Isla Vista shootings force us to examine Western ‘manhood’

A 'Welcome to Isla Vista' sign, the site of the 2014 Isla Vista, UC Santa Barbara shootings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia commons)
A ‘Welcome to Isla Vista’ sign, the site of the 2014 Isla Vista, UC Santa Barbara shootings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia commons)

As with many of the mass shootings in America that have become all too familiar, when the Isla Vista rampage occurred, people were quick to label it as another crazy person doing a crazy act.

The analysis of this event became dichotomous as well. It was either about misogyny or mental health and access to guns. None of these topics are wrong, but on their own, they missed a larger part of the picture.

Personally I didn’t think the misogyny angle was as important as mental health and access to guns, but the more I looked into the shooting, the more disturbed I became.

There is a particularly unsettling aspect of this event that I couldn’t (and still can’t) shake. That was the idea that as a man, I held similar views of women with that of the shooter.

Those views I shared with the shooter were of disappointment, anger and frustration with the interactions and relationships I’ve had and continue to have with women — but who hasn’t felt this?

I couldn’t point to a specific feeling this incident gave me, but it was disorienting to say the least. I thought, “So does this mean at any given moment I could strike out and act as this man did?”

The fact that I and many other men are capable of these horrific acts made me paranoid. But I can only imagine what women have to deal with walking by us men on the streets, in the office or out on a coffee run.

To them, there is no difference between a killer and non-killer. We all look alike.

That was when things got real for me and that is what made this post take as long as it did to leave my mind and make it onto this blog and thus, the Internet.

What is means to be a man

In the wake of this mass shooting, I also noticed a short-sighted trend on many comment sections. The remarks tended to cover the basis of “The guy was crazy. Can we move on now?” But that is what we’ve been doing when discussing topics surrounding mental health, misogyny and gun violence — we’ve been moving on.

A Twitter trend hashtagged #YesAllWomen was sparked by this event and it featured hundreds, if not thousands, of women (and men) pointing out the struggles and instances of misogyny women deal with on a daily basis. It was eye-opening for someone who is a member of the opposite sex.

There was even a tumblr blog that collected articles about women facing the consequences of retribution from the males in their lives.

Not too long after the shooting, there was yet another case featured on Gawker about a man who killed his ex-wife and her new boyfriend before deciding to kill himself at a high school reunion in Illinois. Huffington Post even ran a feature piece on the US having the highest rate of homicide stemming from domestic violence in the industrialized world.

The shooter was a misguided man in a nation that promotes masculinity as how many women you’ve conquered, had sex with and possess. Let’s face it, men tend to see women as possessions. We are not evaluated by men or other women by the things we do for women, but by the things we do to them.

The gunman, like many boys and men not just in America, but around the world, was a victim of the larger hegemony and a perpetrator of that very psyche on a very personal level.

His inability to get laid quickly became a joke as this reality exists for all men who aren’t as sexually active. It’s no different from the slut-shaming women receive when they are free about their sexual endeavors. The sad thing is that that same derisive tone people are spewing in the aftermath of this event is partly what led to the mass shootings.

Consistent pressure to prove you’re a man from your peers of women and men is exhausting.

To constantly prove you are a worthy man in this country will break some males and force others to evolve and evaluate their strategy in relationships. For the former, they’ll crumble under the pressure and end up hurting themselves and the people around them.

Your existence being defined by how many women you’ve slept with and whether or not you’re in a relationship is beyond tiring, it’s dehumanizing to all parties involved.

But to be precise, teasing and a lack of “play” didn’t lead to the shootings. Ignoring red flags, not following through on mental health evaluations, the disregard for human emotions, thinking one is entitled to other people and the inability to acknowledge our fellow human beyond basic instinctual acts that even a dog can perform are the many factors that led to the tragic shootings.

Now, let me be clear, what the gunman did is the absolute worst. If he had not died, he would have deserved to be tried by a jury of his peers. And for his victims, may justice rule in their favor and may the families on both sides of this tragedy find peace wherever they can.

I am here not to defend what the shooter did, but to try and shed some light on a mindset that is all too familiar for young men in America, which is centered around the objectification of women and ourselves.

What the shooter was going through in the years leading up to his selfish and disgusting actions is far from crazy, though — it’s human and it’s almost a norm.

The things that made the shooter’s actions crazy are not the feelings and emotions he had about being alone, feeling disrespected, unloved, unseen and emasculated, but in the actions he took against others for what was going on in his world.

The gunman felt how many heterosexual males in American feel when it comes to defining their manhood: inadequate. For whatever reason, there’s a need in our country for our boys and men to constantly prove themselves.

Whether it be proving to women that we’re not pushovers or proving to our boys that we’re not weak, males have shown the world just how fragile our egos are and how narrow our society’s definition of manhood is.

When a woman wants for a man to be sensitive and understanding, it’s hard for a heterosexual man to embrace that due to the resistance he’ll receive from his inner circle. And when a man wants for his guy friend to assert a form of strength toward women, it’s also hard for that same man to embrace that, especially if he cares about not hurting the woman he is close to.

What made the shooter crazy was the thought that he was entitled to the women he saw around UC Santa Barbara’s campus, which is again not a thought that is rare. What made this gut crazy were the actions he took on innocent lives and his disgust for women, not necessarily in his frustrations of finding his manhood.

Manhood (that word again) is defined in this culture by the obtainment of women and the infliction of violence. That’s why the shooting and the manifestos weren’t unrelated; they are intertwined.

Sadomasochism, feeling alone, being envious of the people around you are not crazy feelings. What is crazy is to deny these feelings exist in all of us, but particularly men. To recognize these emotions and not let them fester into something dangerous is very sane.

If we deem the Isla Vista shootings as the workings of a crazed man, then we too must accept that our everyday feelings we experience about the opposite (or same) sex are too, crazy. This is why now is the best time to start talking about these issues — when our emotions are still raw.

Men, let’s talk and let our egos get bruised because this is not about us. It’s about innocent women every day that die, get raped and have their dignity stolen from them because of emotions we all carry — because our society teaches us that as men, we are not to be sensitive, understanding, insightful and truthful, but violent, demeaning and aggressive, especially when it come to talking to women.

It’s time to bring those emotions out, examine them and put them to use in the right ways. There aren’t many outlets for young heterosexual males to discuss their relationships and experiences with women as the fear of embarrassment and belittlement is too real.

What woman or man wants to be around a person that others consider weak or not man enough?

But I’m here to say that many men feel inadequate about their experience with women and it’s not crazy. It’s normal. It’s important to examine this so we don’t end up doing the many things angry men did to their female counterparts.

Calling something crazy is just a way for us to cope with a horrible situation. It’s a way for us to compartmentalize trauma so that we feel better about ourselves and what happened, but it won’t help us get close to preventing future massacres.


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