Something happened in my school community. You likely know what it was.

We are now one of them. One of the educational communities that was targeted by some fucker for a murder-death-kill spree. We are trending on Facebook.

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A man living in the student-packed Isla Vista community directly adjacent to my university—the University of California, Santa Barbara—got in his BMW with a semi-automatic handgun, murdered six people, and wounded seven more. He was targeting women, specifically women who were, or looked like they might be, sorority sisters. We know this because he made a series of videos and left behind a manifesto. So we have evidence as to why—or rather, how he justified—his actions.

I haven’t watched the videos because I’m afraid to hear him say these things and then imagine him gunning down my female students. But I know what he says, because people have reported about it here and here.

So now to what I intend to say. I’ll say it, and then I’ll try to think of a strategy of moving forward with my students, my department, and my university.

This act was predicated in a form of misogynistic thought supported by how women and sexuality are portrayed in media and entertainment. This act was in line with the way misogyny, control of women’s sexuality/bodies, masculinity, and violence tend to bleed together. We should be horrified. We should not be surprised.

According to the videos, this guy saw couples together–the affection they shared, their touching, their intimacy–and was lonely and envious. His feelings were not projected internally (ie, I’m not worthy), but rather outward. He was angry at men who got sexual access to women, and women who “gave themselves to other men” and denied him access to their bodies. Women who denied him his entitlements of female adoration, love, and companionship. So he engaged in “retribution”: a violent act of controlling those he could not otherwise put under his sexual control.

I’m not surprised by this chain of logic, because it’s how women, femininity, and sexuality/sexiness are presented in contemporary western popular culture. Take Karen Pitcher’s article on Girls Gone Wild (2007), or Rosalind Gill’s work on the ever-increasing cultural sexualization of women (2007). Or let’s take it old school with Laura Mulvey’s male gaze (1975). Women (read thin, white, feminine women) are portrayed in media culture as objects to be looked at, and their bodies/sexuality as objects to be desired. Even with the postfeminist shift from desired sexual object to desiring sexual subject, what the “subject” most often desires is to be viewed and consumed in ways that conform to heteronormative, masculinist, and porn-fantasy driven narratives. This objectification is positioned as a form of flattery. Women should want their bodies sexualized. It makes us feel pretty and special.

Terms like “severely mentally disturbed” and “the work of a mad man” began to circulate after the murders. I can’t comment on this guy’s mental health, and that’s not my job. What I do know is that his ideas about deserving sex and adoration from women are supported by how women are presented in popular culture: as sexual objects that can be—and should be—consumed by men. When he was denied access to that system, he was also left out of a basic cultural pact: boys become “men” by getting laid.

The combination of misogyny and feelings of entitlement to/control over women’s bodies contributes to the massive amount of rapes and domestic violence cases in the US every year (case in point). So when this guy is dismissed as a “lonely mad man,” what we actually dismiss is a discussion about how constant portrayal of women as sexy/sexualized objects, and how co-mingling masculinity with sexual prowess and violence, supports a culture of men hurting women when they do not get what they want/feel they are entitled to.

I honestly don’t know how to end this. So I won’t. Because this is a conversation I’m going to have to have in every fucking class I teach from now on at UCSB. And it’s going to have to constantly evolve.

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About Meredith Heller

The Saucy Scholar is Faculty Lecturer of Queer Studies in Women's and Gender Studies at Northern Arizona University. She holds a Ph.D. in Theater Studies and a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and specializes in performance and entertainment, gender studies, and queer theory.
This entry was posted in #yesallwomen, classroom, gender. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Something happened in my school community. You likely know what it was.

  1. Gregory Dodds says:

    I write this in response to your post because you can engage it intellectually.

    First thought: By labeling the entire tragedy “misogynist”, does it create a hierarchical narrative which excludes the murders of four young men?

    Second thought: Can the thoughts and desires of the mentally-ill be motive? This is why prosecuting hate-crime is notoriously problematic. He said misogynist things, he did misogynist things. Is that the motive? If I kill my parents for my inheritance, greed is the motive, but somewhere along the line, my greed has outweighed the part of my judgment which says “don’t kill people”. Is then the motive still greed?

    Third thought: I have not watched the shooter’s video. I will not watch it, because I know it will taint my view of the tragedy, and I personally believe the more traffic his video gets will increase the likelihood of more videos like it. But in recording himself, and making that recording public, it has become a performance. And in the creation of a performance, question arise: how “real” is it? How much of an accurate reflection of his inner self is this video? Who is he performing for? Does he want women to watch? What does he want them to feel? Fear? Arousal? Pity?

    Fourth thought: What if he is a “lonely mad man”? There are countless cases daily where misogyny plays a part in violence against women which do not garner the attention of the media. Three women die every day in domestic disputes, one more than in the events of May 23rd. Political entities are wrestling for control of the narrative right now: women’s rights groups, the NRA, the anti-gun lobby, mental health advocates, the grieving parents, the University itself. Does the “juice” of a big media event like this (and effect on those involved, directly or otherwise) increase the desire to make the event political? Does the attempt to give the tragedy meaning in its way marginalize the event itself?

    Final thought: If you will talk about this every day to your students, what will you say? If you say “Misogyny kills,” I don’t think anyone could argue. If you posit, “The events of May 23, 2014 are an example of such,” I think this is problematic (with all my own prejudices in place), but entirely within your purview to say. But why will you say it?

    Yours,
    Greg

    • 1. At the time of writing, we didn’t know the victims. But no, labeling this act as one predicated or rooted in misogyny does not exclude or invalidate who was killed. Misogyny is the intense dislike/hatred of women, often manifested in sexual objectification, discrimination, and violence. Misogynistic actions do not exclude or preclude men from being damaged or hurt. Using that term speaks to the mindset–or perhaps the expressed mindset–of the murderer.

      2. I don’t know if he was mentally ill. That’s speculation based on perception of his writing/videos/comments of his parents (to the best of my knowledge). If he was, certainly his illness was attaching to a common social narrative concerning women’s bodies/sexuality, masculinity, and entitlement. If a mentally ill person believes the government is listening to their thoughts, it could be connected with/supported/bolstered by the fact that we are in fact under constant surveillance. I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t speak to what mental illness does to motives.

      I also can’t speak to his “actual” motive or beliefs, only his expressed justification, which was in line with the misogynistic “men’s rights” websites he frequented. Perhaps he said those things because he wanted to appear a certain way to certain people. I think violence against women is enacted for many reasons, which includes men wanting to appear a certain way to other people.

      3. I completely agree about the spectacle of the videos.

      4. The issue with the “lonely mad man” narrative is what “lonely” implies in the context of this investigation. *Supposedly* the police (not his parents) felt the videos cast him as “lonely” therefore sad but normal and innocuous. As we saw, his loneliness manifested into outward violence. If we look at enough #YesAllWomen posts what emerges are themes of “lonely” men who seek female attention, seeking female sexuality, compliment women, connect women with other men–in ways that are aggressive, dangerous, and sometimes violent. “Lonely” is not culturally complex enough to encapsulate the form of entitlement some men feel to adoration, attention, and sexuality of women.

      5. I won’t talk about this in my classes every day, but I don’t think I could call myself a gender, sexuality, and cultural studies scholar if I ignored how the co-mingling of gender rules, sexual scripts, and cultural assumptions supported a tragedy that happened about 100 yards from where my students live and study.

  2. Gregory Dodds says:

    You don’t need my thanks or approval, but you have it. #yesallwomen

  3. Pingback: Sexual Violence on TV: First and Foremost It’s Sexual | The Saucy Scholar

  4. Pingback: this is not my first campus shooting | The Saucy Scholar

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