tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
2017-08-07 04:42 pm

Refusing to Empathize with Elliot Rodger: Taking Male Entitlement Seriously

[Content warnings: Discussion of domestic violence, suicide, and verbal abuse, including specific misogynist slurs and more general sexist gaslighting strategies.]

In 1989, Marc Lépine murdered fourteen women in Montreal for being women and being engineering students. He proceeded to kill himself, having written in his suicide note:

"Would you note that if I commit suicide today 89-12-06 it is not for economic reasons (for I have waited until I exhausted all my financial means, even refusing jobs) but for political reasons. Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker.... Being rather backward-looking by nature (except for science), the feminists have always enraged me. They want to keep the advantages of women (e.g. cheaper insurance, extended maternity leave preceded by a preventative leave, etc.) while seizing for themselves those of men." (quoted by Wikipedia)

More recently, in 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered six people near the UC Santa Barbara campus. Rodger also killed himself, citing his feelings of social rejection by women as the reason for his crime:

"I'm 22 years old and I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl. I've been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I'm still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I've had to rot in loneliness. It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime.... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.... How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me?" -- (Rodger's manifesto, quoted by Wikipedia)

Did Lépine and Rodger have some good points? Did they have valid grievances regardless of the regrettable way in which they both chose to express those grievances (mass murder)? I hope you won't have to think too hard before saying "no". Neither Lépine's sense of entitlement to social privileges, nor Rodger's sense of entitlement to sex and racial status, are reasonable.

In Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft (a counselor who co-founded the first program for abusive men in the US and has worked with abusive men for many years) shows that domestic abusers don't abuse because of their feelings, because they're out-of-control or angry, or because they are mentally ill or influenced by substances. They abuse because of their thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, which create a coherent justification for abuse -- largely through beliefs that they are entitled to something from a woman, and are morally justified in punishing her if she doesn't provide it.

"...an abuser's core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong." (Bancroft, p. 35)

Likewise, Lépine believed that he had a right to a job and that women were oppressing him by being better job candidates than him. Rodger believed that he had a right to sex and that women were oppressing him by not sleeping with him. By killing women, they hoped to send a message to all women that interfering with men's wishes was dangerous. They killed in cold blood, uninfluenced by mental illness or uncontrollable rage. Both crimes were premeditated; both killers had moral theories that justified their actions. We know about those moral theories because both men wrote about them. The positions that men have a right to jobs and women do not, and that men have a right to sex and women have a moral obligation to provide it to men who want it, are political opinions. I hope it's obvious to you that these political opinions are wrong.

Last week, a manifesto written by a Google engineer surfaced; the manifesto resembles those of Rodger's and Lépine's, and you can [CW: explicit sexism, racism, and various other *isms, as well as gaslighting and manipulation] read it for yourself. The manifesto tells a subset of people who work at Google, "Your presence here is illegitimate and you don't belong." I know that's the message because I'm one of those people: I'm a trans man and thus, according to the document, am biologically worse at engineering than cis men like its author (although it's not exactly clear whether the author thinks that cis women's uteruses make them worse at coding -- in which case my skills would come into question -- or whether their hormones do -- in which case I'd be in the clear, phew!)

The manifesto expresses thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that are common to its author, Lépine, Rodger, and the domestic abusers Bancroft describes. It is written from a place of entitlement: like Lépine and Rodger but unlike some of the domestic abusers, the entitlement is not to just one specific woman's attention and service, but rather, to special privileges as white men and to submission and deference from all women, and all people of color, and everybody else occupying a lower position in the social hierarchy. Like Lépine, he's concerned that they're taking our jobs.

In response, Google's VP of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance -- in an email to all Google employees with the subject line "Affirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion—and healthy debate" -- said, "Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws." Other executives expressed disagreement with the message in the manifesto while agreeing that the author had a good point about the "psychologically unsafe environment" for people with political beliefs like his. Some managers reiterated that it was important to be able to share different points of view at Google. In other words: he was wrong to say these things, but you can't help but sympathize with the poor guy -- he felt persecuted for his political views.

When you say that the manifesto writer had a point, you are saying that Rodger and Lépine had a point.

"...the abuser's problem lies above all in his belief that controlling or abusing his female partner is justifiable." (Bancroft, p. 35)
In the rest of this essay, I'm addressing you if you think the views in the manifesto are wrong but that the author has some valid points, or that the manifesto is a valuable contribution to healthy debate. I want to show you that these views need to be shut down, not debated with or sympathized with. I am not addressing people who substantially agree with the content of the manifesto. If that's you, then you might as well stop reading right here.

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