By Jeff Fecke | April 23, 2007
It is human nature to try to figure out why bad things happen. Long ago, we blamed natural disasters on the capriciousness of the gods. The flood was caused by Poseidon’s wrath, the storm by Thor’s fury. Gifts were given to the gods, sacrifices of fruit, of animals, even of people, in order to placate them and turn their anger into love for their human charges. Today most of us (Pat Robertson excepted) reject the notion that bad things happen because of an angry and vengeful God. And yet, when tragedy strikes, we still seek to find the pattern underlying the madness, our ultimate failing that led to our punishment by…well, we’re never quite sure, but we’re sure we’re being punished.
After Cho Seung-hui opened fire on his classmates in Blacksburg, Va., it was only natural for us to ask why. The primary answer — that he was a deeply troubled, possibly schizophrenic and certainly psychotic man who was operating outside the bounds of normal society — is unsatisfying and seems to beg more questions than it answers. And so some writers have seized on an explanation that has a mythic history as rich and powerful as any blameworthy figure in human lore: It’s the women’s fault.
Not all women, of course, but specifically feminists. These horrid people have, we are told, upset the natural order. They have made women more like men, causing them to demand for themselves the same privileges and prerogatives that men alone have traditionally enjoyed. At the same time, they have demanded that men stop behaving like louts, thus feminizing them, making them more female, robbing them of their manly virtue.National Review columnist John Derbyshire started the drumbeat by arguing that all of the students should have been armed, the better to kill the shooter. But that wasn’t his main point.
“Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals,” he wrote, “why didn’t anyone rush the guy? It’s not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns, for goodness’ sake — one of them reportedly a .22.”
Nathan Blake, a writer for the weblog Human Events caught Derbyshire’s meaning and amplified it. “Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that.”
Now, you may think that blaming students for not rushing a man with two semi-automatic handguns is, to put it nicely, insane. Especially since there were more than a few examples of bravery that day, from the resident adviser who gave his life trying to protect the first victim of the shooting to the students who held the door shut with their feet while Cho fired away above them. But of course, one should never let facts get in the way of a good session of blaming women. Besides, it wasn’t just the men hand-wringing about those wimpy men; there were also women hand-wringing about those tough women.
Sarah Baxter, writing for the Sunday Times of London, fingered female sexual promiscuity as the reason that Cho Seng-hui went on his rampage, going so far as to quote long-time scold Camile Paglia in her argument.
“The pervasive hook-up culture at college,” wrote Baxter, “where girls are prepared to sleep with boys they barely know or fancy, can be a source of seething resentment and alienation for those who are left out.
“’Young women now seem to want to behave like men and have sex without commitment. The signals they are giving are very confusing, and rage and humiliation build up in boys who are spurned again and again’ [said Paglia].”
As the Kinks once said, it’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world. And that’s when the gods get angry.
The scolds, of course, never really explain why it is that “young women behaving like men” is confusing and enraging — or at least, why young women behaving like men is worse than young men behaving like men. They don’t have to bother. We all know that good girls don’t, and cool boys do–the message is driven into us, all of us, from the moment we become aware of what sex might be.
If anything exacerbated the insanity of Cho Seung-hui, it was this message — the message that if he was worthy, he should be having sex, and lots of it. That if he was worthy, women would and should be lining up for him — but not the pure and chaste ones. Normal people learn, at some point, that this message doesn’t make a lot of sense; that sex, while entertaining, is neither the best nor the most important measure of human worth and human happiness. We learn that whether you’re having sex or not is a truly meaningless measure of your worth as a human being — whether you’re a good girl who is, or a cool boy who isn’t.
But Cho Seung-hui wasn’t equipped to deal with this message, this drumbeat that he was a failure because he wasn’t successful with women. And so he turned his rage to violence, first stalking women, then ultimately attacking them. That his rage reached a violent crescendo that included men as well was unsurprising, for it wasn’t women he hated, or men — it was himself.
The killer internalized the messages of what men are “supposed” to be, and when he could not measure up in his mind to that standard, he did the only thing he could think to do — he became ultra-violent, violence being another acceptable proof of manliness. It wasn’t a shortage of manliness that was the problem last Monday, it was a surfeit.
And so we come to find that the fault, if there was fault that we can assigned, lay not at the feet of the women who rejected a stalker, nor at feminists who want people to have rough equality, nor at men and women who faced a horrific massacre and did not all fight back against nigh-impossible odds. If there was a fault, it was that we as a society continue to try to tell people what they’re supposed to be, rather than letting them determine that for themselves. That’s not as satisfying as blaming women, nor as simple as blaming victims. But it’s the truth, and we do ourselves and the dead no favor by pretending otherwise.
(Cross-posted from MinMon)
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