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Monday, Jun 02, 2014

Yes, All Women: Be aware and be pissed

But be a little afraid, too

By Aaryn Belfer
BW 6-4-14

"The reason women mobilized so quickly after the shooting is because we recognized immediately the language and ideology in Rodger's videos and manifesto: the over-the-top sexual entitlement; the rage against women who 'dared' to reject him; the antiquated, but nonetheless terrifying, belief that women should not be in control of their own sexual choices. Regardless of Rodger's mental health issues—which we still don't know much about—his ideas were not 'crazy' by the standards of the world today. They are the norm." 

Jessica Valenti, The Guardian


My sociologist friend Kerry and I have had an ongoing discussion for quite some time, one we revisited last weekend after the Isla Vista shootings and the subsequent outpouring of stories of sexism by women around the globe. 

Our dialogue centers around whether, when it comes to men, it's valid or appropriate to teach our daughters to be afraid. Not a paralyzing, can't-leave-the-house-dysfunctional afraid, but rather an I-don't-like-the-vibe-on-that-one-so-I'm-steering-clear afraid. (The kind of afraid that—I'm guessing about this here—lots of women felt upon interacting with Elliot Rodger. He was terrifying. He is terrifying.)

During our debates, I often advocate for what I'd call a small but healthy dose of fear when going out into the world. Like—don't ever leave your drink unattended at a bar, and engage instead of being perceived as impolite. Kerry often advocates for being aware, avoiding dangerous situations and then being angry about such limitations. Like—don't pop in your ear buds and go for a neighborhood jog at 10 p.m. to blow off some steam, but be really pissed off that you can't safely do that. 

Because, damn it, we should be able to do that. 

Back and forth Kerry and I have gone ever since my husband—the only male in a room of roughly 30 parents of adopted girls of color—was eaten alive during a workshop about the myriad ways in which women of color are frequently objectified, eroticized and sexualized.

After listening for a while, Sam raised his hand to say that he had to disagree (wait for it) with the other attendees (wince), many of them feminists (yup, he did that) who were philosophizing and intellectualizing about equality and empowerment as it pertains to all women. He was simultaneously The Bravest and Stupidest Man in the World when he invoked what amounted to the nuclear option.

What he meant to say was: "I respect what you're all saying. However, I was a teenage boy once, and having gone through that, I can attest to the power of hormone surges, and the fact of the matter is that we are not particularly evolved from Neanderthals. Testosterone is a powerful thing, and some men—not all, not even most, but some—can be dangerous, and our daughters need to understand this so they can then be empowered. Is it fair? No. Is it right? No. But it's reality." 

What he really said was: "Me Tarzan! You Jane!" 

So, yeah, that's not a direct quote. But that's the gist of what came out of my poor darling husband's mouth, his voice shaking uncharacteristically. And nobody in her right mind can blame the guy for being a bit nervous and tongue-tied. I mean, who wants to say anything controversial to a room full of feminists? Ahem.

I, of course, knew what he meant, because we've talked a lot about this exact thing. Also, we had been together for 15 years at this point, a fact made more awkward when I turned away and pretended not to know him.

Well. As you might surmise, the ineloquently delivered idea hadn't been fully fleshed out before it was met with several passionate and oppositional outbursts, the loudest of which came from Kerry. And she certainly had (has) her point: While three of us can laugh about that workshop incident, there's very little that's funny about how women deserve to be able to move through the world and the reality of how we can move through the world. Fear as the antidote wasn't gelling for her and deserved rebuttal.

And she's right. It's nothing short of infuriating that women and girls should have to fear abuse and violence for no reason other than being women.

Which is the totally clear, non-mysterious reason Elliot Rodger gave for his rampage. As writer Lindsay Beyerstein pointed out on her Facebook page, "Rodger told the world exactly why he went on this killing spree. He spelled it out in excruciating detail and sent his narrative of the killings to the media. In case that wasn't enough, he made a series of YouTube videos to cement his narrative of his own crime in the public mind."

No amount of fear was going to save the victims of Rodger's crime. But the details about him and his mindset have brought to the surface some of my darker moments, and I sort of wonder whether a small dose of fear during the years I was recklessly fearless would have spared me some of my personal trauma. Or is that just victim blaming?

All I know is that we should be able to leave that drink on the bar and reject advances or be impolite and, in doing any of these things, not be putting ourselves at risk of some very ugly repercussions. 

Kerry asked me if I think it's better to be afraid or to be pissed, and I don't know that one or the other is preferable. But both, I think, are necessary.


Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.




 
 
 
 
 
 
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