Misogyny and terrorism

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, July 28, 2011 1:05 EDT
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I've been a little surprised at how little analysis there's been in the mainstream media regarding Andres Breivik, the Norway terrorist, and his views on women.  Man Boobz has been covering the story heavily, and David wrote about it for Shakesville.  Hugo covered it for the Good Man Project.  Sarah Posner tackled it for Religion Dispatches. But in the mainstream media, the focus has been solely on how Breivik was a rabid Islamphobe, which is of course really important, but this is also a good time to explore the intersections of anti-feminism, anti-immigration sentiment, the Christian right, and racism.

So I was stoked to see Michelle Goldberg take this one on at The Daily Beast, because there's just too little attention paid to how much misogyny fuels Christian right and other white nationalist terrorism.  Michelle, as is her custom, nails it, pointing out how Breivik was consuming a steady diet of mainly America, British and Canadian media—the language of the far Christian right is English.  Breivik's obsessions were so American, in fact, that not only did he obsess over "Sex and the City" in his manifesto, but he name-dropped Ellen Willis right next to Simone de Beauvoir.  Now, I'm someone who would put those two together, but Willis is, as as Michelle notes, a relatively obscure American feminist, known to feminists for sure, but not an icon like Betty Friedan, who Breivik also denounced.  (Her daughter Nona was understandably unnerved by this reference to her mother.)  It's obvious to me what Breivik's beef with Willis was—she's the woman who invented the term "sex-positive feminism", and Breivik was especially against sex positivity.  

This whole thing is a reminder that while secular types think of feminism's relationship with sexual liberation as complicated, as far as the Christian right is concerned, feminism is a movement that exists solely to make it hard for conservative men to marry and make babies with submissive virgins.  Everything goes back to feminists' supposed desire to encourage lacivious behavior amongst women, which is why they all seem to think the most important feminist text of the late 20th century is "Sex and the City".  Now, obviously that's my entire purpose in life, but I can safely say other feminists are interested in things like equal pay and whatnot.  

All jokes aside, what was remarkable about Breivik's views on feminism and Islam is that they're indistinguishable from the everyday rantings of anti-feminists and Islamaphobes in the media, many of whom get paid handsomely to spout the same shit that Breivik did about "demographic winter" and other paranoid fantasies.  What's also interesting to me is how widespread on the right the notion is that women's sexual liberation must mean that men lose something.  They perceive, rightly I think, that women's growing freedom has meant that men have higher expectations put on them not to harass and abuse, but I personally don't see that as a loss for men.  Being able to deal with women sexually as equals has a lot more potential for men, in terms of pleasure, but that's clearly not a message that's embraced by the masculinist right that Breivik was following so closely.  Breivik, sounding very much like an MRA, complained specifically about how women have more "erotic capital" than men, whatever this means.  Unsurprisingly, when someone posted his rants on a "men's rights" forum and passed them off as something written by a regular contributor, the writings were praised and upvoted until the ruse was revealed.  

It's hard to know what really to do with the understanding that Breivik—whose attorney is probably going to call "insane"—was actually more of a lucid conduit of right wing ideas than, say, half of the people sending me garbage on Twitter.  Obviously, most people who spout this garbage aren't going to go shoot up summer camps full of teenagers whose main crime is being generally supportive of liberal social and economic policies.  

But there's definitely a strong link between misogyny and violence that can't be denied.  Misogynists are far likelier to be violent people than non-misogynists, which is why rape and wife-beating are such common crimes.  (Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury for women 15-44.)  All bigotry provokes violence at its ends, of course.  This isn't the Oppression Olympics.  But misogyny and violence go hand in hand so often because misogynists really buy deeply into the idea that women are weak and men are "strong", by which they mean aggressive.  A steady drumbeat of misogynist thought couldn't be better designed to reach the unhinged and cause them to lash out violently, all while imagining themselves to be big, tough men who claim they were forced—with "why did you make me do this?" being the battle cry of wife beaters—into violence. 

Which is why it was so foul that Ross Douthat basically argued E.  In reality, these kind of masculinist postures just breed more violence, both in the widespread sort, but also every day behind closed doors, between individual misogynists and the women they encounter in their social circles, families, and even bedrooms. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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