I can’t remember exactly what I said as ten years has since passed. I had been going through something with a girl—or with some girls—and reading a lot of Hemingway. Perhaps Papa was helping to stoke in me the fire of an aspiring machismo. I think, though, I told my co-worker Chad that I didn’t really trust women, and in that way, perhaps, Hemingway was right. Maybe women are inherently… problematic? Chad, who I had known for years outside of work by that point and gotten along with famously, spoke to me frankly for what I remember being the first time. “No,” he said. “That’s wrong. I don’t agree with that.”
I grew up with a lonely father who was by then twice divorced. I had some residual, divorce “team” related resentment issues with my mother. I hung out with some older “sexual conquest” types around this time. I can rationalize the origins of the feelings my younger self had toward women, though I can’t defend them. Fortunately, Chad told me clearly that they were indefensible, helping me to embark on a path of denouncing such feelings in a substantial way. I hadn’t thought of that interaction with Chad until I read of the Elliot Rodger killings, which made me sick and sad for the victims, for the parents of the boy, and for my wife and my daughter, both theoretical targets of Rodger’s wrath. Much progress has been made in the fight toward gender equality, but women still have to worry about being the targets for simply exercising agency over their own bodies.
When thinking of my younger, Hemingway-admiring self, I remain somewhat confused. My most immediate friends were women, and I had already had some of the experiences with girls that opened my eyes to the potential cruelty of men fueled by entitlement that continues to motivate me today. But I suppose a seed had been planted young and the roots had to be yanked. I am grateful to Chad for starting that work, and for everyone who has helped to keep the garden moderately free of those weeds along the way. I am the beneficiary of someone having spoken up.
I am not trying to make excuses for, or explain away the behavior of Rodger. I don’t pretend to understand him, but in the frustration that inspired his crime, I saw some of my younger self. Being young is an incredibly confusing and frustrating endeavor, often wholly irrational in nature. I am fortunate to have surrounded myself with friends, activists, professors, and many others who helped me to understand the value of empathy, and of striving to better understanding experiences outside of my own.
Make no mistake: Rodger’s action was an act of terrorism against one half of the global population, and an action that should affect us all. It turns out that he had taken his feelings and begun to entrench himself in communities that fetishized resentment and spun it into hate, an action we recognize in modern political terrorism. He became a steadfast believer in male entitlement to a subservient female class and expected of them adoration, or else. It turns out a member of another of these groups is implying more attacks are imminent if the women do not become more amenable. Decentralized woman-hating groups bound only by ideology and a commitment to violence. This all sounds very familiar in this modern age of terror.
That entitlement is embedded early and built, in part, around the establishment of gender roles and resultant expectations. The nostalgist class has built an enterprise around a similar fetishization, where they exchange “think” pieces about how attempts to address the ills created by these expectations are leading to the feminization of boys and impending collapse of society. As we were horrifically reminded this weekend, in addition to all of the other ills these outdated roles and related expectations create—discrimination, harassment, sexual abuse and assault—that entitlement, when taken to its logical extreme, kills people. This happens not just in the form of rampages across the country, but in the form of domestic homicide, which occurs with a nauseating frequency here in Maine.
When I look back on my life, I fondly remember all of the times that people boldly spoke up, even when it didn’t feel so bold at the time. More than a few of these saints have touched my life. I appreciate Chad for speaking up when he did. I am not going to pretend to know about Rodgers—we only know the most sensational bits and pieces of him now—but I am thankful I never got to the place that he did, where I sought out a misogynistic community in which I could keep that resentment alive and growing. Before it got to that point, someone heard what I was saying and acknowledged it as wrong. He said something to me, which snapped me out of it and freed me to head in a different direction. Speaking up often seems like a monumental task, or potentially annoying or off-putting, but it can have a much less dire effect than standing by and saying nothing at all.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lucy Nicholson | REUTERS