If you’ve not yet heard the news about Rodger’s shooting spree and the misogyny that spurred it on, you can read about it here. It gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. A chilling statement like “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it,” followed by a killing spree– it’s just an isolated incident from a deviantly violent man, right?
Maybe. It comes awfully close on the heels of Maren Sanchez’s tragic stabbing death at the hands of a fellow student who she didn’t want to go to prom with. Following that incident, I had been thinking about the role TV advertisers played in that death. I’ve heard or seen it said many times when someone’s pointing out the sexism or stereotypes in advertising– “Advertisers just give people what they want to see. They just use what sells.”
But what if they’re selling death?
How many thousands of TV commercials have aired that equate masculinity with irresistibility? The man at the bar drinking the right beer with a woman on either arm, so enthralled with his manliness that they don’t mind only getting half his attention. The man with the right aftershave who turns the head of every bikini-clad supermodel on the beach. Use our products, advertisers whisper, and you won’t even have to ask. Women will be falling over themselves to get into bed with you. You’ll be rugged, have that perfect five o’clock shadows, the body of a movie star, and if you have that and our product, what woman could resist you? The perfect man– irresistible.
In a media-saturated society, many men hear this message over and over, day after day, from so many different sources. It’s not surprising if some of them take it deeply to heart. And if manliness equals irresistibility, what does it mean when you’re not irresistible? The implication is that a rejection at the hands of a woman has nothing to do with personal incompatibility, or that she’s not interested in a relationship right now, or any other logical reason why a woman might not want to be with a man. The implication is that she’s emasculating you. Because if you were a “real” man, she wouldn’t stand a chance. Her petty female personal preferences would be swept away in the face of “real” manliness.
Couple that with a movie culture that marries manliness with tough-guy violence, and even if all the advertisers intended was to sell some aftershave, they are contributing to a swirling pot of misogynistic violence against women who dare to turn down men.* We cannot afford to think it’s okay to just “use what sells”, we cannot ignore this stereotype, when the side effect is women being killed.
*Although the extreme violence in the above cases is thankfully more rare, street harassment “rejections” are often met with the same breed of aggressive disdain for women who aren’t interested in the catcaller.