In Defense of My Own Humanity, Or Something
Yesterday was a bad news day on Twitter. Twitter—with its trolls, negativity, clapbacks, and endless stream of equal parts horrific and mind-numbing political updates—is probably never good for my mental health. But yesterday felt particularly bad.
First, came the announcement that the Golden State Killer had been arrested. On its face, excellent news—a victory for his victims and a deliverance of justice. But it meant reading (or at least scrolling past) news story after news story outlining—in grisly detail—the sick, twisted, cruel ways he tortured and killed women. The domestic terrorist responsible for the murder by van of 10 people in Toronto is a suspected Men’s Rights Activist. This is a subculture that includes the “subreddit” (or online forum) dedicated to “incels”— men who are “involuntarily celibate.” I did not know of this community until yesterday, and I wish I still didn’t. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since.
I’ve been dwelling on this word in particular—anti-feminists, MRAs, every man belonging to this subculture is loathsome, and is a result of being raised in a patriarchal society. I know this. I knew this already. But “incel”—the entitlement of it—makes me literally sick to my stomach, and I’ve been trying in vain to articulate why.
Because men can only be “involuntarily” celibate. Because all men want to be having sex, and more than that, feel they should be. Because the only thing stopping them are bitchy, cruel, cold, selfish women. I feel completely hopeless today, and terrified that this is how all men— including men who love me, including men I respect—secretly conceive of me. I owe them sex, or affection, or space, or attention or validation—and there’s no telling what will happen to me if I don’t comply. Because this is about more than sex, it’s about reducing women’s role and value down to this: their ability to accommodate men.
One of my favorite online commentators and advice columnists, Nicole Cliffe, pointed out that’s it’s unwise and unkind to taunt or malign these men because: “a lot of those guys are deeply deeply sad and troubled and very very tentatively not harming themselves.” And I understand that. I understand that patriarchy hurts everyone—that it sets unrealistic expectations for men in the same way it does for women, and that it must be painful and disappointing to feel rejected by society (or women you want to date.)
(Although perhaps, if we didn’t raise men to feel that they were owed sex in the first place, an inability to access it wouldn’t be so traumatic for them.) In my experience, when women fail to gain the approval of men (at least until we learn that we’re operating in a broken, unfair system), we tend to attribute that failure to our OWN shortcomings. We self-reflect, healthily or otherwise. We’re too loud, too fat, too ugly, too prudish, too boring. When men’s romantic advances are rebuffed, they blame women. They expect to be accepted and loved exactly as they are.
I can’t make this about men’s pain today. I can’t be sympathetic to these ostensibly beleaguered, sexless men, because while their pain is real, it is not equivalent to mine. The worst thing that happens to a man is that he gets rejected for a date. The worst thing that happens to a woman is that she gets raped or murdered. Women are made to feel belittled, objectified, afraid and powerless at every turn, in every arena. So incels' pain is simply not the same as mine, and I won’t let that comparison be drawn.
As I summed up in a series of tweets today:
“I haven't been able to stop thinking about r/incels and misogyny-driven violence since yesterday. I can barely look my boyfriend in the eye. I can't focus at work. And here's why: Forums like that are a confirmation that men value us just as little as we suspected; that men practice just as little self-reflection as we worried; that men feel so entitled to sex, and space and attention that they will NEVER work to achieve women's equality, even as they're the only ones who can drive progress; that maybe, the men in our lives are ingrained with equally toxic, violent, degrading impressions; that maybe we can truly trust nothing and no one, and that there is no strength, no grace, no intelligence a woman can embody or precaution she can take to "win" in this patriarchy, that maybe she can never be safe.”