Like everyone else, I spent most of yesterday following the story of the UCSB shootings and the #YesAllWomen tag in horror. The shooter’s actions were beyond horrific, but it was the responses to it that really made me sick to my stomach. The media not even mentioning the misogynistic motivations behind the shooting. People saying he was “just unwell” or even calling him a HERO for his actions.
Every time something like this happens, journalists attempt to blame it on media consumption. Violent movies. Violent video games. We can be pretty certain that the shooter’s father’s connection to The Hunger Games will be dragged up here. And those of us who are anti-censorship, anti-book burning, anti old fashioned conservative hysteria, mock these arguments. We roll our eyes and say how ridiculous it all is.
Well, for once, I’m going to agree with anti-media hysteria. This shooting happened for a whole myriad of reasons coming together, but the main reason, based on the shooter’s own words, is that he was allowed to dehumanize women and view them as a commodity that he was ENTITLED to. Lots of things contribute to the feasibility of this view, and one of them is the media we consume.
When we play video games where all female characters are prostitutes or treated in a “gotta catch em all” way, we’re told that women don’t count as people. When they play games that encourage us to act out violence against women, we get desensitized to this violence.
When TV shows and movies present female characters as nothing more than the “prize” that the hero earns for being a good hero, we learn that men are entitled to worship from the woman of their choosing.
When women are presented as the horrid villains of movies, deserving of comeuppance, because they rejected the protagonist, we’re taught that rejecting a man’s advances is a cruel thing done by cruel people.
When movies and TV shows show rape and torture of women and are then rated R or even PG-13, we see violence against women as normal. And when stories use rape or murder as a suitable punishment for “bitchy” women, we learn that this is what women deserve.
When women’s voices are dismissed in stories, we’re encouraged to dismiss them in real life too.
Our whole culture enables and even encourages the perspective that the shooter took to extreme levels, and the media is a major part of that. From screaming rape threats on X-Box Live to enjoying the latest episode of Game of Thrones, stories, and our consumption of them, are constantly telling us that violence against women is okay. That objectification is okay. And considering how many hours the average person spends playing video games and watching TV shows and movies, we can hardly pretend that this doesn’t have an impact on the way we all view women in real life. For some of us, that leads to ingrained sexism that we’d rather not have. But for others — for too many others — this leads to real life violence, justified by years of gradual conditioning. And that is an unacceptable cost for “free expression” in storytelling media.