On May 24, Elliott Rodgers, a young man in Isla Vista, California, killed seven people in a shooting spree, then himself. The video message he left swore retribution on all the sexy sorority girls who rejected him in favour of boorish frat boys. As commentators point out, these views are common views among a large community of young men who call themselves involuntary celibates — incels.
They blame their lack of romantic success on feminism which allows women to date whomever they want, and long for a mythical time when women were lucky if a man married them and they had to submit to men’s desires.
Many discussions have blamed this on America’s gun culture. Gun control is an unquestionable need in that society. But the culture, which causes this use of guns is deeper and by no means restricted to the US.
At home, for instance, the chosen crime for young men who can’t cope with romantic refusal is the acid attack. Conservative estimates put attacks at least a 1,000 a year. For the rest, it’s gang rapes and regular murders.
Why does the simple word No, have such devastating consequences? At one level of course a culture of deep misogyny believes women’s freedoms should be limited. If a woman exhibits autonomy, it seems to call up a rage in men — the feeling that she has made herself available for harassment, rape or other violence. Nor is this view without social acceptance.
Take for instance the recent incident of the Bangalore cop who allegedly took pictures of two women at a café without their permission. Why did he do this? He claims he’s framed — maybe so. But comments below each report reveal an overwhelming need to defend him and questions about why he took photos hardly come up. Some say things like: “A coffee shop is a public place…what kind of objectionable photos can be clicked?” Or “What is objectionable click?”
It doesn’t occur to the commentators that the objection is that of the person who was clicked — and that’s objection enough. That the obscenity lies not in what the woman was doing, but in the gaze of the person who took the pictures. The unsaid implication is also: if you were being modest, why be outraged? Meaning, if you were being immodest (whatever that means) all bets are off?
The hierarchies revealed through misogyny actually run like toxic rivers through all of society. Eliott Rodgers hated but desired only a certain kind of girl: ‘hot sorority type’ that media tells us is the prize. To pursue a girl who did not fulfil that stereotype would mean he was a loser.
Here too, the hoary matrimonial advertisements for fair, slim, convent-educated virgin may now have been re-cast as a number of modern but traditional types and cool girls while men have to conform to particular notions of corporate success marked by material progress. To not have one means you are not the other — and so, you are a loser. These idealised masculinities and femininities are the same clubby hierarchies exemplified in US sorority and fraternity culture. This anxiety that marks so many social behaviours and personal stories, is a daily violence, an endless cycle of people scrambling to prove their power over others, rejecting and living in fear of rejection.
It is not that beauty, success and intelligence should not be valued — of course they should. But if we don’t strive for a culture in which diverse qualities are valued, these crippling hierarchies will ensure, that no matter what the supposed development around us, we will all always be losers.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.