.

It used to be a dream of mine to be one of Joan’s writers. I quickly realized this was unrealistic and modified my hopes to seeing her live and meeting her one day. I never will, but Joan’s comedy lives on forever. You can YouTube her original days on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. I recommend you watch the documentary A Piece of Work on Netflix. For any comics or comedy nerds, you’ll be blown away. Netflix also has one of her stand-up specials. I daresay Joan lives on in Chris Rock and even Louis C.K. as well, and all of the comics who’ve taken a page out of her book. And, of course, Joan lives on in her daughter and grandson.

I didn’t know Joan, but I think she would love being the center of attention and beating out Royal Baby #2 on magazine covers.

Thanks, Joan.

Molly

Crossing the Line: Writing About Taboo Subjects

This spring, I took my first “official” Creative Writing class. (Arts Camp doesn’t count, right?) I figured I may as well try to take a class that was actually relevant to what I wanted to do with my life in the last semester of college. As a communication studies major, the workshop format appealed to me in that I am very used to discussing topics and ideas with professors and fellow students–we comm people love to talk. However, I quickly came to feel as though my ideas weren’t valid in the class–not due to anything our instructor did–because of the way they were received by fellow students. I was used to group discussions in my comm classes where no one could ever really be wrong. Conversely, in the workshop environment, I soon learned that writers had very clear opinions about right and wrong, even if they didn’t explicitly state them as such.

Early in the semester, before I learned to keep my mouth shut or suffer a verbal onslaught where virtually everyone in the class disagreed with me for the rest of the hour, we were workshopping a story about rape. It’s important at this point for me to tell you a few things about this story:

  1. It was initially framed as a romantic comedy type story about a couple trying to conceive. (That’s probably not really important. Just a fun fact.)
  2. It quickly veered into nowhereland when the female protagonist was literally kidnapped by a horribly disfigured man in broad daylight. Did anyone see, you ask? No, because she ran at a track with no one in the nearby vicinity except a WHITE VAN and she still willingly helped the man when he asked her to use her phone or something, despite her internal monologue along the lines of, “He looks like bad news. Oh well. I’m sure my intuition is completely wrong.”
  3. The story then flashed forward 5 years in the future. Our heroine had been held captive in the elephant man’s basement and raped on a daily basis. He also sterilized her for laughs. Because he somehow knew she wanted a baby more than anything.
  4. She finally escaped and called her husband (while still in the elephant man’s house) and he married someone else because he thought she was dead. End of story.

The author of the story, who was a woman, basically took all the worst societal tropes and myths about rape and violence against women and put them in one poorly written short story. Which I think is very dangerous.

I raised the point that the rape in it really bothered me. Now, there wasn’t a rape scene in the story–at least, not to my memory–I just thought it seemed senseless. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my main point was that if you are going to be writing about rape, or something similarly sensitive, it has to be done with a great amount of care and thought, not just because it’s horrifying. You have to think about the audience–potential survivors of rape themselves–who may be reading it and how they would feel. You have to think about what writing about random acts of violence from random people contributes to the culture.

Of course, the people in our workshop staunchly defended the author of the piece, which is fine. I wasn’t attacking her. I wasn’t attacking anything. Except the notion of careless rape scenes, I suppose. To the instructor’s credit, he paused the discussion and asked the class if we thought there were certain subjects that shouldn’t be written about.

And thus, the subject of this post.

This is a highly contentious issue for writers. I think most writers feel like they should be able to write about everything because, well, they’re writers! The human word is their palette! Or something. But, I don’t think it’s quite as clear as that. Because words don’t just exist on the page and make pretty sentences. They have power.

It’s not my job to say what you can’t and can write about. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say there should be a black book of subjects that are forbidden. I simply think with certain topics that are obviously sensitive–sexual violence, child abuse, race, just to name a few–you have to put extra thought into why you are writing about it in the first place and whether your story needs it.

The real kicker is, the author of that story was not a survivor of rape. (Shocker. I know.) She wrote that story because being kidnapped in broad daylight by a horribly disfigured rapist is her worst fear. Sadly, she didn’t understand the logical trap she was caught in. She essentially wrote an episode of Law and Order:  SVU because she’s scared of Law and Order:  SVU. Not to discredit these experiences, of course. We all know the statistics about rape. I’m not here to remind you of that. With shows like Criminal Minds, NCIS, CSI, Law & Order, (and all varieties thereof) and even True Detective which focus overwhelmingly on female victims, the portrayal of violent, sexual crime against women is undoubtedly contributing to the culture at large. It’s a vicious cycle.

I answered our instructor’s question, whether some things should be off limits, with a yes. I said that rape, for example, should be off limits unless you are writing from your personal experience or if you are doing it for a specific reason, which, frankly, I don’t think this story was doing. (This was, of course, met with many grumbles.)

A few months later, near the end of the workshop, we were critiquing a story where the character’s race was suddenly revealed through a random racist joke by another character who implied the protagonist was Black. I actually missed it the first few times I read it. That was the only reference to it in the entire piece. It’s also important to note the author of the story was white.

At this point in the semester, I was pretty well keeping my mouth shut until specifically asked to contribute. So when the instructor asked what I thought, I said, “Is he supposed to be Black?” Everyone shrugged and nodded, nonplussed. I essentially said:

“OK, that’s what I thought. I kind of have an issue with that. I think if you’re going to mention race, especially a race other than your own, you can’t just throw it away. It has to be done with purpose. And I really don’t know if you should even be writing from the perspective of a Black character because you don’t know what it’s like to be Black. I don’t know, I just had a problem with it.”

Some people thought it was “anti-racist” because the character was so cool, which is offensive in and of itself.

But this brings me back to the main theme of this entire post, which is that writing about sensitive subjects, and writing in general, has to be done with purpose, with care, with thought, and with meaning. Or else it’s just drivel.

Furthermore, I signed up for stand-up classes in Tulsa. The first class was this past Sunday and we mostly met the instructor and talked. Much of the discussion revolved around what it’s like to do stand-up, to be a comedy writer, our various opinions on comedy theory, etc. At one point, the instructor looked straight at me and said, “Do you think there are any jokes that are out of bounds?” (It’s as if I were wearing a sign on my forehead.)

I replied immediately and said, “Yeah. Rape jokes.”

He then replied with a weird diatribe about what kind of comedy he finds to be offensive or not offensive. As he was ranting about it, I wasn’t entirely sure why he asked me. He was basically saying he wasn’t the type to make racist jokes or dead baby jokes or rape jokes and didn’t necessarily like them, but he would laugh at anything. Which I thought was an arbitrary line, but I didn’t outright have a problem with. I can’t say I haven’t laughed at racist jokes or rape jokes in my lifetime because I’m sure I have. But I certainly wouldn’t defend them. However, moments when we laugh are also moments we have to check ourselves and ask why we did laugh. Was it just the shock value? Or was it the racist/sexist/homophobe in us laughing?

As he was going on this weird diatribe, another student in the class, an older guy in his fifties asked, “Yeah, but just because you laugh doesn’t mean you support [rape], right?”

The instructor replied, “No!”

Here’s where I kind of disagree, though, I didn’t say anything. I think laughing is implicitly a form of consent. Especially when you’re a comic. If a comic bombs, they know the joke didn’t work and they don’t keep using it. But when people laugh at, say, a rape joke, they think it works and will keep it in their set. Even if you yourself aren’t a rapist, you’re overtly supporting the rape culture by laughing.

That’s my rambly thoughts on it, anyway. I suspect as a freshly minted female “stand-up”, this won’t be the last time I discuss rape jokes with a dude.

And, of course, a few minutes later, when the older gentleman insinuated that I was a prostitute because I was waiting on the street with him before the class started, I wasn’t terribly surprised. Which is kind of the whole point, isn’t it? At least our instructor found that “joke” to be offensive.

I owe a lot to a column in LitReactor by Cath Murphy for my thoughts in this post.

Molly

Thoughts on #YesAllWomen and Elliot Rodger

As you probably already know, Elliot Rodger went on a rampage to fulfill his misogynist manifesto on May 23, killing 6 people and wounding more than 12 others. I’m a little late in writing about this, but it has taken me a bit to fully collect my thoughts.

The unique circumstances of this shooting surround Rodger’s clearly identified target and purpose for the attack–his hatred of women. According to Rodger’s journal,

“I was desperate to have the life I know I deserve; a life of being wanted by attractive girls, a life of sex and love. Other men are able to have such a life … so why not me? I deserve it!…How dare those girls snub me in such a fashion! How dare they insult me so!…They deserved the punishment I gave them.”

I don’t want to focus too much on Rodger and his words except to show undoubtedly the inherent misogyny and hatred in them. The media and others have already spent too much time on this.

There are several important issues worth discussing in this shooting, many of which are beyond the scope of this blog. All I will say about the obvious mental health stigmatization and lack of appropriate care in our country is that mental illness and misogyny are not mutually exclusive and that they exist for a reason.

First and foremost, the fact that we are framing the conversation in terms of “latest school shootings” is disturbing. As a society, we have become so numb to the fact that shootings are inevitable, we are barely surprised when the latest tragedy strikes. I know when I saw it on the news, it barely registered to me at first that people died.

Because of this, Richard Martinez, father of Isla Vista victim Christopher Martinez, has taken action to reform gun control, refusing to let his son’s death be meaningless. In the mere days since the shooting, Martinez has given interviews to MSNBC and held press conferences clamoring for change and accountability. For the NRA, the scariest thing about Martinez is that he refuses to go away. He has also pointed out the obvious link between the growing acts of senseless violence in our country:  “Typically, all of these incidents involved […] mental health issues, gun violence and violence against women. These three problems are almost always combined.”

People more knowledgeable than I have covered this topic extensively, but there is undoubtedly something wrong with a world that allows men, women, and children to die routinely for the selfish reason of wanting to “keep our guns.” I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to own hunting rifles and whatnot, but there’s something wrong with the fact that mentally ill people can legally purchase semi-automatic rifles and load up for a mass murder.

There has to be a middle ground between the NRA’s gun-loving open carry insanity and the laws that have allowed the tragedies of Sandy Hook and Aurora to happen. Simply put, when is enough enough? I think Richard Martinez put it best:  “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live?”

Furthermore, when news broke showing Rodger’s YouTube videos citing revenge upon all women, it wasn’t too surprising to see feminists and women standing up for themselves. The hashtag #YesAllWomen took off in response to the typical rhetoric of “Not all men are violent to women.”

Late Saturday night, or really, early May 25, I noticed Amy Schumer tweeted the hashtag and searched it to see what it was all about. Soon enough, I found myself joining the conversation.

As a feminist, it was pretty amazing to suddenly find myself a part of a larger communal experience. I was reading about women’s experiences from all over that were like my own–part of the shared women’s experience that is known to women and yet largely ignored by society. That’s the simple power of #YesAllWomen.

As a communication scholar, I am constantly thinking about the way we use words and interact with each other, as well as the way our society’s power structures effect communication. Cheris Kramarae’s muted group theory essentially argues that because men have always been in power, they have controlled the construction of language and the way language is used. Thus, women and other minorities don’t properly have ways to express themselves through mainstream dominant language.

However, #YesAllWomen turned up the volume.

It’s also important to note that many wonderful men joined the hashtag, opened their minds, and listened.

When I checked Twitter the next day, I saw that #YesAllWhiteWomen was trending, a rhetorical outcry to the narrow scope of the original hashtag that didn’t tell the story of all women’s experiences.

Unfortunately, some feminists saw the new hashtag as “segregating” the movement. I’m not sure why these people didn’t see them as places that could coexist and should coexist except for the very reason the #YesAllWhiteWomen hashtag exists in the first place.

From what I’ve seen, this has largely extended to discussions of the hashtag in the media in general. While there were several thinkpieces about the original #YesAllWomen, none of the ones I read mentioned its offspring #YesAllWhiteWomen, which is precisely the point, isn’t it?

A lot has already been written about Elliot Rodger, and I’m not adding anything particularly new to the conversation at this point. While the mainstream media has largely been ignoring the finer critical points of this (at least that I’ve seen–please correct me if I’m wrong), the Internet has been having a very important discussion about misogyny and hegemonic masculinity in light of the shooting and feminist Twitter storm.

Amanda Hess wrote a great column in Slate where she said,

“Women’s issues are often dismissed as a niche concern, but we constitute half of the human population. Once that’s recognized, it’s not hard to see how hating us can inflict significant collateral damage among all people—including the men who are our partners, our relatives, and our colleagues. Misogyny kills men, too.”

Hess’s column is definitely worth a read and helps to dismiss those “Not All Men” preachers in one fell swoop while also encouraging us to further look at the way our society has structured gender in order to hurt both men and women. Film critic Ann Hornaday argued that Hollywood contributes to this misogynistic power structure as well citing Judd Apatow movies and Seth Rogen’s Neighbors in particular as an example among others. Rogen responded with a surprising amount of vitriol.

I was a little disappointed to see that Rogen reacted the way he did. This was an opportunity for him to think more critically about the films he makes and stars in and the privileged position he holds as a result of them, and he didn’t take it. I have been a fan of Rogen’s since Freaks & Geeks and I don’t think he’s a misogynist or a bad guy. Neighbors was actually a pretty feminist film in a lot of ways (especially Rose Byrne’s character), showing an egalitarian marriage that challenged the “nagging wife trope” and even the “overgrown frat boy trope” that Hornaday mentioned. Because of this, I expected so much more from him.

No one wants to be to blame for the deaths of the Isla Vista victims, but we all are because we live in the current power structure and allow it to exist (and many of us profit from it). Yes, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, you played a part in this. Not explicitly, of course. While Neighbors did have a brief bit where Rogen riffed on buying a gun and killing the annoying frat boys, I obviously don’t think the writers of the film intentionally sought harm with the gag. Regardless, this is a moment for critical self-reflexivity on all our parts, especially those who have power.

While there is seemingly no connection between Elliot Rodger, the NRA’s stance on gun control, #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen (and #NotAllMen), and Rogen’s reaction to Hornaday’s column, there is. All of these are indicative of the larger patriarchal society that hurts both men and women as Hess said. By imposing hegemonic masculinity upon men, an ideal that can never be lived up to, men are increasingly violent toward themselves and their partners.

The important thing now is to look at what we can do moving forward to prevent future tragedies and change our world for the better.

Molly