Looking For Trouble
Undermining the Patriarchy Every Chance I Get. And I Get a Lot of Chances
A White Guy With a Grudge and a Gun
By now the story is almost risibly routine.
A white guy with a grudge and gun -- the kind of grudge that comes from believing that you are owed control, and adoration, and sexual service, and the kind of gun that can kill a lot of people in a very short period of time, with a minimum of effort -- murders a bunch of people, many of whom he didn't even know, many of whom were women. It happens all the time in America. It is, the gun fetishists tell us, just the "price of freedom," just an unintended, but inalterable, consequence of the Second Amendment. As has also become fairly common, the white guy with the grudge and the gun left messages: in this case, YouTube videos that explicitly spelled out how his "Day of Retribution" would play out, not to mention a 140-page "manifesto" sent to his parents, therapists, a radio station, etc. (The police interviewed him and, as he was white, and privileged, and polite, decided that he was harmless and didn't do anything.) And then there were his Facebook page and the messages that he'd left on various "men's rights" websites.
Welcome to 21st Century America. Just another day in paradise.
Yet, somehow, the fact that this particular white guy with a grudge and gun was willing to say out loud some of the things that often go unsaid (or that are said only through dog whistles, advertisements, and images) seems to have garnered a bit more attention than just your regular-run-of-the-mill, ho-hum, mass murder, which, again is just the price of freedom and the Second Amendment that makes America great, and I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. Did some celebrity get married this weekend?
This white guy with a grudge and a gun explained that women were to blame for what he did -- the classic abuser's rant, generally followed with a really, really, serious, jaw-braking, eye-blacking, tooth-loosening slap: "See what you made me do?!?!?" ("I am all-powerful and I deserve, by virtue of my Y chromosome, to 'exercise headship over you,' you irrational and emotional woman, you, but you can completely control my behavior any time that you decide to 'misbehave' -- see what you MADE me DO?!?!?!")
Here are a few examples:
* "You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman."
* "I will punish all of you for it. (laughs) On the day of retribution I'm going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB. And I will slaughter every spoiled, stuck-up, blond "sl*t" I see inside there. All those girls I've desired so much, they would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them (scoffs) while they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes. I'll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you."
* "And girls, all I ever wanted was to love you, and to be loved by you. I've wanted a girlfriend, I've wanted sex, I've wanted love, affection, adoration. You think I'm unworthy of it. That's a crime that can never be forgiven. If I can't have you, girls, I will destroy you. (laughs) You denied me a happy life, and in turn, I will deny all of you life. (laughs) It's only fair."
I could (as the white guy with a grudge and a gun in fact did) go on, and on, and on, but I think you get the idea.
Within minutes of the news story, the misogyny, the patriarchal attitudes that set this white guy with a grudge and a gun in motion, the perceived entitlement to women's emotions and bodies got a lot of attention. And then a lot of people, mostly men, showed up to express the truisim that "not all men" do this kind of thing, say stuff like this, believe that women owe them sex, love, affection, and (!!!!) adoration. This one white guy with a grudge and a gun, they mansplained, must have been crazy, mentally ill, an outlier. Nothing to see here; move along.
But he's not. In our society, he's not an outlier. This kind of thing KEEPS HAPPENING. You can't keep saying it's an accident. And he's the completely logical result of patriarchy, carried to its logical end.
The pushback was, I'm happy to say, fast and strong. Many noted how quick we are to excuse the sons of privilege for their "affluenza," to ascribe their violence to "mental health issues," even as we refuse to do the same for people of color or for those whose parents didn't buy them BMWs and apartments in Santa Barbara. #yesallwomen provided hundreds of examples of the ways in which all women experience the violence of patriarchy, even as men keep mansplaining that "not all men," not all white guys with grudges and guns, not all men who haven't received enough adoration, go out and "slaughter every spoiled, stuck-up, blond sl*t" they see.
Which is all a rather long wind-up (my bete noire as a writer) to saying that I spent a lot of time this morning thinking about how Paganism differs from the form of patriarchy to which a number of women and a few men, as well as this white guy with a grudge and a gun, just fell victim. (I take Robin Morgan's point* that saying that men, as well as women, are victims of patriarchy tends to diminish the harm that patriarchy does to women. But I do believe that it harms, as, in the end, it harmed this white guy with a grudge and a gun, men, as well, even at the same time that it provides them with privilege.)
So here is how I think that Paganism is different from the worldview that leads to white guys with grudges and guns.
The Charge of the Goddess teaches that "All acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess." Women don't owe you sex (or adoration!) simply because you were born with a penis. To engage in sex is to worship the Goddess -- and worship is an act that can only be voluntary. To force or coerce sex is, as I have said before, a version of the Black Mass: it turns an act of worship and adoration on its head and perverts it for evil means. Most Pagans also believe in a divine immanence: other people (rocks, trees, animals, mycellium, etc.) ARE divine: "Thou art Goddess; thou art God." You can't kill them when they don't give you what you want; you don't have the right or that agency.
I keep coming back to that worldview and to trying to explain how it differs from a worldview in which if women don't adore you, well, then, it's ok for you to shoot them. I don't see how anyone can hold both notions in their head at once.
In Evolutionary Witchcraft,** T. Thorn Coyle*** writes that "In our culture, sex is tricky. It is glorified in strange and twisted ways, yet simultaneously swept under the rug. To reclaim sex, we must reclaim the power of the life force, which is in all creative acts." She continues, "Calling sex back is also an acknowledgement that I cannot place responsibility for my sexual self upon any other being." I can't help but wonder what difference it might have made to this white guy with a grudge and a gun if one of the therapists that his well-to-do parents had hired for him, or if, indeed, his parents themselves had helped him to understand that he could not place responsibility for his sexual self upon women, sorority "girls," or "blonde sluts." Coyle continues, "I can feel sexy for myself and enjoy my own pleasure in sexuality." If only that had been a skill taught to this white guy with a grudge and a gun. Coyle also explains that "Sacred orgasm is a reentry into sex, for and of yourself, as a pure celebration of life, where we use sex energy to bless ourselves, our bodies, and our spirits." This was the sex that never even occurred to the white guy with a grudge and a gun. And it never occurred to him because patriarchy works very hard to keep that concept hidden.
In The Chalice and the Blade,**** Riane Eisler ***** wrote:
“All over the ancient world populations were now set against populations, as men were set against women and against other men. Wandering over the width and breadth of this disintegrating world, masses of refugees were everywhere fleeing their homelands, desperately searching for a haven, for a safe place to go.But there was no such place left in their new world. For this was now a world where, having violently deprived the Goddess and the female half of humanity of all power, gods and men of war ruled. It was a world in which the Blade, and not the Chalice, would henceforth be supreme, a world in which peace and harmony would be found only in the myths and legends of a long lost past.”
Let's take as given that this white guy with a grudge and a gun was bullied, had some form of psychological problems that made relating to other humans difficult, and that all the help that his family tried to give him just didn't work. You still cannot read his "manifesto" and not feel terrified at the ways in which his problems funneled him into patriarchy's concept that those who are wealthy are more worthy, that men with guns are "gods" and "alpha males," that women owe men adoration. That's patriarchy, and I want to undermine it every chance that I get. And I get a lot of chances.
I want a world in which sex is a positive thing. I want a world in which women are safe. I want a world where no one feels entitled to the bodies, emotions, or actions of other people. I want a world in which it is OK to need sex. I want a world in which it is OK to tell men, "No." I want a world in which privileged young people get to work with others who have less than they do so that they can compare the fact that women don't adore them to the fact that some people have much worse problems. I want a world where children learn early that divinity is immanent.
I'm going to go sit at my altar and light incense. Will you join me?
The awkward young man approached the temple. He'd had to work hard, all year, in the fields, to earn the coins. The grain went to feed those who had no food. He resented the effort; once, his family had been wealthy and he'd have had the coins without the callouses from laying solar panels on roadways and without the ache in his back. But he walked through the fountains that washed him clean and approached the temple of Aphrodite. The woman who stood just beyond the spray of the the fountains took his coins, kissed him as the sacred act of the Goddess, and whispered into his ear that his hair was curly and thick. He walked on, into the sacred pools and watched lovers make love. He didn't feel jealous; he watched, as one watches the priests swing the incense container or as one watches the priestesses water the sacred corn. He stepped into the temple. A priestess stepped towards him. Her work was given the highest regard in the land. He kept grabbing and focusing on his own pleasure. Some priests came forward and took him off to a sacred grove for a quiet talk, a gentle demonstration, a revalatory experience.
The priestess came back.
A few days later, he left. Now, he understood.
Meanwhile, young women went on with their lives, undisturbed. They planted trees, watched plays, ate apples, had sex with whomever they liked, discovered cures for diseases, sculpted statues, harnessed starlight, danced the spiral dance, and tamed foxes. It was as if they were meant to live on Earth.
* Robin Morgan: "And let's put one lie to rest for all time: the lie that men are oppressed, too, by sexism--the lie that there can be such a thing as 'men's liberation groups.' Oppression is something that one group of people commits against another group specifically because of a 'threatening' characteristic shared by the latter group--skin color or sex or age, etc. The oppressors are indeed FUCKED UP by being masters (racism hurts whites, sexual stereotypes are harmful to men) but those masters are not OPPRESSED. Any master has the alternative of divesting himself of sexism or racism—the oppressed have no alternative—for they have no power—but to fight. In the long run, Women's Liberation will of course free men—but in the short run it's going to COST men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily."
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