How many women have to die for men’s sexual problems?
After the attack on three Georgia spas on Tuesday, which claimed the lives of eight people, Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old accused of the murders, told police the murdered women were temptations he needed to eliminate .
Mr. Long, his former roommate told authorities, was deeply ashamed of his hiring history of sex workers, and like so many misogynist killers before him, decided that the women themselves were to blame.
For too long, women have been punished and killed for the inability of men to deal with issues of rejection, desire and shame. Women of color are particularly at risk; they are disproportionately attacked and more likely to be blamed for the violence perpetrated against them. Six of those killed last week were Asian women, who are distinctly hypersexualized in American culture.
The story has become horribly familiar: a young man, bemoaning his virginity or celibacy or his anger, begins to slaughter women (although men also lose their lives in these rampages). Often times he posts a video or manifesto online. In 2014, it was in Isla Vista, California (Elliot Rodger, six dead, 13 injured); in 2015, it was Oregon (Chris Harper-Mercer, nine dead, nine injured); in 2018, it was Toronto (Alek Minassian, citing his admiration for Mr Rodger, 10 dead, 16 injured). In 2019, Christopher Wayne Cleary was arrested in Denver before he could carry out his plan to kill as many girls as I see.
In part, these attacks are the predictable result of extremist sexism online. Young men, mostly white, seek community and compassion in violent forums. There, they radicalize themselves to believe that women are responsible for all their problems, especially those related to sex.
But the idea that men’s sexual problems are women’s responsibility is not new, nor is it a fringe ideology confined to the Internet, it is a common belief shared by many Americans.
Mr. Longs’ views on sexuality, for example, seem to stem from his religious upbringing. Apparently he didn’t own a smartphone because he was fear of being tempted by online pornography. He was reportedly ashamed to masturbate and was suicidal because he believed his habit of visiting sex workers meant he was living in sin. Mr. Long also told the police that he did not commit his crime only to stop his own urges, but also to help other men by removing temptation. (Namely, women.)
These thoughts reflect traditional conservative evangelical Christian teachings on sex and the idea that it is the responsibility of women to avoid leading men into sexual situations.
This kind of culture of purity has a reach far beyond religion. Education classes only for abstinence taught in more than half of the states across the country, tell young people that it is the girls’ responsibility not to tease or tempt boys, whose sexual compulsions, they say, are almost out of control.
But rather than curbing sexual activity, these programs seem to normalize misogynistic urges. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, for example, found that programs exclusively focused on abstinence often reinforce gender stereotypes about female passivity and male aggression. And the federally funded Heritage custodians curriculum teach students that girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothes that do not invite lustful thoughts.
These ideas are so widespread that they can also be found in school. dress codes, who almost exclusively target young women, explicitly telling them that the way they dress distracted their male classmates and teachers. The National Center for Women’s Rights also found that black female students are more likely to be cited for dress code violations than their white peers, another indication of how girls and women of color are hypersexualized and punished.
Even the headlines in the media suggest that the men and boys who hurt women are passive victims of their lust. After a gunshot from a high school student in Maryland Jaelynn Willey, 16 in my head, the Associated Press first described him as a teenager in need of love. And when a lab tech strangled a Yale pharmacology graduate student, Annie The, and stuffed his body behind a wall, the New York Post said the crime was born out of unrequited love and called the murderer lovelorn.
Across culture and institutions, the message is the same: Male sexual violence is to be expected. It becomes increasingly difficult to treat these crimes as aberrations when the values that drive them are so clearly normalized.
He promises that women around the world will continue to speak out against sexist killings. Marches erupted in London following the murder of Sarah Everard this month; and in Latin America, hundreds of thousands of people protested against gender-based violence on International Women’s Day. But women’s activism and anger will not stop rape and murder. Only men can do it.
There are countless ways to curb massacres like the one in Georgia: Editors could take a closer look at how they cover sexualized violence; pop culture creators might rethink their objectification of women, especially women of color; schools could teach comprehensive sex education that dismantles gender stereotypes and myths about desire and consent.
But at the end of the day, the answer is quite simple: if we don’t want angry young men taking their sexual frustrations on women, we have to stop teaching them that it’s understandable if they do.
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