From Toxic Misogyny to Toxic Feminism

By Cathy Young | | May 29, 2014

ElliottRodgerLast weekend’s horror in Santa Barbara, where 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded more than a dozen before shooting himself, unexpectedly sparked a feminist moment. With revelations that Rodger’s killing spree was fueled by anger over rejection by women and that he had posted on what some described as a “men’s rights” forum (actually, a forum for bitter “involuntarily celibate” men), many rushed to frame the shooting as a stark example of the violent misogyny said to be pervasive in our culture. The Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen sprung up as an expression of solidarity and a reminder of the ubiquity of male terrorism and abuse in women’s lives. Most of the posters in the hashtag were certainly motivated by the best of intentions. But in the end, this response not only appropriated a human tragedy for an ideological agenda but turned it into toxic gender warfare.

For one thing, “misogyny” is a very incomplete explanation of Rodger’s mindset, perhaps best described as malignant narcissism with a psychopathic dimension. His “manifesto” makes it clear that his hatred of women (the obverse side of his craving for validation by female attention, which he describes as so intense that a hug from a girl was infinitely more thrilling than an expression of friendship from a boy) was only a subset of a general hatred of humanity, and was matched by hatred of men who had better romantic and sexual success. At the end of the document, he chillingly envisions an ideal society in which women will be exterminated except for a small number of artificial-insemination breeders and sexuality will be abolished. But in an Internet posting a year ago, he also fantasized about inventing a virus that would wipe out all males except for himself: “You would be able to have your pick of any beautiful woman you want, as well as having dealt vengeance on the men who took them from you. Imagine how satisfying that would be.” His original plans for his grand exit included not only a sorority massacre he explicitly called his “War on Women,” but luring victims whom he repeatedly mentions in gender-neutral terms to his apartment for extended torture and murder (and killing his own younger brother, whom he hated for managing to lose his virginity).

Some have argued that hating other men because they get to have sex with women and you don’t is still a form of misogyny; but that seems like a good example of stretching the concept into meaninglessness—or turning it into unfalsifiable quasi-religious dogma.

Of course, four of the six people Rodger actually killed were men: his three housemates, whom he stabbed to death in their beds before embarking on his fatal journey, and a randomly chosen young man in a deli. Assertions that all men share responsibility for the misogyny and male violence toward women that Rodger’s actions are said to represent essentially place his male victims on the same moral level as the murderer—which, if you think about it, is rather obscene. And the deaths of all the victims, female and male, are trivialized when they are commemorated with a catalogue of often petty sexist or sexual slights, from the assertion that every single woman in the world has been sexually harassed to the complaint that a woman’s “no” is often met with an attempt to negotiate a “yes.”

A common theme of #YesAllWomen is that our culture promotes the notion that women owe men sex and encourages male violence in response to female rejection. (It does? One could much more plausibly argue that our culture promotes the notion that men must “earn” sex from women and treats the rejected male as a pathetic figure of fun.) Comic-book writer Gail Simone tweeted that she doesn’t know “a single woman who has never encountered with that rejection rage the killer shows in the video,” though of course to a lesser degree.

Actually, I do know women who have never encountered it. I also know men who have, and a couple of women who have encountered it from other women. I myself have experienced it twice: once from an ex-boyfriend, and once from a gay woman on an Internet forum who misinterpreted friendliness on my part as romantic interest. There was a common thread in both these cases: mental illness aggravated by substance abuse.

Yes, virtually all spree killers are male, though there are notable exceptions such as Illinois mass shooter Laurie Dann and Alabama biology professor Amy Bishop; but the number of such killers is so vanishingly small that a man’s chance of being one is only slightly higher than a woman’s. As for the more frequent kind of homicide feminists often describe as expressions of murderous misogyny—such as killings of women by intimate partners or ex-partners—the gender dynamics of such violence are far more complex. If patriarchal rage and misogynist hatred are the underlying cause, how does one explain intimate homicide in same-sex relationships without resorting to tortuous, ideology-driven pseudo-logic? How does one explain the fact that some 30 percent of victims in such slayings are men (excluding cases in which a woman kills in clear self-defense)? What feminist paradigm explains the actions of Clara Harris, the Houston dentist who repeatedly ran over her unfaithful husband with a car (and got a good deal of public sympathy)? Or the actions of Susan Eubanks, the California woman who shot and killed her four sons to punish their fathers, apparently because she was angry about being “screwed by men” after her latest boyfriend walked out?

Defenders of #YesAllWomen say that the posts in the hashtag do not target all men. Maybe not; but they push the idea that all women—including women in advanced liberal democracies in the 21st Century—are victims of pervasive and relentless male terrorism, and that any man who does not denounce it on feminist terms is complicit. They wrongly frame virtually all interpersonal violence (and lesser injuries) as male-on-female, ignoring both male victims and female perpetrators, and express sympathy for boys only insofar as boys are supposedly “raised around the drumbeat mantra that women are not human beings.” And sometimes, they almost literally dehumanize men. A tweet observing that “the odds of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067, while a woman’s odds of being raped are 1 in 6 … yet fear of sharks is seen as rational while being cautious of men is seen as misandry” was retweeted almost 1,000 times.

One can argue endlessly about the real lessons of the Elliot Rodger shooting, including the complex dilemma of responding to danger signs from mentally ill people without trampling on civil liberties. Perhaps, as Canadian columnist Matt Gurney writes, the most painful lesson is that no matter what we do, we cannot always prevent “a deranged individual … determined to do harm to others” from wreaking such harm—if not with guns, then with knives or with a car. But the worst possible answer is a toxic version of feminism that encourages women to see themselves as victims while imposing collective guilt on men.

Cathy Young writes a weekly column for RealClearPolitics and is also a contributing editor at Reason magazine. She blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63. She can be reached by email at



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5 Responses to From Toxic Misogyny to Toxic Feminism

  1. Akriti says:

    I really like your post. 🙂
    But there’s one thing I will not agree on and that is – Feminism was never about hating men and therefore the ‘toxicity’ you are talking about stems not from feminism but from misandry . Sadly these misandrists call themselves feminists and make feminism such a dirty word. These misandrists are synonymous to MRM’S who claim to be struggling for men’s rights but in actuality are misogynists. I’m a feminist and I respect both women and men who need to be respected. As far as Elliot Rodgers’ case is concerned, it just shows a symptom of a world so morally warped.


  2. John Allman says:

    “A common theme of #YesAllWomen is that our culture promotes the notion that women owe men sex and encourages male violence in response to female rejection.”

    “Our culture” is rather a fluid and nebulous idea. But in its rich fabric, strands are certainly woven (the Judeo-Christian strand for one) that quite legitimately “promote” two notions *similar* to that summarised (I hope imprecisely) in the quote: namely: (1) that each of two genders *collectively* “owe” (have a duty to provide) “sex” (and the continuation of the human species that this enables, of course) to the other gender; and (2), that marriage is an institution ordained by God, in which, in covenant relationship, two individuals are contracted to provide this “sex” to one another, be that “sex” as trivial as a mere “hug” now and then.

    Perhaps it is the sheer *sanity* of this vestige of Christian culture, that informs (in the UK) the statutory “public sector equality duty”, whereby public authorities simply aren’t allowed to execute *any* of their “functions”, without “due regard to the need to promote good relations” between male and female persons affected by the exercise of their functions, or even living within their jurisdiction. (Mind you, I have a court case going on right now, about alleged breaches of this duty!)

    I cannot think of any strand of “our culture”, unless it be vestiges I haven’t noticed recently of early experiments in the implementation of Marxism in Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, that suggests that women owe men sex at an *individual* level. That idea, if it still has exponents almost a century later, is truly a “rape culture” par excellence, as its was in the early days of the Dick-tatorship of the Proletariat (so-to-speak).

    There is possibly some *slight* virtue in asking, “Is society to blame in some way?”, when a hideous criminal arouses our disgust, by running amok heinously, and then makes himself the final victim of his killing spree, leaving us unable to ask him why he chose notoriety and damnation, thus getting the worst of both worlds, but able nowadays to monitor his web-presence posthumously. But suggesting that society wasn’t to blame at all, because there is something as wrong with “our culture” that is the exact opposite of what *he* seemed to think was wrong with our culture? Or suggesting this because of some notion that men wanting sex with women, when that is how babies are made, is wrong? I don’t see any virtue at all in taking that line.

    For that matter, I don’t see any virtue at all, in trying too hard to learn lessons, or to score points, in the aftermath of murderous delinquency like this. It smacks, to adapt the Monty Python phrase “Now we see the violence inherent in the system”, of “Now we see the violence inherent in ‘our culture'”, or even “Now we see the violence inherent in the killer’s entire *gender*”. Bad cases make bad law. They make even worse debate-fodder for conflicting ideologies, in times as troubled as these.


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