Another tragedy. This time a disturbed man named Elliot Rodger took to YouTube and then to the streets of Santa Barbara, California to seek revenge and retribution, seemingly on women who didn’t respond to him in the manner he desired. For a lifetime of “unfulfilled desires” and “loneliness” he experienced as a 22-year-old virgin, he went on a murderous rampage and killed six people, injured another thirteen, and then killed himself.
If you watch his last video, broadcast widely, you get a sense of just how much mental help he needed. You also get a sense that this young man never learned to value human life, especially the lives of women. As if he should have had a girlfriend in the first place, as if these women he found attractive somehow owed him something, owed him anything at all. He was a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) and spread that vitriol widely–and ultimately committed violent acts. And some folks don’t believe that feminism and fighting for the rights of women still matters!
Women have responded to his misogynistic rants and his violent rampage. Women have taken to Twitter with #yesallwomen to tell their experiences and stories, albeit briefly—that yes, all women have been around men like this one. No, not all men are violent or dangerous. But yes, all women do fear the fury of men like Elliot Rodger who vowed to “fight against the unfairness of the world” through violence against women.
Before I left for college, my father had me practice self-defense moves so I would be prepared. He demonstrated how to put my keys in my hand while walking to my car at night, to lace them in-between my fingers to use as a weapon in case someone attacked me. I learned quickly that when men would hit on me, the best response was always that I had a boyfriend, whether or not that was true at the time. If I said that I wasn’t interested, but thank you for the compliment, the harassment would just last longer and could get ugly. Some of these men respected other men more than they respected me.
When young men leave for college, do parents explain to them that no means no? That when a woman says that she’s just not interested, you graciously accept her response and leave her be? That you are not entitled to her time, her attention, her mind, her body? If parents are not having these conversations with their sons the way most parents have conversations with their daughters—well, they need to happen. So that respect rules the day in relationships and we see each other as human beings with thoughts and feelings, not sexualized objects to be exploited.
Watching Elliot Rodger makes my stomach turn. Because I know guys like that, I’ve dealt with them before. And many women I know have as well—read some of the #yesallwomen responses.
And then I think of some of the scriptural texts that have been used and abused by misogynists in the Church. “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.” (1 Corinthians 14:34) Or “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
And then I think that it’s no wonder that some men feel that they deserve to be with any woman they find desirable. It’s no wonder that the Men’s Rights Movement is out there spreading their hateful views. That some men believe that women should be subordinate, silent, submissive, sexualized beings they can control.
Thank God the United Church of Christ, the denomination I am proud to serve as an ordained minister, doesn’t interpret scripture in this literally horrific way. But what about those denominations that do interpret these scriptural passages literally and don’t know the historical context, let alone take that context seriously?
I don’t have all the answers, but I know that we have to do better—in the Church, in our families, in our schools and universities. We have to demand a culture of respect. In the Christian context, we have to teach our sons and daughters to see each person, each human being as created in the very image of God—holy and beautiful, and treat one another in this way. Violent words can lead to violent actions that run counter to God’s ways. Historical context matters in scriptural interpretation, and mutuality in relationships matters. In the end, let’s look to one another for hope, and live lives worthy of Jesus’ call to love—love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves. Let’s pray for these young people in Santa Barbara, holding them in our hearts in the days to come.