Shortly after the May 23rd shooting, at the University of California Santa Barbara people started blaming it on misogyny. However, the cause was far more complicated and misogyny, while involved, was not the root cause, but rather was a result of other circumstances. Some may ask why it matters whether or not misogyny was the root cause; indeed people have asked me this when confronting the oversimplified view of the shooting.
There are two answers to this question. The first is that, unless we know the root cause, we cannot know how to best prevent a similar event from occurring again. The second is that, in understanding that misogyny was not the root cause, but was a product of other conditions, we can see that misogyny is going to be far more difficult to combat than other societal ills.
Let’s face it; sex is a fundamental component of most living organisms. We look for sex throughout our lives. While it is not something we need on an individual level, it is something that we n
At a fundamental level, what we do in our daily lives is based on two instincts: a desire to successfully find a mate and a desire to survive, for latter often outweighing the former. In a species as complex as humans, this may result in rather complicated activities and may actually end up being detrimental to finding a mate, but it is still at the root of how we act.eed as a species. In particular, humans are sexual beings. We do not have a fixed period of mating and so we are always seeking it.
Is Sex a Commodity?
I’m sure I’ll take a lot of flack for this, but, economically speaking, sex is a commodity. It is one of the oldest commodities and its use as a commodity extends far past modern humans. People seem to take offense to this notion because it is a commodity which utilizes one’s body. However, any service rendered by a person requires the person to use his or her body. A taxi driver has to use his body in order to drive someone from point A to point B. The reason this sounds absurd is because people do not separate the service from the individual. Let’s take our mundane example of a taxi driver. If someone has the money for a cab ride, then it doesn’t really matter who that person is; they will still have access to that service. This does not mean that someone can force a taxi driver to drive them around. This would be forced servitude or slavery.
In this discussion, when I use the term class, I do not mean economic class or social class. I simply mean a group of items with a shared set of characteristics. So men, women, fruits, vegetables, are all classes of items. Some of these classes are arbitrarily defined, such as race: there is no biologically valid division of people into races and many cultures are devoid of the concept of race. However, there are classes which are “valid”. There are males and there are females.
Humans tend to think about classes of items rather than about individual items themselves. This includes in the case of blame. If a member of a class of people harms you, then it is very likely that you will start to see the class as a whole as the entity to blame, especially if you cannot get retribution from the individual or group of individuals who did you harm. It’s important to realize that this is true even if no “real” harm has been done. As long as there is a perceived injury, the result will be the same.
University of California Santa Barbara Shooting
So now that I have given a fair amount of background information, I can begin to discuss, in detail, the aforementioned situation. First, this person was obviously mentally ill. He was being treated for his illness. This is fundamentally what allowed his perceived harm lead to violent actions. However, also at issue is the way this society treats sex. It simultaneously prevents and promotes the commiditization of sex. It prevents it through actions such as making prostitution illegal. However, it promotes it through marketing.
The desire to obtain sex and the inability to do so certainly impacts the mental state of a person, since, as mentioned earlier, we are sexual beings. While no woman is obligated to obtain sex, the inability to obtain it from anyone caused this person to feel that he was harmed, and the group which he felt harmed him, was women. However, did it have to be women? No. Men and women, both heterosexual and homosexual seek intimacy. Regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation, the lack of ability to obtain sex will affect mental state. In a person who is mentally healthy, this affect can be mitigated by rationality. However, in a mentally ill person, it can easily lead to hatred of as group as a whole.
Cause or Result?
It’s true that misogyny was present, but in this case, it was an intermediate step. People are stuck on the notion that in this instance, the shooter was male and the target group was female. However, it could have easily been the other way around. It could have been a gay man shooting other men. It could have been a heterosexual woman killing men. It could have been a homosexual woman shooting women. It could have been a bisexual person shooting anyone.
Can Misogyny be Eradicated?
This directly leads to the idea that misogyny can be an end result rather than a cause. Misogyny can be created even if it did not exist before. And since females are a “valid” class, as long as people continue to equate the actions of an individual with the actions of a group, misogyny will again appear. This case shows us why misogyny is so much more difficult to eradicate than other forms of bigotry such as racism. Since race is not a “valid” classification in that it is only culturally defined, and so only exists as long as the culture defines it, all one must do to eliminate racism is eliminate the cultural view of race.
What?! Legalize Prostitution?!
However, there are ways to reduce cases like this, if we can find the cause of the hatred. Obviously there are cases where simple enculturation, learning to hate the group, whether it be someone of a given sex, race, social position, etc. But, given that this was not the case for the recent shooting, we might be able to do something. First, there’s the issue of people wanting sex and how not getting it impacts their mental state. Since sex is a commodity, we shouldn’t be so afraid of treating it as such. Like other instances of legislating morality, making prostitution illegal has resulted in negative consequences, far more than it has helped to prevent. Providing an outlet for this man’s sexual frustrations, and for those of many other men and women, might help reduce a lot of tension and prevent, at least some of these situations.
In addition, it would probably be helpful to change the way college is treated. College should not be a venue for parties and sexual contact. College should be a venue for learning. This will of course take a lot of work. There are many issues with our education system as a whole. However, fixing our education system would have a positive impact across the board.
Lastly, there’s the core issue of mental illness. There are a lot of mentally ill people in this country. The way we treat the mentally ill is not sufficient and we do not do nearly enough to prevent mental illness. While such a discussion on how to prevent such conditions is far beyond the scope of this essay, and would drive it somewhat off topic, it is known that poverty rates and nutritional quality have an effect on mental health. Mark Goulston, M.D., F.A.P.A. provides a well thought out discussion on how to handle mental illness, although, like this essay, it is a work in progress…