Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Mean girls. Part 1 in a series.

In the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger shooting, I've not only digested a wealth of what's been tweeted on the likes of #YesAllWomen and #Notallmen, but I've also read and thought at length about two prominent exercises in male mea culpa writing: one by Jeopardy's (admitted) uber-nerd Arthur Chu, and one by our own frequent contributor and master wordsmith Rev Ron, who is the farthest thing from a nerd. Lest there be any misunderstanding, Ron states forthrightly in his title, "I am the Problem." I commend both pieces to you. See what you think.

As for me, I would disagree with just about every point presented by our two featured apologists, as well about 87% of what I've heard on TV or the radio. 

I have linked to the pieces so I'm not going to quote from them extensively (not at all in this post) and/or try to "rebut" them line by line. I'm simply going to tell you how I see it, and if I come off as politically incorrect (at best), or some kind of brooding/hulking Neanderthal (at worst), so be it. I honestly can't understand why anyone would apply the latter label to me unless you're not really reading what I write, but rather are intuiting a certain ugly (misogynist?) mindset behind the words. Of course, nowadays, you're basically a misogynist if you believe that some small portion of men should be permitted to go through life with their balls still attached. Have you ever heard CNN's Sunny Hostin? Oh my God.

My overarching point, which will unfold over the course of several posts, is simply that there are women who have earned the rage some men feel. Does that mean they deserve to be shot dead on the street in front of ice cream parlors? Uh, no. I'm just explaining the motivation that may help drive some of the crazies to extreme action.

So here goes nothing...

My wife has often observed, correctly in my view, that "there is no more cruel being on this planet than a teenage girl." Kathy says this not so much because of what teenage girls do to boys (to be clear, my wife is not a big fan of teenage boys, either), but because of multiple offenses against "the Sisterhood": that is, what teenage girls do to other teenage girls: bully them, exclude them, belittle them, take great delight in fat- or clothes- or slut-shaming them, and so forth. I am purposely focusing here on intra-girl behavior (girl-on-girl crime, as it were) because I want to filter the gender tensions out of the mix. We'll talk in time about the animus between men and women, and what the arguments might be on the male side. Lord knows you've heard enough of the arguments from the female side, which are, apparently, the only arguments worth hearing, judging from our mainstream media. So far as I can tell from the coverage of the Elliot Rodger shooting, there are no rational grievances men may lodge against women. (I ask again, have you heard Sunny Hostin?)

These girls who are behaving badly toward other girls are, in many cases, the popular girls, the hot chicks that Elliot Rodger couldn't persuade to bestow sex upon him. (I also think the nasty behavior grows in direct proportion to privilege. The ones with looks and money may be the most insufferable. Or to hear my wife tell it, again, "They're narcissists bordering on sociopaths." For the record, Kathy does not have a degree in psychology, but she ought to.) The point I'm making is that leaving aside their disinclination to sleep with Elliot Rodger, these girls aren't, a lot of them, very nice kids. They are, as Kathy says, cruel. For the mere sport of it, for no other reason than to flex their social muscle, they'll pick on other teenage girls, powerless girls who are on the emotional edge to begin with. They'll drive those poor girls to antidepressants or cutting or in some rare cases suicide, then post laughing comments about it on Facebook. (Do some Googling around; you'll see what I mean.)

Which is why I don't want to hear that this "mean girls" motif is "Hollywood fare" or urban legend. 

Consider this poll from SmartGirl.org, an empowering site aimed at, well, smart girls, or those who'd like to be. Unscientific, yes, but telling nonetheless. Asked to respond to the statement "Bullies are usually boys," 62% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Or you may wish to scan this white paper, which notes in its executive summary:

 "Relational aggression, broadly defined as 'behavior that is intended to harm someone by damaging or manipulating his or her relationships with others,' is more common among girls, and is difficult to monitor or observe due to its covert nature."
To repeat, a girl who bullies and berates does not deserve to be whacked by a Beemer-driving maniac with an overblown sense of entitlement. But she inspires a great deal of rage among people of both genders (and all ages) who wouldn't exactly shed a tear if she got run over by a speeding Amtrak one night. 

And expanding the context a bit: Is it at least possible that a girl who takes delight in shunning other girls and even driving them to suicide might do some pretty crappy stuff to boys as well? I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'll just put that question "out there" and let it hang...

Now, can teenage boys be pricks? Absolutely. I might even omit the qualifier, the "can be" part. Worse, some of 'em are profane, violent thugs. They will use and mistreat teenage girls, if the girls let them. But, you know, the dynamic between boys and girls is one of those chicken/egg things. The pattern starts young, and seems to be a natural (albeit sick) byproduct of their incipient mating dance, so it's hard to know where to lay the ultimate original blame (if such ultimate original blame even exists). As noted, we'll delve into that more later, but that's why I've begun this series of posts by trying to factor out the ugliness that grows organically from gender tensions. Yes, boys are fully capable of treating girls like shit, but girls are also fully capable of treating girls like shit...and call me naive (or partisan), but I do not think that on balance, boys are as "evil," if you will, as some teen girls are.

Boys tend to be direct and overt.
"Hey Amber," some charming lad will scream across the lunchroom, "why don't you come over here and suck my dick!?"
Girls do it differentlyand, I would argue, more diabolically.
They invite Amber to eat at their table. They invite Amber to a party. They ingratiate themselves with Amber, get on her good side. Then they stick the knife in and twist it in a way that Amber never saw coming.
The upshot of this post is that if anything, girls should bond together to support and uplift one another, to ease each other through the endemic horrors of adolescence and, yes, of dealing with asshole boys. Too often, they don't do that. Instead they are bitterly competitive over those same asshole boys.
_____________________________
Next in the series: The objectification of women...who's really to blame?

24 comments:

whistle said...

I kinda want to take you to task for your last paragraph (Really, us girls have to stick together? Sorry, but I don't really care about supporting someone of my own gender just b/c we're the same gender. Sounds like the 'voting against your interests' crap that I've seen you (rightly) lambast), but it's not really the point of your post...

I'm interested to read the rest of your planned series and any comments that might come in.

Steve Salerno said...

Whistle, thank you for keeping me on my toes and slapping me upside the head (to mix metaphors). You are correct in observing that I've never been a fan of the "blindly vote the group interests" ethic. I guess I was sort of channeling the theme of the women's movement itself, which has always kinda been, "if we don't stand up for ourselves, who will?" And trying to point out that where the rubber meets the road, that faux togetherness too often falls victim to competing personal agendas. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing?

Again, thanks for weighing in.

RevRon's Rants said...

An interesting - and to an extent, pretty accurate - post, Steve. It goes without saying (or it should) that females can be very hostile, and that some if not many of them have been known to behave badly, toward both men and other females. Your example of the girls who stabbed their classmate, however, is very much the anomaly rather than the rule, whereas the crude catcalling to which you compared it is quite widespread. And as I noted in my own piece (which I must thank you for linking here), incidents of females physically abusing, assaulting, and killing males are much less prevalent than are incidents of similar actions directed at women by males.

If there were the level of equanimity in abuse that you suggest, my comparative example of how solitary women and men feel when confronted with a group of the opposite sex would be highly unusual, when in actual practice, it is near-universal. If you don't believe me, ask pretty much any women you might know (and whom you trust to answer truthfully). While you're at it, check the (very conservative) statistics indicating what percentage of women are raped and killed by men, as opposed to how many men are raped and killed by women.

Finally, your characterization of me as an apologist for men is accurate enough. I am a man, and I have been known to behave in a manner that contributes to the sense of unease that most women feel when they encounter a man they don't know, and who makes even subtle overtures to them. Granted, I've never been physically abusive or threatening to a woman, because that is not how I was raised, and such behavior would be contrary to my own personal values. But to a woman who didn't know me, and who had faced the kind of disrespect that so many women have experienced, I have to acknowledge that I hadn't reasonably given such a woman any reason to believe that I was *not* being disrespectful. As such, the woman would rightfully be wary of even making eye contact or responding to even a benign compliment that I might have offered. In short, since I didn't behave in a manner that would dispel a woman's sense of unease, I ended up contributing to it, albeit unknowingly and innocently.

THAT was the impetus behind my post; that we as males need to be cognizant of how women experience us, even if we cannot relate to their experiences.

And I would, in closing, remind you that pointing out another's inappropriate behavior does not constitute a valid justification for one's own. If we as men insist upon waiting until those "mean girls" are nicer before we are willing to improve our own behavior, nothing will change, and we will find ourselves - both men and women - to be lonely apologists, clinging to our own rationalizations for company.

I want more than that. And I'm willing to do my part to get it.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, thank you for taking the time to embellish on the themes you presented in your initial essay. I'm going to withhold comment at this point as some (if not much) of what I'd say would only overlap what I intend to post as we go along, and I wanted to see, first, if people would weigh in on this element alone, and what they might say.

real woman with open eyes and Mace said...

I was just scanning Ron's comment as I prepared to post my own, and as he suggests for the life of me I don't know how you can compare the passive-aggressive foibles you point out in this post with the very real DANGER that women face at the hands of men EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just once in a while when bullying has a tragic outcome and the media go into a feeding frenzy.

Get real, Steve Salerno. You don't know what it's like out there. You have no sense of the trepidations we face just going through a typical day. And you respond to that by in effect justifying a mass murder?

Steve Salerno said...

Mace, can I just ask for now, how many disclaimers must I put in the piece before you take me at my word that I'm not justifying homicide? I included at least two, and are you saying that you think me insincere? I have a wife, a daughter and three precious granddaughters, for crissake! I also teach college, and the vast majority of my students are female, and they would tell you how much I worry about them getting back safely to their dorms each night.

If I say that I think it's dumb for a child to wander over to the tiger cage and poke it with a stick, are you saying that I'm rooting for the tiger to maim the child? I'm just asking for a bit of perspective--and trying to make points that no one is allowed to make on the air, evidently.

We'd all be a lot happier if nobody ever felt the need to exact vengeance on anyone, which is where (I hope) this series of posts will end up.

Brit gal said...

So glad you decided to build this article around insights from that known sociologist and epidemiologist, your wife. Nothing like bring authoritative!

Anonymous said...

Valid points on the meanness of girls (and women), Steve.

But this has nothing to do with Elliot Rodger's situation.

Rodger was never rejected by a woman, since he never asked a woman (or girl) out. He expected women -- hot blondes specifically -- to fall to his feet, because he was such a supreme gentleman.

He was rejected, however, and bullied, by other boys and young men, sometimes in the presence of girls.

That aside, I hope you're doing well.

Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

To Rev:

This is Elizabeth again (the old SHAMblog Liz; as above). I read your post, and... wow. Loved it. You get it, Rev. Thank you. May your attitude become contagious. God and women know we need more of it, ASAP.

Unfortunately I cannot comment on your blog, because I closed my Google account (and do not intend to go back) and the other commenting options do not work for me either.

So I'll do it here, hoping Steve won't mind (too much).

Give my best to Connie.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, thx for dropping by. First off, there is more to come in this series. But just quickly, remember that it was feminists who turned the Rodger tragedy into an all-embracing metaphor for American misogyny. I was just responding to that. And as far as his being bullied/tormented by guys, have we forgotten test his first three victims were guys?

Steve Salerno said...

Stupid ipad turned a misspelled "that" into a "test."

Anonymous said...

Eliz here again.

"And as far as his being bullied/tormented by guys, have we forgotten test his first three victims were guys?"

No, I haven't (more about it in a moment). I've spent some time exploring Elliot Rodger's story, as it fits right into my interests (psychopathology, etc.)

Don't know if you read his manifesto, but if not, you should.

Here is one relevant fragment:

"The most beautiful of women choose to mate with the most brutal of men, instead of magnificent gentlemen like myself. Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with. That decision should be made for them by rational men of intelligence. If women continue to have rights, they will only hinder the advancement of the human race by breeding with degenerate men and creating stupid, degenerate offspring. This will cause humanity to become even more depraved with each generation. Women have more power in human society than they deserve, all because of sex. There is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female.

Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such. … All women must be quarantined like the plague they are, so that they can be used in a manner that actually benefits a civilized society. …

The first strike against women will be to quarantine all of them in concentration camps. At these camps, the vast majority of the female population will be deliberately starved to death. That would be an efficient and fitting way to kill them all off. I would take great pleasure and satisfaction in condemning every single woman on earth to starve to death."

If that's not misogyny, then I don't know what is. And his views, as extreme as they are, are not at all unique. I've spent some time, regretfully but also educationally, in the recent months (even prior to Rodger's rampage) investigating the so-called manosphere, where views like Elliot's are the daily, standard fare. While most of those expressing them do not go on to commit murder (as far as we know), their virulent misogyny, so readily expressed and supported by so many others, legitimizes imaginary grievances of men who are particularly disturbed and vulnerable and who decide to put those ideas into action. It is instructive that many manospherians hailed Rodger as their hero.

He also very specifically said that he wanted to kill women, first and foremost -- the main objects of his hatred and aggrieved entitlement; and, second, men whom women were attracted to, or who appeared to be in happy relationships with them. This is also another manifestation of his misogyny.

Elsewhere he writes,

“I will destroy all women. I will make them all suffer for rejecting me. I will arm myself with deadly weapons and wage a war against all women and the men they are attracted to. If I can’t have them, no one will.”

Anonymous said...

contd. (from Eliz)

I don't know yet why he killed his male roommates first -- perhaps they were "successful" with women, which in Rodger's mind could mean as much and as little as the fact that some woman somewhere smiled at them once; but his goal was to exact his revenge on women, above all. Or maybe they were just in his way and convenient targets to remove on his way to the 'real thing.'

He is pretty straightforward about expressing his misogynist views and intents. I don't think there is any doubt about misogyny being a motivating force behind his mass murder. It is as clear as the role of Hitler's antisemitism in devising his "Final Solution."

This leads to a question as to why is it so difficult for so many people to accept this obvious fact, supported by so much evidence? If we had a mass shooter who'd target, say, Jews or Muslims and left multiple documents expressing his bigoted ideology and his evil intent to act on it, would we ever doubt that those very sentiments played a role in his actions? My educated guess is not at all. Why then such a resistance to acknowledging the obvious in Elliot Rodger's case? What purpose does this denial -- because that's what it is -- serve?

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, did I or anyone argue that Elliot Rodger deserved the Man of the Year Award? No. I posted what I posted precisely because I resist the idea that he is/was an archetype for All Men. Yet that is the argument being foist upon us by the #YesAllWomen crowd, and now, seemingly, by you.

Was he a misogynist? Quite probably, though to me he sounded like more of an equal-opportunity hater. But are we all misogynists? No way. And in any case, do women bear any culpability for male suspicion and animosity, to the extent it exists? I think yes, as I will explain further as we go.

RevRon's Rants said...

Eliz - Thank you for your kind comments. You've been missed.

Steve, like the #NotAllMen crowd, you seem to be missing the point. Nobody is implying that Rodger is representative of ALL men, or claiming that all me are misogynists. The simple truth is that all women have either experienced being personally threatened by men or know other women who have been. In fact, virtually all women at least know a woman who has been sexually molested or even raped. It is a phenomenon that is sufficiently widespread as to be a part of the cultural fabric, worse in some places than others, but present in all cultures.

For that reason, men who are *not* aggressive/abusive need to be aware of and sensitive to women's inherent wariness when encountering males, especially those whom they don't know. Merely claiming not to be "one of those men" is not sufficient to allay women's unease. I'm reasonably certain that even "one of those men" would go to great lengths to reassure women that *they* were good guys. And as I stated in my blog post, I have to acknowledge that some of my own behaviors - no matter how innocent - could likely have been construed as examples of objectification of women. Even if a woman's wariness of me is not justified by my behavior, I still need to at least recognize that her wariness is well-founded, and that it falls to me to behave in a manner that doesn't feed into her fears.

Finally, like every male, I have encountered women who were at the very least emotionally abusive, but like the vast majority of men, I haven't encountered a woman in whose presence I felt endangered. There simply isn't the equivalence in genders that is being suggested.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, do you really think the Rodger backlash has been about explaining female "wariness"? For real? To me it seems more like an updated version of the "wouldn't we all be better off if a plague came along and killed all the men?" mindset that attended the Bobbitt penis-snipping incident, where many women could barely contain their glee at what ol' Lorena had done on behalf of the Sisterhood. And there's that constant implicit undertone of female superiority: that women are, simply, the more evolved gender. Maybe so. Still, even if a counter-attack is highly impolitic, I've decided to undertake one here.

(I am willing to concede that maybe I'm receiving all these feminist messages through jaundiced eyes and ears; I don't think so.)

I've also been remiss in not following up on my first post...life and (paying) work intrude. Several of you have actually asked for Part 2 and beyond, and I hope to get back to it soon.

RevRon's Rants said...

You said, "(I am willing to concede that maybe I'm receiving all these feminist messages through jaundiced eyes and ears..."

Methinks that it is more likely that you enjoy going a bit to extremes, just to stir the pot. I got no sense of anyone's "glee" in the vast majority of op-eds and comments I read. And yes, I do think the primary impetus is to try and let us males get a better understanding of what women go through (And it is far from being an isolated incident... just the opposite).

I'd suggest that you talk to a few women whom you trust to be honest with you. I think you'll find that the discussion is neither manipulative nor hyperbole. Yes, really.

As far as the "undertone of female superiority," I'd suggest that it exists primarily on television shows and commercials, and in the defense mechanisms of some women (and men - but I'm not gonna name any names here!).

Steve Salerno said...

Yanno, Ron, you keep being as utterly reasonable and imperturbable as you've been of late and you may have to jettison the "Rants" part of your online handle.*

Maybe you could be RevRon's Entreaties?

* (are we loading up on the bran muffins?)

Anonymous said...

Steve, if you look back over your blog with an open mind you will see a constant theme of misogyny and anti-woman remonstrations. It is clear for the seeing. Have you looked inside yourself and your own issues to see why this is so? Some introspection may be in order.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, nowadays I tend to remonstrate a lot less than I used to, and only in private. And what's this, "remonstrations" and "introspection" in the same 4-sentence comment? I'm not poking fun. It's just unusual and, for anyone with a writerly ear, kind of leaps out at you (or at least me).

There is a difference between between explaining/defending men and being anti-woman. And your comment really touches on a key point that isn't made often enough: Today we can't seem to take issue with any arguments raised by a PC-empowered minority (women, blacks, gays) without being accused of some ism, or in this case an ogyny. That's unfortunate. It was better for awhile, but the PC/thought police are back at it in full throat again.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Anon again from this morning, I just read your op-ed about academic freedom and those same themes leap out from it! How do you not see this in yourself?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I grant you that I'm limited, as we all are, by the disability of being able to see myself only through my own eyes. That said, what I mostly see is a rebellion against an oppressive orthodoxy which insists that the world be viewed only one way--and a way that, again, to my eye, is out of conformity with the evidence, to the extent such evidence can be objectively discerned.

Did I waffle enough for ya? ;)

Henriette said...

I'm with Whistle. I hate it when I'm told I should stick with or vote for someone since she has a vagina too.

I went to an all girls high school and to this day do not have a "girlfriend" or a "best friend." My closest friends are male. I've always been hurt the worst by my "sisters." I've always said women can be the cruelest.

I always wondered why the Virgin Killer didn't hire a prostitute. He had enough money to pay for one. That's what I would have done if it mattered that much to me.

Dimension Skipper said...

Couldn't find a better recent post to put this comment under, so I'll just put it here...

Just thought you may be interested in NPR's All Things Considered summer series examining men and the changing (or not) notions of masculinity.

The New American Man Doesn't Look Like His Father

Seems like it might be up one of your alleys, steve, if you can somehow fit in the time to follow it.