If you know me, you might be surprised that it's taken me four days to respond to the massacre in Isla Vista. I've been following this story, and its aftermath, with interest and disgust in equal measure. Interest in the #YesAllWomen response, and what it means to take the emphasis off the killer and put it on a systemic problem. And disgust because, ultimately, I think that effort will fail.
When I consider adding my small voice to this debate, I feel like I'm yelling into the wind. I'm screaming for us to slow down, think, take our time to consider. But we are a nation of speeding up, and we are leaving what really matters behind.
Six people are dead for no good reason. That makes me so, so sad.
Yes, the killer (whose name I don't care to type) was mentally ill. Yes, he got legal access to weapons he had no reasonable excuse to own. Yes, he was a misogynist who believed he had a right to have sex with beautiful women. Yes, all women know what it feels like to be considered someone else's possession.
Are these factors connected? Not overtly. But they speak to a commonly-accepted but undeclared part of the American Dream: If a man is powerful, if he is handsome, if he is rich, if he is "manly," then he deserves a beautiful woman to take care of his needs. Or, for the somewhat more enlightened, if he is "good guy," he deserves a woman to appreciate him.
She's what he deserves.
So a gun, and the ability to use it, might make him feel powerful. If he is mentally ill, those who love him might hide it to protect his reputation. When he throws hot beverages at women, hits them, calls them "sluts" and "bitches," the men around him might laugh and commiserate, because they've all felt under-appreciated by girls before. If he took his rage out on others, especially on those same "bitches," society might try to blame it on anything--anything at all--except ourselves.
I've been that bitch before. I've "friend-zoned" many a boy in my time, and I can't say I know how most of them felt about it. Probably awful. When my guy friends complain about how women never want "a good guy," how hard it is to be the "guy friend," I do understand that. Like most women, I've been friend-zoned, too. It's just that I've never felt like any man owed me his affection, his sexual interest, even if I bought him things or took care of his needs. I always acknowledged that I was the fool, even when that hurt. Some men, even "good guys," have lost that capacity. I can be sympathetic to a broken heart, but I cannot be "deserved."
We have idealized unconditional romantic love, but I don't buy into that. My husband still earns my love, and I earn his. It's work. When we stop doing the work of loving, we start to feel entitled. That is a dangerous way to feel.
I don't have the answer to this problem, but I think it starts with redefining what we deserve. In this country, we believe we have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Happiness isn't a right; only its pursuit. And if we value liberty equally, we must acknowledge that we can only have it when both sexes live life with equal self-determination. One person's pursuit shouldn't trump another's liberty.
No one deserves another person. No deserves anything but to live free and try to find joy. I don't have much more to add, except the names of the people who really matter:
C. H. (although his name is known, his parents requested only initials)
And the wounded, who are mostly unnamed but remain in my thoughts.
Hug your sons and daughters, tonight and always.