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2009-05-10
"But nothing is more disruptive to domestic order than an unattached heterosexual male." (A.O. Scott in a review of the film The Kids Are All Right)

I haven't dug too deeply into the story of Elliott Rodger and his misogynist beliefs and recent killing spree, because I find it all too distressing. However, I've seen enough to know that Rodgers was a virgin and a frequenter of internet forums dedicated to the right of men to be sexually serviced by women. I had no idea such sites existed, although, as nauseating as the views expressed are, I guess it doesn't really surprise me. The thing is, none of the men I know ever expresses these kinds of ideas, which is no doubt a reflection both of my social circle and of the unacceptability of such views in polite company.

The closest I've ever come to someone who thinks like that was a guy I knew who was still a virgin in his late 30s and who may still be a virgin, for all I know. I lost contact with him a decade or so ago. He was a good looking guy and fairly gregarious, but he did have some emotional problems, including a terrible temper and deep self-esteem issues. It's not completely clear to me why he was still a virgin, but he himself would say it was because he didn't want sex without love and had been unable to find the love he needed in order to agree to sex. During the period I knew him he *almost* had sex with a mutual friend of ours one night after a party when she drove him home and they started making out in her car and one thing almost led to the next. However, even in that drunken, excited state he was able to stop himself, and that was possibly for the best, all things considered. There was another woman with whom he became good friends and with whom he fell in love, but although she went out with him a few times, mostly because she needed someone to talk to about her own emotional struggles, she never reciprocated the love and so there it ended.

This guy and I got into one argument about feminism that I recall, in which he took the position that women have all the power in society. It didn't matter to him that women make less money then men, have far fewer positions of power in government and corporate hierarchies than men, are subject to more physical abuse and rape than men, have a recent history of not being able to own property or vote, etc, etc. To his mind women can withhold love and sex from men, and therefore they have all the power. The end. Our understandings of what social power is were so alien to each other that it was impossible to even have much of a conversation about it, so we exchanged views rather heatedly and then moved on to other topics. Probably he didn't bring up his beliefs much because in our social circle his beliefs were, shall we say, not widely shared. I found them completely bizarre, in fact, but I could see how they grew out of his personal sense of powerlessness to get what he longed for in terms of a romantic relationship.

Still, while he wasn't a violent person and didn't express any hatred of women, I was appalled at the sense of victimhood in his beliefs. I guess that's the part I have a hard time understanding in all this. I'm not actually all that different from him in my attitudes toward sex and love, although I was willing to try sex without love a couple of times before I decided it wasn't for me. Probably because I'm less emotionally troubled than he, I've also had a chance to get into sexual relationships with a few more or less mutually-affectionate women, although none of them lasted very long. But for most of my life I've gone without a sexual partner because what I've really been looking for is love (if not, as some have accused, adoration) and have created all kinds of barriers around the process due to any number of fears and confusions and hypersensitivities, not to mention my basic passivity and probably deep down an anxious reluctance to be subsumed in another. The thing I don't understand, however, is how anyone can be in that position and think the difficulties are caused by women or by anyone but themselves. Is it just that I'm such a control freak that I always believe that the things that are or are not happening to me are my own fault? Maybe so. I've certainly been rebuffed by women who weren't interested in me despite my best efforts to interest them, and I guess I've considered that my failure rather than the fault of the women. I've tended to see myself as a failure at love rather than to see women as a powerful cabal who are denying me my needs and rights. I guess I'd rather feel like a failure than feel like a victim.

Then again, I'm not an alpha male by any stretch of the imagination and have never aspired to be one. I lack aggressiveness and gumption, and I probably embrace failure all too easily. Even my emotional confusion is more or less passive and reserved. We all flounder in our own ways, I suppose, and my floundering has been certainly less destructive and perhaps slightly less self-defeating than some, but that's pretty much from sheer chance, not from virtue. I'm no evangelist, so it's not like I'm not going to advocate that lonely men should embrace a sense of failure over a sense of victimhood. I'm wandering without purpose yet again, for whatever it might be worth. Two cents, perhaps?

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
akirlu
Jun. 13th, 2014 07:06 pm (UTC)
If I were going to advocate on this stuff, I would advocate the notion that the failure to create a love relationship between any particular two people may not be a matter of fault, or blame, at all and that the real underlying societal problem is the belief that just because something happens, or doesn't (and not just in romance) there always has to be someone who can be held accountable for it. But sometimes shit just happens, or doesn't. You're just sitting there minding your own business enjoying your lunch, and all of a sudden a dead dragonfly drops into your sandwich. There is no one to blame for that.

I'll also mention an interesting observation that came out of a discussion Hal and I had about working polyamorous relationships years back. I had just had the insight that any given relationship between two people (A&B) is actually (at least) two relationships: A's relationship to B and B's relationship to A (because the beliefs, desires, needs, expectations, etc. of each person are never 100% congruent with or transparent to, the other, or even close, and yet each person is going to have to deal with the others' needs, desires, expectations, and beliefs on an ongoing basis). That meant that adding a third participant entailed a lot more complexity to manage: going from two relationships to six, three times as many. Add a fourth person, and there are twelve relationships to manage and integrate, or twice as many as for three people. And so on. But Hal's big insight was that this still meant that the biggest jump in complexity is from being single to being in a couple is a jump from zero to two, which is infinitely more relationships. Based on that analysis, it's almost miraculous that we ever wind up in stable couples at all.

Since that epiphany, I've been inclined to see singleness as a more normal and predictable outcome for people over time than society does generally. To make a long term pair bond work you have to manage your own needs, beliefs, and expectations as well as someone else's. If you're just solo, it's possible to believe a lot of idealized crap about both yourself and the object(s) of your desires. Once you're in the trenches, you kinda have to deal with the messy realities, which typically don't conform to anyone's ideals. Heck, it often requires practical experience before you can even sort out what you actually need from someone else, as versus what you thought you needed, or wanted.

I've seen a lot of people wanting to blame Elliott Rodger's violent breakdown on institutional sexism, and Men's Rights Advocates and such, but personally I think that the ways in which our society thinks about love and sex and relationships is much more broadly broken than that, and that Elliott Rodger himself was much more comprehensively broken than that, as well.
randy_byers
Jun. 13th, 2014 08:11 pm (UTC)
A lot of truth in all that (dunno about the dragonfly), and it perhaps goes to show that the old Christian taboo on divorce is a signal of how difficult continuous pair-bonding really is. If you have to make it a sin, it must be something that comes easily.
bovil
Jun. 13th, 2014 09:55 pm (UTC)
"alpha male" is based on discredited animal psychology anyway. "Men" always want to be wolves, but animal psychology on wolves was initially based on a captive pack, not the family group pack structure that exists in nature.

But yeah... withholding sex from men is ultimate power. Riiighhhht.
randy_byers
Jun. 13th, 2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
We could call it Lysistrata Syndrome.
kalimac
Jun. 14th, 2014 07:16 am (UTC)
It's a power of a kind. But the kind it is is the power of the oppressed. Another example is the power of slaves to subvert their masters by working slowly and without enthusiasm. This is what earned African Americans their long reputation among racists for being lazy. I suppose women have an equivalent reputation among the sexist.
kalimac
Jun. 14th, 2014 07:10 am (UTC)
I haven't read Rodgers' manifesti either; too distressing a prospect. I gather that he was much more comprehensively f'd up than what I am about to say.

But I think there is a difference between a man saying that women owe him sex and a man grumbling at the unfairness of life that makes other guys no more attractive than he have girlfriends and he doesn't. I fear that the two get conflated.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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