The Misogyny of Mass Murderers
Last year, after the horrible mass murder targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, I wrote about the misogyny and obsession with masculinity that underlies this and other such violent acts. Later, more information was revealed about shooter Jared Lee Loughner and his pervasive fear of women in power.
The same sort of thing seems to have influenced the alleged killer in Norway, Anders Breivik. As Michelle Goldberg writes at The Daily Beast in a really thorough article parsing the mass-muderer’s manifesto to find the hatred of women right on the surface of his ideology.
Rarely has the connection between sexual anxiety and right-wing nationalism been made quite so clear. Indeed, Breivik’s hatred of women rivals his hatred of Islam, and is intimately linked to it. Some reports have suggested that during his rampage on Utoya, he targeted the most beautiful girl first. This was about sex even more than religion.
His parents divorced when he was a year old, after which his feminist mother married a Norwegian army captain, and his father wed a fellow diplomat who Breivik calls a “moderate cultural Marxist and feminist.” Though he describes his stepfather as somewhat conservative, he nevertheless complains of a “super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing,” which he says has “contributed to feminise me to a certain degree.” A terror of feminization haunts his bizarre document.
By logical extension, it can be inferred that terror of feminization and desire to prove some sort of outsize manliness probably fed into the violence, just as it did with Loughner.
On the same note, Nona Willis-Aronowitz writes at GOOD magazine about the horror of seeing her mother, writer Ellen Willis, mentioned in the document and what it made her realize about the killer’s hatred:
Breivik mentions her in the same breath as Simone de Beauvoir (go Mama!) and blames them for the “skyrocketing divorce rates” and “plummeting birth rates” that created a “cultural and demographic vacuum” in the West. According to Breivik, this vacuum led directly to the Islamic takeover he cited as justification for Friday’s bombing and shooting spree. As soon as I read my mother’s name in the context of Breivik’s horrific attack, the deaths in Norway hit home. Breivik wasn’t just talking about my mom. He was talking about an entire movement of women I know and love. He was talking about me.
If the routine harassment and murder of abortion providers and the callousness displayed towards rape victims isn’t enough, let incidents like these remind us of the hurdles still facing the push for gender equality.
I truly believe that feminism, in its purest end goals, is wonderful for the male-identified among us: it liberates them from the oppressions of socially-constructed masculinity. But on the way there, like all social justice movements, it takes away certain levels of entitlement, the idea that they are somehow better or stronger.
Breivik may have been some sort of sociopath to begin with, but as the violence of so many white Southern men during the Civil Rights era, and the violence both threatened and real of xenophobic European neo-fascists, and countless other examples prove, when entitlement and privilege is undermined by equality, people can turn to rage very quickly. The results are too often deadly.