Terrorism: UCSB and me

[TW: Violence against women, misogyny]

When I was eleven years old, most Americans learned the meaning of terrorism.  They learned that America isn’t invincible.  And that scared many, many people into virulent nationalism and into supporting military action we would later come to regret.

For me, September 11, 2001 was simply my rude awakening to the grown-up world.  I started to have a nascent awareness of politics and foreign events.  I, too, ignorantly cheered on the illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.   But the fear that the adults around me felt didn’t truly have an impact on m.

About a week ago, just after my 24th birthday, a young man my sister’s age killed and wounded several people in California, after posting many videos online detailing his deep-seated misogyny and racism and his plans for a day of “retribution” where he would punish all the women who had rejected him.  I watched the #yesallwomen hashtag unfold on Twitter, detailing the horrifying violent, in-your-face misogyny that all women experience.

And for the first time, I understood terrorism.

I felt, cold in my chest, the fear that I would be murdered for who I am.  This isn’t a new fear.  Too many people, non-white, trans, queer, face down violence and harassment every day.  But as a somewhat sheltered white woman, this was the first time the terror of violent misogyny had really sunk down into my soul.

At the time, I was suffering through a particularly bad bout of depression which I am just now pulling out of.  The UCSB shooting made everything just that much worse (and I was especially depressed by the media’s implication that all mentally ill people were capable of such evil; as I have said before, I know many many people who struggle with mental health issues yet would never hurt another person if they could help it).

I didn’t care if taking a hiatus from my normal life meant “letting the terrorists win.”  When it frightened me to set foot outside my house, the very real necessity of self-care and my own mental health trumped any admonishments to keep calm and carry on, or to fuck shit up.  The very thought of being out in public among strange men, some of whom might be violent misogynists themselves, made my whole body shake.

When I left the house to do some necessary grocery shopping, I felt like a hero.

The whole world has a different look to it now.  Every time a movie has only one female character amongst a huge cast of men, I see dehumanization and I feel, deep in my gut, what that dehumanization has cost us.  When a man approaches me with those innocuous complements that precede a come-on, I am torn between the fact that I must reject his advances by telling him I have a boyfriend and the fear that he will lash out rather than disappear in search of someone more available. Every time I see the white male viewpoint touted as “objective,” I want to crawl beneath my blankets and just give up.  Because if people are still denying there’s a war on women? They’ll never get it, I think despairingly.  They’ll never understand.  They’ll never feel the impact of what is, for me, a daily reality.

And, perhaps most frightening of all, I realized, I’m lucky.  I’ve been relatively unscathed.  Yes, I grew up in a totalitarian, patriarchal culture that brainwashed me into thinking I was lesser than men, that did its level best to steal my humanity from me.  Yes, I was frighteningly assaulted by a near stranger.  Yes, I was in an abusive relationship that culminated in rape.  But I’ve had it so much better than so many others.  And I’m not dead.  I’m not dead and that counts as being very, very lucky indeed.

Louis C. K. has this bit about how brave it is for women to go out with men.  He doesn’t go far enough.  It’s brave for us to exist, to live our lives.  The feminists who speak of separatist communes are onto something (except that they’re usually transphobic which is just evil.  Why would be antagonistic to the most vulnerable women among us?)

If one man says “not all men” to me, he is in for a world of hurt.  In the wake of a massacre motivated by misogyny and by racism, we don’t need white dudebros stuttering “not me! I’d never do that!”  We need empathy. We need solidarity.  We need men to say, “holy fuck. Misogyny sucks & it’s way more dangerous & prevalent than I thought! What can I do?” Men, you need to start rooting out your own misogyny and challenging the misogyny of your peers.  We need you to be proactive in helping us create safe space.  We need you to never offer a single excuse for the rape, murder, harassment and victimization of women.  I’m sorry if this means swallowing your pride, but a slice of humble pie will hurt you far less than constant dehumanization, psychological brutality and physical assault hurt us.  You need to get your fucking priorities straight.  I am out of patience. Get your goddamn shit together.

And we feminists need to get our shit together too.  Yes, Elliot Rodger was targeting white, cis, conventionally attractive women.  But we need to understand that all women are targeted by misogyny, and especially groups like black women and trans women. And can we never, ever say these violent men should take their issues out on sex workers? Sex workers are our sisters and we need to be the first to say they deserve protection from violent misogyny just as those of us who aren’t sex workers do.  Sex workers do not exist to clean up our garbage.

If white, mainstream feminists do not learn empathy from the UCSB shooting and #yesallwomen, they prove themselves allied with the misogynists.

To use progressive Christian nomenclature I learned from the best professors at my college, I mourn.  I am deeply saddened that we women are subject to violence, to assaults upon our humanity. I mourn that very few men show solidarity with us and I find it tragic that we are expected to carry on, to fix misogyny all by ourselves.

Remembering the concept of mourning, I also recall a verse from the Psalms I used to love: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Joy will not just happen.  It isn’t a natural force like the rising sun.  But I still have faith that with real work, struggle, organizing, revolution, we can create a morning of joy.  We can create a world where no woman feels that horrible clench of fear in her but, where no woman will ever be slaughtered simply for being a woman.

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