“…all because girls have never been attracted to me.” - Elliot Rodger
This has to stop. Somehow. Some way. How long until we stop violence against women, including the violence permeating our language?
I would not blame you if your initial reaction were skepticism. How can we stop the violent impulses and ravings of a man, like Elliot Rodger, who so clearly hated women, among other groups of people, that he would go on a killing spree, murdering six college students? That question is why I think the case of Evan Spiegel is illuminating. Spiegel is the founder of Snapchat and his fraternity emails from his Stanford days were leaked to the media. They reveal an almost equally disturbing level of derision toward women. It is helpful to compare the two.
We read or listen to Rodger’s outbursts and we are outraged. We are fascinated. We are horrified. His hate for women, built on years of sexual frustration, is honestly bizarre in its intensity. His screed does not fit into the world as most of us know it. But Spiegel’s comments echo a story we tell all the time in our culture. If they were not so atrocious they would be laughable in the way they ironically support our worst frat-boy stereotype. They are an exaggeration of what we have all heard in locker rooms, parties, and the media.
And it is in that context, when Spiegel and Rodger’s comments are held side by side, that their violent disdain toward women is not so radically different. And may not be so radically different from ours. Perhaps Spiegel’s emails are just a degree or two removed on the spectrum of hate from Rodger’s. And the latest stoner flick or the TV and movie trope of “Sex as a Rite of Passage” are only one degree removed from Spiegel. And those media are only one degree removed from the private comments of politicians, athletes, and others in the public sphere that are leaked fairly consistently. And those comments are sometimes just mirrors of what we hear or say about gender every day. This should appall us.
I desire two things from Christians who are concerned with public justice: more anger and deeper involvement.
The anger, I hope, comes easily. This is a complex issue and there is plenty to be concerned about: the treatment of people created in God’s image, crime, implicit gender bias, cultural tolerance of ambiguity, or the fact that the real issue may be about the relations between men (see article http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/elliot-rodger-killing-sexism-20146219411713900.html )
Vulgar. Offensive. Misogynist. Sexist. Crude. Obscene. Idiotic (his own word).
These are all words used to describe Spiegel’s emails. Honestly, let’s be the first to say that treating any human being in this way is atrocious and that these terms don’t go far enough. Let’s join in the conversation about gender and name this gendered hate. Let’s use that powerful word from our own tradition to call it what it is, Sin. Of heart, mind, and mouth.
So let’s be angry about it. Don’t do the nice Christian thing where we just soft-peddle as peacemakers (as holy of a calling as that is), but take our culture to task as prophets. Let’s be harsh on ourselves, too, that we tolerate a world that laughs off this kind of language in commercials, movies, and beyond as “boys will boys.” Are we to give up so easily on something that is so clearly sinful in heart and speech? The messages in our culture are too ambiguous, ambivalent, and unclear. On the one hand we are disgusted by all of this misogyny. On the other we allow it to continue – in our private conversations, in Hollywood (and advertisements), and in our everyday language about gender. “Just don’t get caught,” we communicate when it comes to using destructive language. Or worse, we laugh at it. When do we say that enough is enough? When does public outrage turn into changed hearts?
For Christians, we are talking not just about public political correctness, we’re talking about a needed change of heart. It’s not enough to be outraged. We need to start finding ways to raise women and men who can speak about gender with gentleness, self-control, and goodness. This goes from the bottom up – parents, teachers, artists, and policy-makers.
All of this is fueled by innate human sinfulness, but also by a sinful environment. We don’t grow up denigrating women; we learn it in a thousand ways. It is enlightening that Spiegel’s apologetic response included the sentence “I have no excuse.” On one level this couldn’t be truer. An educated, privileged person should know better, right? But his statement only reveals the inescapable poison in our culture. It reveals how powerful the messages about women really are. Education and privilege do not protect anyone from absorbing the narratives that degrade women and pervade our public life. And women adopt this learned hatred, too. The narratives expose themselves in the self-loathing that many women struggle with just as much as the violence inherent in the speech of men.
It is overwhelming to think about all the cultural and environmental factors that would need to change in order to begin shaping habits and hearts that reflect women as full image bearers of God as opposed to the insipient misogyny of our world. But the good news is that the church has a beautiful history of shaping habits and hearts. Let’s use our anger to spur us toward action on this issue. And action on every possible level, using every possible means- our liturgy, songs, prayers, policy, and private conversations.
Let’s admit it that in recent history, at least, the church has been so weak in this area. Let’s show the world we’re angry and ready to engage.
-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. www.calvaryreformedholland.org