It Wasn’t Loneliness or Bullying That Fueled The Attacks in Santa Fe and Toronto. It Was Entitlement.
The internet is wrought with extensive and intensive discussions about what drives young and sometimes older men to join far-right, fascist movements and to commit horrific acts of violence. Sometimes, these talks happen independently to fill a temporary dearth of content or when a rather provocative op-ed appears in a major publication. Other times, it’s in the wake of a tragedy such as the recent Toronto van attack and the Santa Fe shooting, both of which are reminiscent of the infamous Isla Vista shooting committed by Eliot Rodger back in 2014.
Over the past month or so, with the moniker of “incel” now making its way from the confines of cyberspace into mainstream sociopolitical discourse and after the harrowing revelation that the first victim of the Santa Fe shooter was a young woman who consistently rebuffed his advancements, we’ve seen several attempts to explain what fuels and motivates these men to go and take their frustrations out on innocent people and what steps can be taken in order to prevent future incidents of a similar nature. Hot takes included theorizing about how the redistribution of sex through legalization of prostitution and ubiquity of sex robots or enforced monogamy can help to curb the sexual frustrations of these young men, thus giving them exactly what it is that they crave and leaving without the motivation to kill.
But where these suggestions begin to fail is when they make erroneous assumptions about the motivation of these acts of terror and who they feel should burden the responsibility of proactive and preventative measures of future ones. The gamut of explanations of these men’s terrorist acts includes sexual frustration, loneliness, bullying, and mental illness. The “cure” to these ills largely consist of making sex more easily and readily available to them. In particular, it’s sex with women.
But it isn’t about sex. Sex, or lack thereof, is not the underlying motivation. Neither is it loneliness or bullying or mental illness.
It’s entitlement to women.
Many incels will claim to suffer from depression or to have come from broken homes or to have been bullied or to be physically repulsive. While these conditions may be true for many, there are several incels who which only one, some or none of these factors apply. Several people who don’t label themselves as incels face some of these same problems but have either found relationships, both romantic and sexual, eventually or continue without them and haven’t caused nearly the same amount of carnage.
What DOES apply to them, however, is this deep-seated entitlement to women, which festers and mutates into vile, raging misogyny when left unchecked. These men feel slighted by society’s outdated, stifling, ultimately destructive views on gender relations. And they are right that they are problematic.
But instead of directing their rage at society for imposing these restrictive norms of gender, attractiveness, beauty, and sex and trying to fix them, they place the blame almost entirely on women for exercising their right to autonomy by saying “no”. They blame feminism for instituting women’s sexual liberation, which gave women more freedom to choose their sexual and romantic partners… which include people that don’t label themselves as incels. This rage towards women for even having the ability to reject them manifests in promotion and apologia of rape, dehumanizing comments like “femoid” and “she creature”, stalking and harassment of women online and in real life, idolization of Eliot Rodger and, as of recently, full on mass murder.
The blaming of women for these men’s predicament and having them carry the weight of de-radicalizing them is the same issue found in calls to redistribute sex. In the case of legalizing sex work, sex workers are among the most vulnerable population in society, especially after FOSTA and SESTA in the US. Legalizing sex work for the purpose of stopping men from going on murderous rampages absolves men of their responsibility and culpability in those rampages and places them on women. It reduces men to nothing but ticking time bombs who can’t stop themselves from committing atrocities.
The “If I can’t have you, nobody can” attitude that led to the shooting in Santa Fe is but one of many, many, MANY instances of men’s entitlement towards women leading to horrifying extremes. There is a depressingly common trope of women being yelled at, assaulted, beaten, raped and even murdered for rejecting the sexual and romantic advancements of men or for not even acknowledging them in the first place. Eliot Rodger never even attempted to make advances on the women he found himself so enamored with but still felt entitled to them, thus leading to the deaths of people who probably never knew who he was.
This is why obfuscating these misogynistic machinations by claiming they are simple cries for help and affection are ultimately counterproductive as they fail to address the root of the issue. This misogyny; this entitlement to women; this insistence that one’s self-worth as a man is intrinsically tied to getting a woman to be your girlfriend and/or to sleep with you; this idea that a woman refusing your advances at all counts as a justification to harm them in such terrifying ways is symptomatic of a problem with manhood and masculinity.
Yes, it is a form of toxic masculinity.
Despite being backed by years and years of research and tons and tons and tons and tons of explanations counteracting its willful misinterpretation as “masculinity is toxic”, it’s the term that makes men terminate all thought processes dedicated to linguistics. It’s the term that elicits a cacophony of accusations of man hate. It’s the term that is often responded to with increasingly lengthy, unnecessary, and, frankly, downright asinine alternatives. It’s the term that, like it or not, efficiently sums up many of the destructive elements that are associated with masculinity, including how it is so tightly woven into sexual and romantic accomplishment, resulting in rage and violence when it is denied.
Addressing toxic masculinity, which would entail decoupling of sexual conquest from the masculine gender role and doing away with the misogyny and entitlement that make up that toxicity, is critical to stopping tragedies like this from becoming too much of a mainstay.