After The Santa Barbara Shootings It’s Time to Talk About The Culture of Violence Against Women

shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, CNN screen
shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, CNN screen

I’ve been covering politics since 2009, and some portion of that is always devoted to covering the half of the citizenry that is female. In America, 3 women will be murdered every day on average by a “jealous” ex or current intimate partner. The perception of rejection can be lethal for women, thus “women who leave their batterers are at a 75% greater risk of being killed by their batterers than those who stay.”

So today, on this tragic Saturday when a very disturbed young man allegedly went on a murdering rampage against the “beautiful” women archetype he felt rejected by, I’m wondering if we can finally talk about the systemic problem of violence against women in the United States.

Since studies indicate that the majority of violence against women is committed by a small percentage of men, this is not a treatise against men at all. Men are not the problem. Our culture is the problem, and together, men and women can help heal it.

But first we need to face it.

We need to stop assuming a person is lying when they tell us something so ugly that we don’t want to believe it. We need to stop standing with the empowered instead of hearing out the vulnerable. This includes our heroes, too.

Many years ago, an intimate partner of mine tried to murder me while under a criminal restraining order for prior violence. I actually died and came back to life. I was lucky. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and didn’t even serve a day in jail. They let him keep his “hunting” guns, which he used later in order to threaten me and my family in order to get me to return to him.

He was a well liked businessman, who did a lot for the community. He was kind to other people’s children. He was an all-American college football hero, beloved by many. He had a sweet side to him. His counselor told him that he felt insecure, and that’s why he was so violent. He believed himself to the victim of his own violence, and he told me that he was abused as a child. He was 6’5″ and 240 pounds to my 5’2″ 93 pounds.

I’ve never written about this before because the stories I write are not about me. But today, my past is relevant because the one thing I learned is that no one wants to believe that evil like that exists. Even when the person admits that they overpowered a much smaller person, and looked this person in the eye and told them they would kill them, and then proceeded to watch them die, and when they woke up, tried to kill them again.

No one wants to hear these things. The lucky and the naïve take refuge in the idea that the victim is lying, even after the perpetrator has confessed in a court of law and police photos have been shared. People will do anything to avoid facing the fact that this threat could get them or their daughter or sister or wife next. It’s not reserved for the “bad” people. You don’t earn it somehow, unless by merely existing and exercising our freedom of will we “earn” having our lives stolen.

Meanwhile, three women a day are murdered. The danger goes up when women are pregnant. But we always think it can’t be the people we know. Statistically, this is unlikely.

He told me that he had been accused of rape twice in college and questioned in the murder of a man. Later, an attorney sought me out to testify against him after he allegedly assaulted a female customer of his. While this is anecdotal, it reinforces the studies that suggest that a small percentage of men commit the majority of violence. It’s repeat offenders — which is why it’s so important that we learn to listen when someone tells us something awful has happened to them.

So, I know it’s ugly. I know it’s hard to hear. But we are teaching susceptible young men and boys the wrong things about women. These angry men commit horrible acts against women because they feel rejected and feel entitled to a beautiful woman of their own. A desirable object. A trophy. The Stop Violence Against Women lethality assessment finds a relationship between this sense of entitlement and lethality of violence, “Some men who batter believe that their wives or partners belong to them. A batterer who believes he is absolutely entitled to his female partner, her services, her obedience and her loyalty is likely to be life endangering.”

A woman’s beauty is a thing to cherish, not own. Every woman is beautiful.

We need to teach our boys to cherish, honor and respect women; that their manhood is expressed in many ways and one of them is in how they treat women and children.

But instead, as a culture, we will try to take fake solace in the idea that this killer was mentally “disturbed”. As if his line of thinking is not acted upon three times a day in this country, snuffing out young mothers and precious daughters. As if he is the first to act on his hatred of women. Studies indicate that common characteristics between many incarcerated and undetected rapists are “high levels of anger at women.” Maybe hatred of women is a mental illness. Maybe not. But if that’s the route we choose, then displays of misogyny ought to disqualify a person from jobs requiring sound mental health, like Congress, police officers, judges, doctors… Yeah. I don’t see that flying.

However we classify it, it’s a problem and it’s killing women in this country every day.

We like to pretend that women aren’t vulnerable. We fetishize women with guns, and we teach women that bad things won’t happen to them if they have a gun. But that is sadly not true. Law enforcement tells women that her gun will often be used against her. So while I am personally in favor of a gun for protection in certain situations (learn how to use it), it is not going to save us from the systemic violence against women. It’s not the answer.

In fact, access to firearms leads to a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide, according to studies. Indeed, abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners. Almost two-thirds of the women killed with firearms were killed by their intimate partners. So the very folks blaming women for being murdered because they didn’t protect themselves are also the folks advocating for a no rules, free for all when it comes to gun ownership that clearly and directly endangers women.

As long as we pretend that women can defend themselves if only they wanted to, we can ignore that somehow they are not able to, or they would not be dying at the rate of three a day due to intimate partner violence. Buying into this frame that she could defend herself if she wanted to, if she wasn’t a “victim” (as if it were her fault that she is/was), lets us off of the hook for the systemic murder of women in this country.

There are so many men who are already on board and want to change this culture . Anonymous stepped up in Steubenville and in other places where an alleged rape victim was being denied justice. There’s the Good Men Project and all of the aware men – the men working hard to be a good father, husband, partner – they are all working to change this.

But before we can change it, we have to face it.

This culture enables hatred of women, fortified by the idea that women are not human beings but objects. A woman leaving a man reflects upon his ego as if she were property instead of the pain and heartbreak of loss of companionship. Vulnerable boys, angry men, lonely young men are susceptible to the messages of women as object they are entitled to, and if only they had, all would be well. It would prove their “alpha” status. Misogyny isn’t aimed only at women – all men and boys who aren’t the alpha type eventually get hit with it. They are called names that suggest they are feminine, as if this is the ultimate insult, and no one bats an eye.

What does this teach boys? We know we shouldn’t use “gay” as an insult, but we think it’s perfectly fine to use female anatomy or just the suggestion of being a girl as the ultimate insult for a man. Sure, this seems small, but it’s not. It’s part of how we enable a rape culture. A culture of violence against the vulnerable. This time it was women, but it can be any vulnerable group.

And then we blame the targeted group for being “weak”, so as to excuse our refusal to acknowledge our own part in it.

If we don’t want our children to face the ugly face of evil, then we must.

27 Replies to “After The Santa Barbara Shootings It’s Time to Talk About The Culture of Violence Against Women”

  1. Unfortunately, children hear, see and remember. Also the people who SHOULD be setting examples are falling down on the job. Our so-called Christian culture is teaching our young people the wrong values. Until this is rectified, women will always be chattel. The Teapublicans are a fine example of what is wrong and until men get over themselves as being superior, sadly, nothing will change. The do as I say, not as I do has gone awry. Therefore; if you do it, it’s OK if I do it.

  2. This kind of misogyny is being ginned up, I suspect, by those who wish to impose hierarchical fascism on us. The only way men can be convinced to accept a low rung on this (male ) ladder is to convince them that at least they will be restored to their Gahd-given place over half of society.

    I have not, in my adult life, suffered the kind of physical violence you described. Nonetheless, it’s a rare female human being older than eleven who is not conscious that she is a prey species, and that her potential predators are not only of her own kind, but sometimes even of her own kin. Only those of either exceptional physical strength or exceptionally sheltered background live without this Sword of Damocles over them, with the thread altogether too thin. I wonder what we could accomplish if our energies weren’t drained that way.

  3. It’s time we not only talked, but actually DO something about violence against women. It’s time we talked and did something about the easy access to guns to every disturbed persons walking the street. It’s time we drive out the NRA whores and misogynists amongst our political class. And we will talk about it, for a while, and then forget about it. Until the next massacre, like we did after Columbine, and Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, and on and on, and on

  4. Sarah Jones, Outstanding Article!

    I try to teach my sons well. Yet, even they have said: “Mom, we watch the old 60-70-80’s ‘Dating Game’ and Old Movie replays on TV and we can see the disrespect for Women/Girls not that long ago, actions/reactions that would never be acceptable today”.

    I came across the horrendous video of the Santa Barbara killer made the day before. They seem not to be showing the full video here in the USA. (This is from The Sydney Morning Herald, Austrian site)

    WARNING…IT’S CRAZY!
    But, to cure this problem we need to confront and understand it first:

    http://media.smh.com.au/news/world-news/elliot-rodgers-retribution-5453757.html

  5. In counties with strong Domestic Violence courts – and they do exist – prosecutions of violence led to a major drop in the ACTS of violence. In counties with designated sexual assault units, it has led to a drop in the instances of rape.

    We do have options.

    Sarah – I am more sorry than I can say this happened to you. Your courage in sharing this story is powerful for it is in shining light on ‘respectable’ males who engage in this horrific behavior that others see this is NOT how ‘real men’ behave. Thank you for this. I’m glad you’re safe.

  6. Sara, you have written such a strong article! Thank you!

    There have been at least 3-4 substantive diaries and discussions about this incident, about mysogyny, and related issues at the DailyKos. Your article was linked and quoted in one thread, here —

    http://www.dailykos.com/comments/1301720/53485912#c35

    I’ve read everything that’s been written on this today at dKos, and your article contained so many vital points that I wanted others to see! I hope you will consider my admittedly extensive quoting of your article as ‘Fair Use’.

    Thank you for making such strong and important points in this article!

  7. So do we get to start calling white guys thugs yet, or is that still reserved only for black football players who yell on TV after games? When does the media’s national conversation on the “white culture of violence” and “white-on-white-crime” start?

    White males have been responsible for more death, darkness, despair, and destruction than any other group in history: from the Inquisition, to the Crusades, to the witch trials, to the slave trade, to WW1, to WW2, to Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, to Hitler and Stalin and all kinds of genocides, to 99% of serial killers and mass murderers, to the atomic bomb, to the Great Depression and Great Recession, to political policy which exacerbate the poverty and hopelessless that allows crime to flourish. They have the fingerprints white guys all over.

  8. The laws really need to change and be enforced when these men do such crimes. They need a place that’s lesser than a psych ward, and lesser than a prison for people to go, and be forced in doing counseling while there and groups such as a treatment center would. The only way to “pass” or get out would be a set amount of time with an okay from counselor, group counselor, and someone else that is qualified.

    We don’t want to screw these people (mental problematic patients) by sending them to jail, and we don’t want to mix them with those that need psych ward level treatment. Something where the folks that run said treatment are specifically trained and knowledgable in this area of mental illness. Maybe even implement a 12 step structure built just for this kind treatment.

    Now this is just a shot in the dark that I decided to conjure up after reading this. I’m just trying to brain storm, thus maybe setting off ideas in others to come to a proper consequence for these types of issu…

  9. It seem more and more we hear about men holding women against their will. More and more the religious fundies tell us women are chattel. More and more the gop wants to redefine rape so that men are not blamed. Our kids are taught in school that women are not that important.

    We cannot allow this country to go back to the days of corrupt political, religious leaders and popes who do nothing. Women matter. There are no men without women. You cant BE a man unless you have an equal woman. Anything less and you are nothing.

  10. Perhaps one of the first and easiest steps in altering the perceived “culture of violence” against women is for women to stop referring to themselves and other females as “bitches” and to not tolerate that term for any reason from men. It is an inherently hostile and demeaning term.

  11. Misogyny is a very real and direct threat to women, and by extension to non-alpha men. It is frightening that someone internalized misogyny so thoroughly that he could react with such lethal anger to being rejected. In Sarah Jones’s case, what complicated matters in acknowledging her former SO’s misogyny for what it was is that he was deemed “respectable.” That made it possible to trivialize, if not ignore, the real physical threat he posed for her. A truly dangerous assumption is that men who are considered attractive (read sexy) and/or respectable don’t have to rape or otherwise abuse women and therefore they don’t. That’s how so many women have been victimized all over again in the very courts in which they sought justice. Sadly, they saw their sufferings trivialized and their characters smeared, which resulted in the acquittals of their abusers/assailants. This killer’s going off the deep end is only the most extreme manifestation of misogyny in its most malignant f…

  12. While I read politicususa every day, including comments, I rarely comment myself because some health issues make it hard for me to convey my thoughts easily. But I have to comment here.

    Sarah, thank you. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story with us, showing us what can and has happened and shining a huge light on the causes and warning signs of this type of violent misogyny. You are a survivor and you honor all those you have suffered by giving them a voice. As a woman who was abused as a child and as an adult, I personally say “Thank you.”

  13. If you watch the YouTube video Rodger posted, you will NOT note “flat affect” which is a very definite characteristic of Asperger’s. I am far more inclined to think his problem was Affluenza.

    While I have never suffered physical violence, I have dealt with other forms of oppression by men: my separate property was converted to community property, his was kept separate. I have been bullied and I have been paid less than men I supervised. The physical violence is not the only thing women suffer from.

  14. Many teenagers in the early stages of paranoid schizophrenia are misdiagnosed with Asperger’s. Asperger’s does not culminate in murderous behavior. Paranoid schizophrenia can.

  15. It shows how money and privilege does not do anything to fill that deep hole of inadequacy. I saw that the parents of this young man tried to alert the police after he made this video.

    The police did not take it seriously. There are also reports that Elliott Rodger had Aspergers, same as Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter. There is a real failure in this country to address the difficulties raising an autistic child. It is so difficult to understand what is going through their minds because communication skills are a huge problem with autistic children. In the US, same as Canada, parents are too frequently left to fend for themselves as there is little understanding on how to reach autistic children and too many are simply drugged and institutionalized and too often, very little support is offered.

  16. Truth. I will ammend my statement from “violent misogyny” to “dangerous misogyny” because it doesn’t have to be physical to be damaging.

  17. Congress has hearing and wants heads on a platter because GM had 14 deaths when they failed to recall cars. The Nation loses over 2000 a year in gun violence and no one blinks an eye. The disconnect is astonishing.

  18. Last i looked on the web we have about 55000 gun deaths a year, approximately 40% murders, 40% suicides, and 20% accidents

    On a per capita basis we are about 40x worse then England where you can only have a hunting rifle or shotgun, and 5- 10x worse then other english speaking nations.

    The easy availability of guns is the problem, Repubs in congress refused to even bring up a bill to require background checks at gun shows

    the most popular Rifle in the USA is the civilian version of the AR15 standard military issue

    Its a 22 cal with a very short bullet so its unstable and when it hits someone its apt eg to go in the stomach and come up and out the neck leaving a trail of death and destruction as it shreds everything in its way

    welcome to america where the NRA should be renamed the marketing arm of the merchants of death

  19. “Christian culture”? Are women safer in Western Eiropean countries, which have predominately Christian cultures, but which also have freely available legalized prostitution?

    If so, maybe sexually maladjusted would-be bombs are being defused?

  20. Nothing has been said about the mother of Rogers that I have been able to find.I do think this is a mans world.And a big part of the problems of today is family court, with my experience when it comes to the best interest of the child.Judges have to much power sending the child back to abusive men to be taught to abuse and ignoring the abuse and will not let it be brought up in court, because it is in the best interest of the child to be with both parents, it’s bull slinging the men makes the laws even in this age and time.

  21. I should correct myself, the only thing I have seen is the mother called the police.We as women must stand up for equal right’s and justice.Before I was born my uncles best friend came to his door and borrowed my uncles gun went back and ammo,went back out loaded the gun went back to the house knocked again and shot and killed my uncle, no one ever knew why.

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