Hate Crimes, Misogyny, and UCSB: Some Early Thoughts

Isla Vista in happier times.
Isla Vista in happier times.

I woke up yesterday morning to the news that a privileged 22-year-old Santa Barbara kid from a movie-making family who drove a black BMW had brutally murdered seven people, and had injured seven others. The headline at that early hour made it sound like a pedestrian, by US standards, sort of mass shooting. But as I skimmed the article with mild disinterest, which quickly flipped into horror, I realized the lede had been buried. Elliot Rodger was out to kill a very specific group of people: women.

In a rambling, 150 page “manifesto,” Rodger made his intentions and his motives utterly, unambiguously clear. He was still a virgin, and it was all the fault of women who failed to recognize his “alpha” nature. “All of those beautiful girls I’ve desired so much in my life, but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy,” he typed, in his bile-ridden and profoundly adolescent prose. Tragically, he was not just some harmless basement-dweller  with woman problems. He carried out his plans, and now seven people – women and men – are dead.

Was Elliot Rodger mass-murder a hate crime? I absolutely think it is. Here’s why, off the top of my head – with more to come as I gather further information on the distinctions between hate crimes and terrorism.

Let’s look at the FBI definition of a hate crime:

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Although you don’t see gender in this basic description from the FBI website, it’s part of (federal) hate crime law. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 broadened the definition of a hate crime to include gender, not just gender identity.

Then why do we seem so reluctant to deem the targeted killing of women a hate crime in our society? It’s not like this is an unfathomably rare occurrence, almost always when real or perceived sexual rejection comes into play. In April, a Connecticut boy stabbed a girl to death for refusing to accept his invitation to prom.

There was the 2009 Pennsylvania gym shooting, in which 3 women were shot and killed and nine wounded by a man who regularly lamented in his diary that he wasn’t getting laid. There was the 2006 Amish school shooting, in which five little girls were shot execution-style for the perceived crimes of all women by murderer Charles C. Roberts. Beyond these dramatic mass killings, there is more violence: per CDC statistics, 1095 women were killed by an intimate partner in 2010 alone, as stacked up against the deaths of 241 men in the same scenario.

Even though women are killed for being women with depressing regularity in the US, the media  and the public often seem bizarrely reluctant to call a hate crime a hate crime. In the wake of the UCSB shootings, many in the media — and on social media — are exceedingly reluctant to talk about misogyny as a cause for this violence.

A brief Google for news headlines related to the UCSB shootings calls the incident a “spree,” “slaying,” “mayhem,” “killings,” and other fairly generic adjectives for a hideous crime. I’ve yet to see a mainstream news source identify the shootings as a hate crime, although some editorial pages have come out and said it. The popular narrative may turn that way, but I’m not holding my breath. (This is a topic that would lend itself very well to a good content analysis study).

For the purposes of this quick-and-dirty blog post, I’m wondering why I feel it’s so unlikely the actions of Elliot Rodger will be interpreted through the lens of “hate crime” – although it fits the FBI definition exceptionally well, in a near textbook fashion.

The evidence seems damningly clear: Women are regularly killed for the crime of being women, both in dramatic mass-shooting events (in which they are killed at larger numbers than men), and in small-scale intimate partner killings. But why are we so reluctant to publicly condemn and label these murders as hate crimes in the US — to the extent that the FBI does not even track data onhate crimes with “gender” as the impetus?

I have a few theories. I would welcome your thoughts. (I heavily moderate my comments, so feel free to piss into the echo chamber if you’re not interested in civility).

1. Other Hate Crime Categories.

Hate crimes against women are often folded into other hate crimes when they are cataloged and reported upon. The woman who is killed or abused or raped may be gay. She may be a person of color, or she may be transgendered, or so on and forth. In the eyes of the statistics as they are currently gathered, and as they are usually reported on, her gender is not factored in. The other qualities that made her “hateable” override the fact of her gender.

This creates a rather gross situation in which case can only easily be perceived as an explicit crime against women when the victims don’t possess other hateable characteristics.

In the case of the UCSB killings, we have this demographic convenience, gross as it is: the victims were (far as we know right now) heterosexual white women and men attending a respected university. The same holds true for the victims in the 2009 and 2006 shootings, which both received at least some – if not nearly enough — attention for being killings explicitly targeted at women. In short, we appear to have serious demographic blinders when it comes to hate crimes against women: it is often hard for us to “see” them.

2. Domestic Violence.

It’s very likely that hate crimes against women are often bundled into domestic violence incidences.  It is hard to tease apart the strands of a domestic killing to identify if the murder was motivated by personal animosity, a specific loathing of women, or some combination therein. I suspect that it is foolish indeed to discount plain misogyny as one motivation behind many domestic partner killings. We may be missing many crimes with a gender-related element for this very reason.

The logic — as it so often does in these cases — comes back to base sexual entitlement on the part of some men. She angered me, and she is a woman, so I have the right to kill her. She cheated on me, and she is a woman, so I have the right to beat her. She broke up with me, and she is a woman, so I have the right to rape her. Repeat ad nauseum.

Gender, in these cases, grants extra license to treat a given individual with aggression and disrespect.

3. Proximity.

Unlike other “hate crime” categories, the vast majority of men have women in their lives, one way or another. A virulent racist or homophobe can, at least in theory, avoid all association with the group he or she loathes.

Meanwhile, most men’s lives, whether they like it or not, are intertwined with those of women from birth onwards. There is really no practical way to avoid women at all costs (besides becoming a monk, I guess) and the vast majority of heterosexual men don’t find the total avoidance of women to be a particularly appealing situation.

Although the statistics on which gender is doing the vast majority of the killing could not be more clear, perhaps we as a culture shrink from the enormity of deeming hate crimes to be both possible and disturbingly common against over 50 percent of the population, which must live and work with the other 50 percent to survive and thrive.

That is admitting to a very significant problem that places a very outsized burden on one exceedingly large demographic group — and a problem that we, as a culture, are deeply disinterested in talking about. (Is there a culture that’s interested in having mature discussions about misogyny and domestic abuse? Don’t answer that).

4. Language.

The language we use to describe hate crimes against women is different from the language we use to discuss other crimes of bias. There are certain words that are used against people of color and those of different sexual orientations that are given considerable power in hate speech and hate crime prosecutions — I don’t believe I need to list them here.

However, the words “bitch” and “cunt” and “whore” seem to be considerably more normalized in our popular language. Most of us wouldn’t really think of categorizing them as hate speech specifically against the female gender. When they’re used and deemed offensive, we think of them as slurs levied against a specific woman, but not as slurs that levied specifically against women in general.

It’s a curious omission — after all, in our genteel modern era, even scumbags usually use coded words to express racist opinions, but there isn’t even a word that’s categorically considered hateful to and deleterious to women.

5. Acceptance.

Expressing overtly misogynist opinions is still considered essentially acceptable in many parts of society, and is especially common on the Internet.

As TheCatBastetCameBack said in an excellent Gawker comment (of all things): “Racism is not less common, but people participating in the mainstream are less likely to feel socially safe – to believe correctly that they will not suffer social sanctions – about revealing racist sentiments and using racist language than they are about expressing even violently misogynistic sentiments and using overt misogynistic language. Racists have reason to code and conceal and check if the room is safe. Misogynists do not.”

I should add that my argument for tracking and prosecuting “gender” as an acceptable hate crime category cuts both ways. If men are explicitly singled out and killed for being men, then such crimes should also be prosecuted aggressively and to the full extent of the law. One could very well argue that Boko Haram’s targeted slaughter of schoolboys in Nigeria would fall under this category.

But let’s not fall into false equivalencies here, either. Such incidences of suffering violence and death for the crime of possessing certain gametes are a whole lot more likely to happen to women. .Further, I have yet to witness the rampage of murdering, lying, raping feminists that has descend onto the male population of the US, despite what some men’s rights forums noisily proclaim at every possible opportunity.

6. Rape And Murder: Crazy Beats Misogny

As anyone who’s perused criminal manifestos or confessions know, many serial rapists and killers are motivated by a hatred of women. Women are also disproportionally targeted by serial killers, as everyone who pays attention to the news has probably already guessed: they represent 70 percent of the victims,  per FBI data released in 2010.

However, these serial rapists and serial killers are often deemed simply insane, despite the fact that in many instances, they are quite frank about their motivations being driven by a hatred of and dislike of women. Are these killings treated as hate crimes? Almost never. As we’ve seen in the UCSB case, for some reason, the killing of women motivated by a hatred of women is a “mental health problem” and is not related to the hatred of a certain demographic group.


Hell if I know, quite frankly. But let’s begin with not writing off the UCSB tragedy as the singular act of a madman acting in isolation.

“Dismissing violent misogynists as “crazy” is a neat way of saying that violent misogyny is an individual problem, not a cultural one,” wrote blogger Melissa McEwan yesterday on Twitter.

She makes an elegant point. It is high time we addressed the recent uptick in hate speech against women on the Internet, and how it continues to fester and proliferate with rather little push-back on some of the most prominent websites on the Internet — such as Reddit, where seemingly every vaguely-women-related topic on the main, incredibly popular boards attracts men who make a free-time hobby out of flamboyantly loathing women.

It is also a neat way of pretending that social issues are in no way influenced by rhetoric, offline and online communities, and organized ideology. (Which anyone who has studied genocide in detail, as I have, knows is utter and abject bullshit).

Many men’s rights types are now claiming that their particular brand of online misogyny is no more dangerous or violence-inducing than violent video games or movies. Amusingly, this is the same group that is very willing to blame the social ideology of feminism for just about all of societies woes, up to and including the UCSB shooting.

You can’t have it both ways. Either ideologies and interest groups and communities can promote certain behaviors and norms, or they can’t. As the excellent We Hunted The Mammoth blog points out in this post on the work of Lundy Bancroft, it’s pretty damned easy to see a correlation between vile behavior towards women, and the online echo chambers that merrily encourage it.

It is also foolish to claim that this woman-hating rhetoric is “just online” and therefore doesn’t count. It is 2014, and the Internet is an absolutely central fact of life around the planet. Further, it is a source of income and power that’s especially hostile to women – ever so coincidentally, at the same time as those with STEM abilities and popular web presences draw larger and larger paychecks and attract more and more respect. And as dozens of killings since the Internet age began have proved in one depressing incident after another, online rhetoric and language is translate into real-world action with disturbing regularity. There is no such thing as “just the Internet” anymore. Perhaps there never was.

Much as some may desperately wish to avoid having a national discussion about the deadly results of misogyny,  too damn bad.

The time is now, and we’ve just been confronted with an unambiguous hate crime against women, apparently bolstered by online groups devoted to manipulating and hating women. Rodger, much as we might like to pretend otherwise, did not simply develop his blackened world view in complete isolation.

Hate does not spring into violent form from a vacuum. The conversation about sexual entitlement and virulent misogyny, both online and offline, needs to begin now.