Rape Culture And The Myth of ‘The Random Psycho’

[This piece began as a FaceBook post the day of the Santa Barbara rampage. I received so much encouragement by family, friends and colleagues to share it with a wider readership , I decided to do so.  – VW]

Another day, another rape, kidnapping, murder, harassment, abuse of women. Today it’s a raging, rejected 22-year old privileged boy named Elliot Rodger who killed his roommates then drove around shooting sorority women before he killed himself with legally purchased guns registered to his name.

As I expected, women’s attempts to frame this as misogynist extremism have been resisted: comment threads on the internet show that Americans prefer to file this crime under mental illness with a side order of gun control. Whatever any one of us personally decides it is, Rodger’s attack has revealed the PUA and MRA subculture and generated an outpouring of women speaking their truth about the misogynist culture we live in now. I have long privately thought of it as “the new misogyny,” a violent, public, technologically sophisticated, internet- facilitated, desperate patriarchal reinforcement that women are nothing greater than the sum of our body parts. As a scholar of the medieval witch craze in Europe, I see many parallels between the late medieval period and ours in terms of training women, through public shaming, torture and violence, to comply with male expectations and desires.

The term “rape culture,” which has been in use for some time among younger feminists – particularly in the context of the sexual entitlement and sexual violence-soaked climate of American college campuses — makes many people uncomfortable. But it is a term that I want to use here in order to stand in solidarity with the younger and more outspoken generation that coined it, and in order to support the work of confronting the sick sexual culture in which Elliot Rodger’s mental illness progressed. Rodger left a manifesto that makes it absolutely clear that his actions were developed, pre-meditated and carried out because women he lusted after did not respond to him. For this “crime,” he murdered them.

This murder triggered me and millions of other women who live daily with same kind of violence-tinged sexual entitlement Elliot Rodger took to a horrific extreme by turning a gun on young women who represented all those who denied him their bodies. I have decided to speak some of my truth about how I experience rape culture in my own life as a single, middle-aged woman.

I have been on hundreds of dates over the decades, had profiles on multiple dating sites over the years, had short romances and long term relationships, been engaged once, lived with male partners twice.  I have many loving and wonderful men of diverse sexual orientations in my life as best friends and beloved mentors. I am a minister and have preached, taught and lived out the integration of sexuality and spirituality. I work full-time in a church setting: an environment populated by good men who are self-aware, respectful, intelligent and dismayed by sexism and misogyny, in a denomination that has worked very hard to address sexual misconduct, sexism and homophobia within its own communities and in society.

I am a strong feminist who loves men and cares deeply about boys. But I notice that my respect and trust in men in what we might call “the dating scene” has plummeted over the past five to ten years as I have been constantly subject to the simmering rage of male frustration in an age of unprecedented female independence and choice.

It used to be only the men my friends and I referred to as “creeps and psychos” who revealed how much they hate independent, self-confident women who aren’t interested in them. Now it’s almost normative male behavior. In writing this, I am stepping out from my location as a religious leader and speaking as a woman. Before I am anything else in life, I am a woman. To paraphrase a popular Twitter meme, I am someone‘s daughter, niece, sister, best friend, teacher, minister.   The Twitter conversation under #YesAllWomen has been another factor in my decision to publish this post.

I attended college in the 1980’s in a sexist environment where I sensed I was being trained for social submission to men. Boys dominated every class and expected girls to stand back academically. Professors silently tolerated or enabled this dynamic (except for women’s studies classes which were new and homophobically derided as “angry lesbian class”).  Out of the classroom, the Greek system prevailed and if you weren’t in one of the “hot” sororities, you were invisible. I had a boyfriend in college and for a long time afterward, but chose not to marry.  I do not regret not marrying, but always imagined that dating, establishing relationships and concluding them in a mutually caring, mature and amicable way with grown men would be a reasonable expectation for my adult life.

For a time that seemed to be possible. But I noticed a disturbing cultural shift about a decade ago that made me wonder if it was just me who felt like the whole world had become a meat market for single heterosexuals. Now I know it wasn’t just me.

The meat market metaphor works like this: if a man thinks a woman (meat) is juicy and delectable, he thinks he should be able to have it. If a man thinks the meat isn’t “choice,” he thinks it should be tossed in the garbage, discarded as useless and even offensive. The meat that does not whet his appetite is named as disgusting and reduced to its anatomical parts.

This combination of entitlement and hostility is what I see, observe and experience on a regular basis, despite the fact that I’m 48 (“hey, wow, you don’t look that old!”), not seeking male approval, accomplished, socially adept and considerate.  It’s the weirdest sensation, getting caught in the meat market display case so often even though I disengaged from the “will he like me?” dance years ago and hardly ever date anymore. I feel that in the absence of dance partners for the Waltz of Male Approval, heterosexual men are doing a bizarre frug around me and many other straight women who, although they might like to be in a happy relationship, are just as happy and complete without one.

Living in rape culture today means that when I meet a heterosexual man, sexual come-ons and innuendo happen immediately: not neutral witty banter or intellectual exchange, as used to happen.  Earlier in my dating life, my casual flirting was not assumed to be a serious sexual overture. Men with decent social skills were able to engage in friendly exchanges without veering immediately into crass objectification and sexual presumption.  Today, sex leads. If it isn’t mentioned almost right away, it is present in the conversation like a fog. This isn’t the same fog that I maneuvered as an attractive teenager in an era where boys begged and girls set the boundaries and it all seemed in good, (mostly) mutually respectful fun. This fog is angry and wears an impatient smile.

I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable to read this. I hate having to constantly experience it. Rape culture means that before I can make a friend, before I can enjoy companionship for itself, before I can be known or know someone, I am expected to enter into negotiations about sex. If I register my disapproval or irritation, I am dismissed, rejected or insulted. I must be frigid or a prude. I am accused of “wearing my vestments.” I am told that I have body issues and need to be liberated (I may have mentioned that I’m fat, which comes with its own special subset of misogyny and assumptions that I’m desperate and self-hating).

That’s nonsense. I know who I am. And I’m too mature and experienced to buy into that kind of manipulation. I worry a lot about younger, less confident women’s ability to do the same. The level of entitlement and rage and emotional violence out there is intense. Something has shifted, and it’s awful.

Rape culture says that the assumption that the primary function of heterosexual women is to crave sexual attention and approval from  men, and to be shamed, insulted or assaulted when they reject that function. I have been called a “fat b—-” so many times for politely refusing sexual advances, I couldn’t begin to estimate the actual number.

Sexual entitlement, the foundation of rape culture, takes many non-physical forms: for instance, a man dominating conversation on a first date, bombarding me with unwelcome information about himself — including detailed sexual fantasies — and then quickly becoming hostile and intimidating when I excuse myself from the date or try to end the phone call or e-mail exchanges. After years of being willing to tolerate narcissistic monologues that substitute for conversation, I now wait for a reasonable opportunity to excuse myself and say goodbye.  I worry these days that a guy is going to follow me to the parking lot and gun me down.

How is this still happening in a country like America, where women comprise the majority of college students and make up half the work force? To what might we credit or blame this degradation of basic manners and social skills among a fairly wide demographic of heterosexual men? Blame the internet? I don’t know, but even educated, cultured men seem to have lost the art of conversation.  This goes far beyond mere social ineptitude, as I have noticed that the monologues and recitations I have been subjected to on dates began, around ten years ago, to function among single men as a kind of warm-up to sexual aggression. In rape culture, heterosexual men interpret polite listening as a sign of interest and sexual attraction. I used to extend invitations to men to spend time together, but I rarely do so any longer, as such invitations are inevitably assumed to be sexual in nature. My single male friends these days are gay, or are ministerial colleagues (or both). I am trying to think of the last time I made a new single, heterosexual male friend. Not one comes to mind.

Rape culture plays out for me the bitter accusations that I’m puritanical, a closeted lesbian, or a “judgmental b—-” (often expressed in more crass language) for objecting to married or partnered men pursuing me. The invitation to join a man in lying and adultery does not just happen on-line. It happens at conferences, parties, waiting outside for tables at a restaurant, at Fenway Park, or anywhere else I have interacted in a friendly way with heterosexual men who identify me as someone they think it would be fun to have recreational sex with. The squealing 180 degree male spin-out from smiling and flirtatious to vicious and threatening has trained me and many other women not to stand up for ourselves, lest we risk violent attacks or stalking on-line or in person.

Rape culture plays out in the form of dozens of text messages single men have sent me after one pleasant and polite conversation that concluded with them asking for my number. The text messages are not considerate or even coherent — they often arrive in the wee hours of the morning, and only include generic phrases like “How r u?” or “You around?” even though I have never given any indication that I would welcome such inane intrusions. Some might chalk this text-pestering up to social awkwardness, but it isn’t just that. Because the texts inevitably degenerate into crass objectification or come-ons, they are ultimately expressions of misogyny. Techno-lechery is a form of micro-aggression millions of women have to contend with daily: it’s not just the cute young gals who suffer it.

By the way, as any woman will tell you, the advice about cyber-stalking is this: “Ignore him. Don’t mention his name or respond to him, as it will only provoke him.” This is the same advice we are given about being harassed on the street. Don’t provoke men. Don’t make eye contact. Pretend you don’t hear the vile remarks about your body, your personhood. Parishioners and friends with teenaged and adult daughters have asked my advice on how to do better by our next generation. I have a few thoughts: we all need to stop telling enraged women that their anger is inappropriate and unattractive.  We must make room for it, and for truth. We must stop telling girls to behave themselves and to protect and excuse men.  We have to stop romanticizing abusive relationships in music and film (“Twilight,” anyone?) and encourage and equip our daughters to question the message of the books, films and TV shows they consume.

What is to blame for the rise in hostility against women, the “new misogyny” that we call rape culture? I don’t know. But Anthony Wiener, Bill Clinton, hip hop and rap artists, reality TV, slut-shaming, blaming the victim, “boys will be boys,” bitches and hos, wilding, the United States military’s treatment of women in the armed forces, sexting, Snapchat, all the “CSI: Murdered Prostitute/Rape Du Jour” episodes that pass for entertainment… women doing fine on their own and not needing to partner with men for economic security, child-rearing or social acceptance? It all factors in to rage and disrespect and male self-hatred that gets projected onto women.

And of course there’s pornography.

No one wants to talk about the fact that many educated, accomplished, socially adept American men now consume a huge amount of pornography casually and constantly as an accepted daily leisure activity. I do not protest pornography in and of itself, but am waiting patiently for the day when a woman can acknowledge that a steady diet of pornography desensitizes and negatively influences many of its consumers without being accused of being Andrea Dworkin.

Aside from porn, men in our culture are constantly being fed images and messages that women’s bodies exist to please and accommodate or entertain them, and that the human beings who live inside these bodies are a boring afterthought to the consideration of whether or not she will fulfill his fantasy for a relationship, or sex, or both. I was shocked to hear the celebrated movie “Her” (directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johannsson) described as a poignant parable of love and loneliness. I thought it was a wickedly funny and sad satire on male fantasy: if man can design a sexy operating system that wants to have sex him, what use will he have for messy, frizzy-haired, ordinary human women?

Likewise, the manic pixie dreamgirl fantasy, “Ruby Sparks” fancied itself a kind of Pygmalian tale with the Eliza character earning her independence from her creator at the end, except for the horrifying conclusion, which showed Ruby “meeting cute” with her author/creator and starting the romance again, ostensibly on her terms. No one who critiqued the film thought to consider that for Ruby, there could be no free will, as she was literally created by the man she “happened” to fall in love with at the movie’s end. I thought the message was chilling; not at all a feminist retrieval of the Pygmalion story. The fact that every detail of Ruby Spark’s mind and imagination were created and therefore colonized by the protagonist of the story (played by Paul Dano) seems to me an expression of the young, female screenwriter, Zoe Kazan’s, internalized misogyny.

A few days ago in Southern California, another group of young women were killed for the crime of being out of the sexual reach and social control of a frustrated man. I believe that this murderer’s obsession and mental illness flourished in our culture for legitimate and obvious reasons, and it is time for a confrontation of those reasons by all of us. I am tired of the open season on women. It’s not some other culture’s problem. It is not just a problem for young women. It’s a moral sickness in our culture and we need to fix it.

When I have tried to talk about the development of rape culture in our society as I have observed it get worse over the past decades, men and women try to turn the conversation personal. I’m just not doing the right things to meet “nice guys.” I should get off Match.com or OKCupid, because that’s where the creeps are (as if on-line dating wasn’t thoroughly mainstream by now).  If I have a profile on a dating site, maybe I said something that gave men the “wrong idea” and need to re-word my profile (let me tell you, no one actually reads the profile!).  I should specify at all times that I am interested in “friends first,” which no one seems to understand is equivalent to telling attractive young women to wear longer skirts or women to cover their heads in church: female modesty to mollify male aggression.

This isn’t a personal issue. This isn’t about your awesome, fun, smart, funny, gainfully employed, talented female friends dropping out of the dating game because they just aren’t having any luck or any fun meeting guys. This is a societal problem, a social ill that is getting worse and needs to be addressed politically and publicly. This isn’t about what those in denial like to call “a random psycho” who creeps out your friend on a date or stalks your co-worker. Rape culture permeates our society and is a powerful ideology that continues to attract new generations of men who feel fundamentally entitled to women’s attention, admiration, support and bodies. To continue to react to posts like mine with the (now widely mocked) cliche, “Not All Men Are Like That” is no longer acceptable. It never has been. Please help me move our communities beyond the silencing of women implied by “Not All Men Are Like That,” beyond the discomfort of hearing women’s truth, beyond the fantasy that this is a news story that doesn’t apply to ordinary lives, and out into our community conversations.

Recommended articles:
Courtney Meaker, “Walking While Fat And Female,” one of the most powerful #YesAllWomen personal testimonials I read this week.

36 Replies to “Rape Culture And The Myth of ‘The Random Psycho’”

  1. This is a powerful statement that deserves wide attention. I will share on FB and forward the link to some of the good, thoughtful men I know with a request that they share it around with their men friends. (Alas, some of the best guys I know tell me that they don’t have men friends because men are useless, and women make much better friends.)

    But the question looms: How to move into a shift in the culture, so that young men don’t grow up thinking they have a right to dominate women, and to lash out at them if they can’t? I think that one way is to encourage men’s groups in churches that work actively with the boys in their congregations to teach them how to be respectful and appropriate in their relationships with girls and women. What else might work? (I have my doubts about the Boy Scouts…)

    Friends, let’s have a conversation about how to move this story forward. Sending it on for further reading is a good first step, but there are SO many steps required after that!

  2. Thank you for writing this and giving voice to my experience too. This is really important conversation to be having, even though most people don’t want to have it. Your words have helped me clarify my own experience, and moved me to a place where I know I need to speak out publicly about this. Again, thank you. [Thank you for commenting, Collette. We give strength to each other. It has taken me a really long time to recognize that it’s not just me, that it’s not me “putting out the wrong signals” or being paranoid or over-sensitive. Women are socialized to wonder first what WE are doing wrong, not to consider what’s wrong with men’s behavior. I assumed I must just be a special jerk-magnet or something. Not so. Society is becoming crass and gross. Enough. – PB]

  3. I thought I’d let you know that I intend to link to this in next week’s Weekly Sift. It’s a powerful statement that rings true, but also takes me totally by surprise.

    I’ve been married and monogamous for 30 years, so my dating career doesn’t overlap yours at all. Like me, my male friends are also mostly long-term married guys. Nothing we talk about and nothing I remember prepared me for Rodger’s rampage.

    Lots of times when I hear about people doing terrible things, I can identify at some level. Rob a bank? Shoot my boss? Assassinate a politician? Yeah, I’ve had those thoughts. Never got close to carrying any of them out, but they don’t seem like the actions of some completely different species.

    This does. I can understand a guy feeling frustrated and wondering why he isn’t more popular. But that’s as far as I can go with Rodger. I find I have to stop after reading a line or two of his rants. It doesn’t feel like a forbidden fantasy, it just feels nasty, like being covered in offal or something.

    I pride myself on staying plugged in (for a guy my age) and understanding cultural trends, but I’m clueless here. I can talk vaguely and abstractly about threatened privilege turning into rage, but these particular mechanisms don’t make sense to me. I wish I could offer some insight from the male side of the gender line, but I don’t have any.

    [Thanks, Doug. That feeling of being covered in offal that you describe is exactly what it feels like to get “slimed” by everyday misogyny. It actually makes me happy to know that this confounds you and other good UU dudes I know. I just wonder why it has taken me (and other hetero women in our community) so long to tell you what’s going on for us. – PB]

  4. Thank you for your careful analysis of our culture.
    Having come of age with the arrival of the pill and accessible abortion, I have witnessed the so called sexual revolution and women’s liberation defined as female availability for sex.
    I believe that deep friendship is always erotic in that it is a fully embodied joyful connection. As you have observed-that possibility is rare in a culture that reads full bodied connection as sexual as distinct from erotic.
    With gratitude,

  5. I’m feeling somewhat like Doug, above: I’ve thought about this for days and I’m not sure that, just as a male, I have anything cogent to contribute. I wish I did; maybe I will later on, as I do more listening and thinking.

    I’m 65, white, straight, been married almost my entire adult life, grew up in church, in a family in which both parents worked outside the home from necessity and split a fair amount of the housework, have served 20 years as minister with the same kind of good guys Vicki speaks of. This is only to say that the kind of male sexual entitlement mentality that is surely now too widespread among us seems to me like it must have come as an invasion from some other another planet while I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve seen some of that stuff and felt nothing but contempt for any loser who could ever take it seriously, like people who think pro wrestling is real. I admit to being at a loss even to begin to understand how you reach such people, and this is quite apart from the other, very crucial aspects here of mental illness and the pimping of firearms.

    I’m sorry I don’t have more to say right now; I will keep listening and learning.

  6. I really appreciate hearing from all of you. When we meet in religious fellowship, this isn’t the topic of conversation — for obvious reasons! It makes so much sense to talk about this with colleagues and UU friends as a serious moral issue worthy of consideration in our faith communities. Duh. Just starting the conversation feels like a major integration of parts of my life that rarely get to spend time together in the same part of my brain.

  7. Entitlement Generation
    [I wish you’d say more. Elliott Rodger is a Millennial, yes – a generation accused of majoring in Entitlement. But the men I’m meeting are not. They are older, and I suspect have been changing their social behavior in concert with the times (and not in a good way!). Do you think that entitlement is a social problem that the elders are teaching to our kids, or learning from them? We certainly are a youth-obsessed culture. That might be an interesting thesis. – PB]

  8. Hello, you used to write great, but the last several posts have been kinda boringK I miss your tremendous writings. Past several posts are just a little bit out of track! come on!

  9. This is a brilliant analysis of the current scene; however, the one thread I missed is the biology of it all. Most rapes are committed by fringe males and they naturally gravitate to college campuses because that’s where all the unguarded females are; not under the aegis of their fathers and not yet married and the “property” of another male, males who would attack the rapists.

    I noticed this phenomenon at work even as an older woman. In my late 40’s and early ’50’s I was the executive director of a large organization whose members were cities and towns represented by municipal politicians. The first two years in the job I was single. I had to parry a certain amount of harassment – not a great deal because I think my persona is quite sharp and not attractive to most men. However after I married,my husband began to come to conferences and events and because he was affable and able to chat with anyone, I immediately felt a big difference – more respect. I was someone else’s “property” and the “property” of someone these men respected.

    I think unless we recognize the biology of it all, we won’t be able to deal effectively with it. I see young women dressed most sexily. I can’t decide if they want that attention or they want to prove they can dress like that just to make a point – they’re equal etc. Even I who thinks she is heterosexual, have occasionally lusted after one of these little honeypots – you see – sex -not even knowing the person at all. And this from an aged woman.

    Biology speaks and speaks loudly – it doesn’t have to be determinative but it cannot be ignored.

  10. Early in the 1980s, I began to notice pop culture trends that promoted the idea that males should be mean and dumb. There were plenty of male heroes in pop culture when I was growing up in the 1950s, and in 1950s and earlier pop culture, the men always rescued the helpless woman, but they were kind and principled, like the Lone Ranger, who never shot to kill, only to disarm. They didn’t seem to bristle with aggression and were often quiet, almost shy, when not fighting the bad guys. They spoke of moral principles. (I recall the scene in the 1939 movie “The Philadelphia Story” where Jimmy Stewart’s character says that it wouldn’t have been right to take advantage of Katherine Hepburn’s character when she was drunk.)
    I rarely see blockbuster-type movies, but I do see the previews for them, and they seem designed to validate the most aggressive fantasies of 15-year-old boys. It’s not only that the super-violent hero with his high-tech weapons and steroidal muscles will kill vast numbers of people–it’s that this aggression makes him attractive to the love interest, whose clothing is either skimpy or skintight.
    Did anyone else notice that WWE wrestling, with its over-muscled, stupidly aggressive “contenders” suddenly appeared on several TV channels in the late 1990s?
    I used to teach on the college level, and in the early 1990s, I noticed a new trend. Most of the males were trying to develop their muscles, to become “buff.” Since most of the non-athletes never needed to anything more strenuous than type on a keyboard, I have to assume that they were influenced by the pop culture and that the more shallow girls were attracted to that look, thanks to the pop culture.
    There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the fact that there are now more girls in college than boys. Some conservative writers have claimed that the atmosphere in schools is “too feminine,” but I wonder whether it is more that boys are picking up a message from the pop culture that says that intellectual activity is for losers.
    (I know several women who prefer foreign men, even those from more sexist cultures, because they know how to be masculine without being stupidly macho.)
    The question is why the pop culture would promote this hyper-masculine stereotype. One is that our culture is becoming very militarized and authoritarian, and the “mean and dumb” personality fits into this kind of society perfectly. “Mean and dumb” types are useful for keeping the non-conformists in line. “Mean and dumb” types are useful for squelching “uppity” women and ethnic groups. Maybe it’s all deliberate. [Very interesting comment. Lots to think about. “Mean and dumb.” Yes. – PB]

  11. I remember being very frustrated by an ex-boyfriend who couldn’t understand why I was so upset at being cat-called while walking down the street. He thought I should have felt complimented, and that was the end of it. It worries me that as a pastor for college youth he may now be passing on those same values.

    I work at a domestic violence shelter where we strive to confront and subvert rape culture. The sense of entitlement to and objectification of another person’s body are just one of the ways in which abusers (both men and women) exert power and control. We often think that rape is something that happens between strangers, but it is much more likely to happen between people who are at least acquaintances, if not in a dedicated relationship. We educate our clients to understand that any time they have been coerced to have sex, either by force or threat of force (or other threat), that it is rape. It is very difficult to see how many women begin crying when we talk about this. Yet another downside of rape culture is that it normalizes the twisted thinking of abusers, and thereby supports their worldview.

    More and more agencies that work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are turning to the work of primary prevention–to try to keep abuse and assault from happening in the first place. The program my agency has is called “Building Healthy Relationships” which involves establishing relationships with schoolchildren by going into local schools and hosting a series of classes that talk about equality-based relationships–whether friendly or romantic–as opposed to relationships based on power and control. Our hope is that by teaching about this and modeling these relationships ourselves, we can make a difference in the lives of these young men and women and all the people that they will encounter in their lives.

  12. Wow, zaborilenta, thanks for illustrating another aspect of the entitlement Rev. Weinstein is writing about. On HER BLOG. Where she writes what interests HER.

    Women aren’t obligated to use our minds to entertain you any more than we’re obligated to use our bodies for that purpose. We pursue our own goals and interests. If you don’t like what you’re reading, go elsewhere.

  13. Thanks for your courage to speak out on this issue and share so personally. As someone like the other men responding, I have been married for almost 25 years so I haven’t been part of this change. And the pull for me has been to be a Buddhist monk so I don’t have great personal insight here.

    My sense though is this the hangover from the sexual revolution gone to seed. I agree also that pornography is doing very bad things to men’s brains. I remember looking at some in the beginning of the Internet expansion and quickly deciding this would be very bad for my mental health. I wholeheartedly support a cultural shift that de-emphasizes sexuality and increases the value of caring, warm relationships which many men don’t seem to realize are more satisfying anyway.

    Let’s also blame the fashion industry that sexualized women too. Testosterone is a rather ugly hormone that gets stimulated by looking at women’s bodies. It is a powerful force that has been driving reproduction forever and unlikely to change anytime soon. Men need a strong culture of restraint to keep it in check that seems to be unraveling.

    I wonder too if men are feeling less powerful as women do fine without them and surpass them in the workplace. Look at the backlash against Obama on the right. I sense men are losing power and angry about it.

  14. This is a powerful piece. That said, I must disagree with you on one point. I am 67 years old and a lot of this behavior is not new to me. As a newly single 30 year old I started experiencing first hand a huge difference between men born and raised in other countries and those from the US. Not all, of course, but the vast majority of men from the US had no compunctions against talking about sex within minutes of meeting. Whereas that was a never occurrence with my foreign-born gentlemen. That’s not to say that they weren’t interested in sex — nor was I uninterested — it’s just to say that they were a hell of a lot more subtle about it. I spent a number of years, off and on, dipping into the pre-online dating world of personal ads. I’m happy to say that most of my experiences were essentially hilarious but I did have to jump that hurdle of trying to get past the sexy talk in order to get to a first date, during which I found that 99% of time it was just NATO (no action, talk only). As for the 1% it was nothing threatening or dangerous, as it might be today.

    I’m very happy that you brought up the issue of pornography. While it has always been with us, it used to be difficult to obtain. Initially one had to go to a movie theater, then a video store, both of which could not be done anonymously. Now hard core (and worse) porn is as close as your smartphone and no one, other than your credit card company and browser, is any the wiser. I do have to wonder how much of the PUA and MRA stuff is porn-fueled as I cannot lay it all at the feet of Budweiser commercials.

    Thanks again.

  15. I don’t disagree with anything you say, except the idea that this is new. haven’t we always lived in a ‘rape culture’? It wasn’t long ago that prosecuting rape was so difficult women didn’t even attempt it. They couldn’t even admit to their families because the shame belonged to them, not the man who raped them. “She asked for it” as a defense is as old as the hills. Women working around men had to put up with all kinds of ‘unwanted advances’. 5o years ago on my school playground when the boys pulled up our skirts we were told “Oh, they’re just showing they like you”. There is nothing new under the sun.

  16. Some societies, including Middle Eastern ones, disliked these kinds of problems so much that they have gender segregation. In the USA and most of the G8 nations, women and girls have fought against gender segregation feeling that it has often been abused to deny girls and women decent education, work opps and so on.

    As humans we really do need to educate both boys and girls, working women and mothers who do not have jobs, and men who have wives and men who are single either still or again, to respect one another and those of like kind and even our own individual selves.

    I am against the abuse of girls and woman. I am also against the abuse of boys and men. This goes in general. Most people endure some forms of abuse in their lives – if not from older relatives, then from bosses and teachers. That does not excuse it, but may give perspective in life. Despite all our efforts to be good people, which probably saves us all, most of us behave so badly in some instances that we abuse others. Likewise, other people sometimes do us wrong. That is reality.

  17. There is a lot I could say that would maybe just regurgitate “not all men are like that”
    instead I am very moved to say; I hear this, I hear you! You have opened my inconsiderate eyes. Thank-you.. [High five, brother. – PB]

  18. This is so true. Something I am battling every day by teaching respect and nonviolence to men who have used violence against their partners. The culture we live in absolutely teaches men to disrespect women and this culture supports a hierarchy where men are superior to women. I don’t know how many times I have had people say that this notion of male superiority and hierarchy is old-fashioned yet it is in every fiber of our media and social culture, including the clothing available to women and girls.
    Add to this the culture of disrespect/emotional and verbal abuse that is considered entertainment (i.e. ‘Reality’ Competition TV shows and ‘Reality’ Talk shows) and it is getting worse, I believe.
    Add to this the inequality that is widening between those who can afford more than one home and those who can barely afford an apartment in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and we have a recipe for a society that is so anti-woman, I am scared for my two daughters.

    Like a previous commenter, I want this to change so badly. I have a twelve year old daughter and a nine year old daughter. I want them to be accepted for who they are and safe from harassment and disrespect. And until every girl in this city is safe from that disrespect and harassment, my job is not done. I am doing my best to change this one family at a time, and we need this to be more of a movement that comes from all sectors. Churches, schools, mental health settings, employers, media, everyone needs to join in this fight against misogyny.

    What are you doing? What more can we do? [I think some community organizing so that we have a safe place to have this conversation is one thing we can do. I get so angry keeping my mouth shut and my head down when I’m with men who are engaging in the kind of behavior I describe. But then when I think about trying to change society I don’t know how to start organizing it without being told that it’s my personal problem, or I’m too angry, or I’m not representative of “all women” (it’s amazing how often women silence other women). It’s really hard to know what to do but at least we are starting to ask how we can figure this out TOGETHER. – PB]

  19. Kathleen Hunter, calling a college age woman a “little honeypot” is super gross and disrespectful. My daughter is in college, she’s old enough to vote and go to war, and she can dress however the hell she wants.

  20. Quite an eye opener. I’m a 40 years old white male and while I do not fit in your description, I’ve observed similar behaviour.

    I really think that the larger part of the issue stems from a different source that doesn’t appear to have been mentioned. My own opinion on the matter is that more and more people behave as 2 years old. Immediate desire is paramount to the self with little or no regard to others or consequences:
    “Want!” -> Fulfilled -> “Happy”
    -> Unfulfilled -> “Angry/Lash out”

    Applied in a sexual dynamic, it creates exactly what you describe. This is an unfortunate situation which has been developing for a long time in the social unconsciousness. The only solution I can see is to stay conscious and aware…

  21. Jamie H-R – I understand your dismay at my comment. I was writing what occasionally goes on in my mind when I see these gorgeous young things with next to nothing on – it wasn’t a “politically correct” comment and it wasn’t meant to be – I was trying to illustrate what biology does to us sometimes. That if biology can do that around sex to an aged woman what does it do to men seeing your daughter? And again that doesn’t mean they should act on those urges but if we don’t recognize they are there at all we can’t really do anything about dealing with them. I think it’s easy to confuse what “should” be with what “is”. Yes your daughter or any young woman should be free to dress the way she pleases but the fact is, if she does, then she is, in our current climate, quite likely to be objectified, leered at etc. Not right but that’s how it is right now. If you go through your own mind have you never looked at a woman or a man whom you did not know and have you never had similar “impure” thoughts?

  22. I don’t want to derail the conversation with our sidebar, so I’ll say a few things and let you have the last word if you want it. There is nothing wrong with having sexual thoughts and I don’t think anyone is asking people to not have sexual thoughts. But I don’t understand why your having sexual thoughts about young women, or even your having objectifying sexual thoughts about young women, would lead you to speak of them disrespectfully in public. This is a public space. I don’t know what political correctness has to do with it. I don’t know how you got from “these women inspire lust in me” to “these women are little honeypots” to “I will call these women little honeypots on the internet.”

    If this was a kind of performance art, like you were illustrating how men disrespect women by disrespecting women, then I guess, well played?

  23. (sorry, first attempt I forgot a closing tag.)

    This was an interesting read. I’m a married 40-ish guy so I don’t see these things, but the sea change in interactions with men that you’ve described is very interesting. If it really is such a distinct and universal change then I’m curious to know what’s behind it.

    One thing that occurs to me. You mentioned the “men’s rights” (how wrong it is that they grabbed that phrase) and pickup subcultures, and you said internet-facilitated. I wonder if you’re not closer to the truth here than you might think. The internet got big about 10-15 years ago so the timing certainly works out. Sometimes all it takes for a thing to take on a whole new level is for its fans to be able to find each other, something the internet was made for. The men’s rights and pickup presences on the internet are pretty much misogyny unbound and I bet they have direct and indirect influence on a lot of guys. A man who’s angry or resentful (or maybe just has a problem with lack of respect) would find plenty of consolation and reinforcement for the wrong attitudes and ideas. Twenty years ago he would have had to mostly keep such thoughts under wraps, and would probably have been exposed to positive counter-influences that would be heavily outweighed today. It’s too simple and easy an answer to explain everything but I think it’s worth something.

    Submitted for consideration, probably the best essay on this and on Rodger I’ve yet seen:
    Elliot Rodger and the Price of Toxic Masculinity

    p.s. Have to disagree about your take on “Her”, if you’ll pardon me for playing Siskel vs. Ebert. I don’t think the program was made to satisfy a man. To me it seemed clear the program’s ability to get this sort of intimacy was an unexpected evolution, along with all the others she (and the others like her) went through during the story.

  24. Jamie H-R – About public space – you might be right -I have to think more about that- unfortunately I never lust in formal English – and I’m always tempted to write for effect – I wanted to underline the objectification that I am guilty of as I look. I can see, having a daughter that age, why you would find it upsetting.

  25. Hi: Brian Kiely, our UU Minister here in Edmonton, shared your blog on our Facebook site. I am not clear in my mind whether the misogyny that we’re seeing today is any worse than it was 20 years ago. As Mary says, it was a lot more difficult to prosecute someone for sexual assault than it is today. Domestic violence against women was also largely ignored by the police and the justice system. Perhaps this misogyny is just more overt, in that some men, for reasons inexplicable to me, feel more empowered to objectify and subjugate women. I’m on the board of a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence. Last year we supported 400 women but had to turn others away. The numbers aren’t going down…. in fact they continue to rise. Where is the learning to be found which is creating more and more thug-like males? Why are they able to feel so empowered? What are we doing wrong? What can we do to change these attitudes. Is it just a time to listen to women?

  26. This might seem like a redirection of the conversation, but I feel quite strongly about it… I have been reading many articles about the violence this week in California.
    I agree with much of what you say, but immediately balked when I read you attributing the perpetuation of violence and misogyny to hip hop and rap. I think it is an extremely limited point of view and one that, I can only assume, does not come from any knowledge of the culture that you are talking about. In my experience, UU communities are overwhelmingly white and also generally don’t have many active young people within them. (I know, it is a diverse community, but there are certain majorities present, unarguably.)

    First of all, classifying all hip-hop and rap as misogynistic and violent is incredibly uninformed, and secondly it comes across to me as racist. This is a musical culture that was born in poor, disenfranchised neighbourhoods, generally black neighbourhoods, that experienced, and continue to experience, unrelenting violence at the hands of the police and their governments, and the white communities around them. It has risen up as a reclamation of autonomy for many artists, and an insistence to be heard. It is wide in it’s scope and covers every subject and experience imaginable.

    It is also spoken in language that, though unfamiliar to probably every UU service, is commonly spoken, and also often rejected as violent or uneducated. It is only because it is not our own. Now, I’m not the person to speak to the cultural importance of this genre, I’m white and don’t share its history. But as far as I have seen, shutting it down as violent and fearing it’s effects on our children, or our minds, or whatever, only reinforces the barriers already silencing and marginalizing communities of colour, and is a disappointing and short-sighted one to see happening. There is violence in hip hop, just as there is violence in country music, and in UU communities, and everywhere in this world.

    Every cultural trend from every demographic of people has it’s ugly side. Reinforcing one cultural inequality in our condemnation of another will not further the conversation.

    [Thanks for writing, Alicia. I went back and re-read what I wrote because I was surprised to be accused of racism and attributing the perpetuation of misogyny to hip hop and rap. I listed hip hop and rap as one of the possible causes of “the new misogyny” as I experience it, and said in the same sentence that I DON’T KNOW what is causing this. I am not unfamiliar with the communities out of which rap culture arose: my first job out of college was to teach high school in such a poor, black urban environment. I currently live in a diverse neighborhood in Lynn, MA (look it up). I have dated across color and socio-economic lines. You’re making a lot of assumptions about me personaly but your points are worthy. – PB]

  27. A friend of mine shared this on facebook. Thank you foe taking the time to write this, and to make it publicly available.

  28. I have to admit, that as a monogamous woman of mature years, the dating scene has not entered into my life until recently when I started examining why my 30 year old daughter had not gone a date for five years. In frank discussions with me she told me point blank that she wasn’t interested in the desire for immediate gratification and narcissism of the men she was meeting. Even the men she worked with in a professional setting had proven themselves to be self-centered and impatient of the wishes of the women with whom they wanted to “have a relationship.” (Code I suspect for their willingness to keep a woman around long-term if the woman was ready to put out.) I don’t have an answer other than to start training our sons (and daughters) to learn self-control, and delay gratification until it can be mutual. Sex and the search for personal gratification can no longer be treated as the funny topic of sitcoms. Until sex is viewed as the pursuit of mutual gratification, there can be no progress made.

  29. Your comments are right on. Misogyny has been around in various forms forever.

    However, I believe there is a direct corollary between the rise of, and mainstream acceptance of, rap culture and unbridled conscience free capitalism starting in the 1980’s, and the extreme dehumanizing and violent culture we see towards women today.
    Greed is good and it’s okay to be a prick.

  30. Kathleen Hunter, most rapes are committed by people the victim knows or are acquainted with. They are friends, friends of friends, and family. They are not assaulted by strange men who use frat parties and club dance floors as camouflage. The men who assault women on campuses are students, dorm mates, visiting friends, TAs and Greek members. They know what they are doing, they do what they do smartly and cleverly, they use people around them adeptly to hide, and they present plausibly acceptable faces to other men and women they aren’t assaulting.

    I don’t know what kind of primatology classes you’ve been taking, but human beings do not live in troops with alpha males where subordinate males have to lurk on the margins. And all but the most reactionary researchers accept that human beings work on the notion that bio-cultural beings whose capacity for culture, cooperative behavior, and critical decision making have been with them for as long as they’ve been human. We know this because interpersonal violence does not happen the same way everywhere.

    Furthermore, when it comes to women being “guarded?” You’re implying it’s men who guard other women. Cue please my hollow laughter. If anything, the people I feel help keep me the safest in public are other women, and it’s not because I am “guarded.” It’s because I am supported and empowered to act on my own behalf.

    The 1930’s called and they want their reductionist, scientifically misogynist and racist ideology back, so if you could put it in a jiffy bag and send it to them, we’d all appreciate it, thanks.

  31. I agree with those commenting that the “rape culture” has existed for decades. I graduated from college in 1973, at a school where women were generally well respected. There were a few knuckleheads but mainly we were equal. I went on to law school, not the best in the city, but where the women were in general more accomplished than the men. The top women in my class (I was not one) were safe from assault, but those of us more middling were often propositioned, and labeled frigid if we did not go along. It didn’t matter if we were married, as I was at the time.

    In the ’80s, I had a horrible experience in which I drove a man I knew to his car on a rainy night. Because I was caught behind the wheel of my car with my seat belt on, I could not resist him as he forced me to perform oral sex on him. This was a rape. The man had the gall to call me three days later and ask if I wanted to spend time with him the following weekend. Once he had done what he did, I wondered, how could he think I would want to spend time with him? He said that he knew I enjoyed it.

    I was a lawyer, he was a lawyer. We both knew that this case could never be proved one way or the other, and that he was safe. And he actually thought that I would run to him because he was in a much better paying job. He was not the only man in those days in the legal community who took advantage of younger and less well paid attorneys. It was rampant. Unlike my experience in college, where we had a wonderful freedom, I was forced to avoid certain venues that the males of my profession could frequent, I was denigrated by judges and court officers alike, and my fellow women attorneys and I protested and fought, but it was an uphill battle and too many of us departed that sector before anything meaningful could be won.

    So don’t think this is something new. It may be more in-your-face, but it is an ugly straight line from my experiences (I am now 62) to those now being suffered by our younger sisters.

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