By Maria Padhila
A rampaging murderer in Isla Vista, Calif., took the lives of two women and four men and terrorized countless others. This is the most important thing to remember, and I won’t forget that.
I also don’t plan to mention the murderer’s name in this, nor to quote his words or writing, because in his narcissistic grandiosity, he craved attention, and it’s just my little way of saying: “Nah.” I choose to present writers here that are more interesting.
There’s much being written about this that I don’t need to repeat or refute. One valuable outcome is that the spotlight has been shone on two destructive trends: so-called “Men’s Rights Activism” (MRA) and “Pickup Artists” (PUA). The murderer’s real-life and online presence was entangled with activities and people in both; his writings and posts are larded with their rhetoric, concepts and terms of art. Bringing you some awareness about these groups and concepts is a way I think I could be useful to you right now.
A few months back, polyamory writer Franklin Veaux did a sharp, pointed Twitter hashtag that gets to the heart of these groups’ messages: fake “pickup lines” from so-called men’s rights activists. (I don’t mean disrespect by repeating these here; it’s really the quickest way for you to be introduced to where these people are coming from, these were posted two months ago, and I also like the musical “The Producers,” for instance. I believe what separates us from the animals and the sociopaths is not only the ability to grieve, but the ability to laugh — genuinely.)
The following went flying back and forth under #MRApickuplines:
Your lips say “no, no, no” but my entitlement says “yes, yes, yes.” (FV)
Me and my exaggerated sense of injury both think you and I would be great together. (FV)
I desire you greatly. And isn’t it about time men got what they wanted for a change? (FV)
Others got on the train with no less trenchant one-liners:
Do you have a mirror in your pocket? Because all I see are my own needs and desires. (@wfenza)
Hey girl, are you a birthday present? Because I think you’re a prize I deserve for having been born. (@chaosprime)
Girl, you must be a false rape accusation because you’re all I think about. (@DrewFranzblau)
From this, you can get an idea of the prevalent world-view among MRA and PUA types. As Polyskeptic puts it:
The men’s rights movement is a social movement seemingly committed to little more than denying male privilege and opposing feminism. The movement is basically a wasteland of straw men and privilege blinders.
So what’s the problem? It’s the “A” part of MRA. Being a supporter of the mens’ rights movement is shameful, but it doesn’t make you an activist. Activism is a title that is earned through hard work, commitment to a cause, and passion. “Activist” is not an insult. It’s a term of respect. Activism is something I admire. Making privileged comments online is not. It takes a lot more than that to be an activist.
Trolling is the top activity of MRA types; they even produce instruction sheets for each other on how to do it. They assign themselves targets to follow and harass online. Most people who write about women, rape or relationships eventually acquire a little snail trail of the persistent little creeps. Their tactics range from imperious demands that you “justify your argument” or “address my question” to asking a writer, over and over, “when were you sexually abused?” or “when were you raped?”
We could see them as annoying mosquitoes. The Southern Poverty Law Center rightly lists several as hate groups. One brave writer tracks them on her humor site, We Hunted the Mammoth. Here’s one thing she posted after the murders:
If anyone was hoping — against their better judgment — that Men’s Rights activists would be inspired by the tragedy in Isla Vista to reconsider any of their beliefs, or even to reflect for a moment on the many striking similarities between passages in [the killer’s] book-length manifesto and comments posted every day by MRAs and others in the manosphere, well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you should not keep that hope alive.
It’s not that they’re not talking about the tragedy. A look through the top 100 posts in the Men’s Rights subreddit, the largest Men’s Rights forum online, reveals that roughly a third of them, including the top stickied post, relate in some way to [the] rampage and the discussions that have come up online and in the media in its aftermath.
“But the message of virtually all of these posts is: “Nothing to see here! Move along!” There are numerous posts expressing outrage that anyone would see any connection between [the killer’s] toxic misogyny to the Men’s Rights movement; there are others mocking and attacking the #YesAllWomen hashtag; there’s even one suggesting that [the killer], who wrote about how he longed to watch all the women of the world starve to death in concentration camps, wasn’t actually a misogynist at all.”
The worst thing here is it’s not just the hate groups that practice this deflection — we’re all a part of it in some way. It’s what’s behind the rush by men to say “not all of us are like that!” and establishment of the #notallmen hashtag.
Because really, all of us are “like that,” and if defending yourself against perceived generalized accusations that no one has even had time to make yet so your feelings won’t be hurt is the first thing that jumps into your mind when there’s a murder, I have to ask: Do you have a mirror in your pocket? Because all I can see is your needs and desires.
To help understand this, a post by “poly geeky kinky” blogger Mitchell G. is the most concise and thoughtful unpacking of this deflection process that I’ve seen:
Because he is white, his violence will not be attributed to problems with his culture, or to hypothetical or wholly fabricated assertions about the violent tendencies of his race.
Because deflecting responsibility is easier than taking a hard look at the roles we all play in creating people like this, he will be written about as a “madman” using rhetoric that deflects the responsibility that our words, media, and culture play in reinforcing the mindset he expresses in his video.
Because the role of culture in creating people like this is insufficiently respected, this instance of violence will rarely be connected to other, similar instances of violence precipitated by similar attitudes toward women.
Because of that same culture, there will be a lot of talk about how difficult it is being lonely and rejected as a guy, which will in many places outstrip the amount of conversation that is had about the difficulty of living in a culture where some people think it’s okay to kill you for not being attracted to them.
We can do better than this as a society, but conversations about all of the above need to happen before we will be able to.”
As for Pickup Artist culture, some defend it as a place where awkward men can actually learn social skills. That’s much like saying a fraternity is a place where young women can learn how to handle alcohol, or what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
PUA is basically someone trying to sell you a set of foolproof steps that will turn straight women into putty in your hands — the kind of thing that used to be advertised in the back of comic books (and besmirched some great comic content!). Besides being based on the ideas that women have no agency and that getting sex is best done by manipulation and trickery, it has accumulated around it a midden of garbage beliefs and become a way for some men to bond that’s obviously destructive and harmful to them and others.
I won’t guide you to any sites in particular, because most of them flash and tinkle with scams and viruses to get you to buy things. Instead, you can reverse-engineer the PUA with this guide to how to avoid them, which is useful to men as well as women. (These guys are either boring as hell, or trying to get your money, so why bother with them?)
There are forums where PUA acolytes discuss having plastic surgery to give them the features that PUA “alphas” have deemed (based on some kind of World War II-era “science” vaguely tied to evolutionary biology) to be attractive to women.
I want you to think about that for a while. Men discuss cutting up their faces because they believe it will result in the magical ability to possess women. When I think of this, my heart breaks for them, and I fear for the children I care for.
The definitive word on PUA comes from Dr. Nerdlove, I think. He’s a reformed/recovering PUA who became a relationship blogger. As the tragedy was happening, I was wandering around a Burning Man event sharing and listening about consent and concerns, and handing out a sort of pocket guide to Enthusiastic Consent. One of the sources I used to create it was some quotes from Dr. Nerdlove.
Five pages of Google searches, and his was the only relationship writing that mentioned men being coerced into sex, and the pressure put on men to want sex all the time, even when they don’t.
That’s another thing to think about. Another heartbreaking thing.
Dr. Nerdlove was interviewed in New York Magazine for his ex-PUA perspective. Here are some clips:
As a culture, we’re very bad at teaching people how to improve socially. We live in this weird binary where either you have good social skills, are charismatic and good with women, or you aren’t, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. If you admit to the fact that you’re not good at it, if you admit there’s something wrong with you, there’s this impulse that people will say, Hey, look at this loser. The pickup community is really the only place where men are getting information, no matter how inaccurate or toxic it is at times.
[PUA teaches] coercive techniques to break through what’s called last-minute resistance: No isn’t no; it’s a negotiating point. Or people use a freeze-out: When a woman says, No, not right now, then the pickup artist completely pulls back, making things incredibly awkward. Don’t let her see you be angry, but be cold and distant — use that awkwardness and social pressure to make her give in even though she doesn’t want to. Even I used that! Now I shudder. Why did I even think that?
The solution, he feels, is to get men out of thinking in terms of competition and reward. That means not competing in the victim Olympics anymore — oh, men are such an oppressed class, oh, why are you blaming all of us for the actions of a few Bad Apples, oh, I’ve had a really hard time as a man, I’ve probably suffered more than any 15 feminists rolled together. Denying the realities of privilege isn’t going to do it, and neither is blaming all those mean girls for the fix you’re in. He says:
It’s not on women to change men; it’s on men to change themselves. We already put so much unfair responsibility on women when we say things like boys will be boys and women have to dress modestly because men can’t control themselves. That’s bullshit. Saying that it’s women’s responsibility is a way for men to absolve themselves. Even if someone had slept with [the killer] it wouldn’t have fixed anything. If he had had a girlfriend she probably would have been his first target.
The best thing men can do for other men is to be open to each other to support each other instead of treating each other as competition or pawns in status games. Being willing to be honest and not shame each other for having feelings and doubts and for not living up to this hypermasculine ideal.
Finally, as a writer, I skimmed the killer’s writings as did several other writers I know, and we discussed them briefly. We were all unsettled by the fluency, precision and liveliness of the language. He probably could have been a decent screenwriter — or more.
Except. He was missing something essential. It might have been missing since birth; it might have eroded as part of a process, deliberate or accidentally triggered, self-imposed or from outside forces. But it was missing.
To be a good writer, you need to be able to create a real story, something people can engage with and see themselves within. Even writers who tackle the most horrific subjects have these two abilities: empathy and a sense of humor. You need to be able to put yourself in others’ shoes to craft characters, and you need to be able to shift your perspectives at will to see the big picture — and the big absurdity.
If all your resources are used up propping yourself up and denying your own shadows and fighting against acknowledging your privilege and ignoring other people’s realities and humanity, you won’t have anything left to create with. Or love with. Or live with.
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