There is no hell more hideous or humid than the soccer fields on an early summer afternoon in the South.
The sun pounds down with a mallet in each fist, destroying any doubt of its supremacy in the universe. The tall pines beyond the fence droop, the grass browns before our eyes. The bloated air heaves itself around like a DMV employee two months from retirement.
Yet the players on the field appear impervious to the blinding swelter. They move like warriors, calculating each pass and kick, snaking the ball around their opponents’ defense to take a shot on the goal. If they fail, they regroup like a pack of wolves and try again. Along the way there might be a push here, a shove there, the occasional elbow to the ribs if the ref isn’t looking.
Who knew 10 year-old girls could be so terrifyingly tough?
Huddled under a pop-up canvas canopy with the other parents, modern Bedouins clad in Rainbow flip-flops and drinking cans of La Croix, I watch my daughter and her teammates with awe. It just never gets old, the unexpected breakaways, the soaring kicks, the balls taken to the chin and shaken off with a gap-toothed smile.
Though raised by a feminist to believe I could be President or an astronaut, I was never quite comfortable with the physical aggression required to be an athlete. At 10, I was busy reading the Judy Blume canon and organizing a union for my paper dolls. The last time I played real soccer was a friendly college dorm match when some freshman from New Mexico slide-tackled me and I limped off to the cafeteria, crying.
But these girls, with their baggy blue uniforms and their coltish legs, they are so fierce, so strong, that it’s difficult to imagine that anything could ever bring them down.
For the moment, at least. They have a few years before they shoulder the societal pressure to be skinny or absorb the subtle messages to downplay their intelligence and power. They haven’t yet had to wonder why their male colleagues make higher salaries for the same work or rebuff the “romantic” advances of assholes who just don’t get it.
Soon enough, though, these girls will become women. Then it becomes a whole new ball game.
The May 23 shootings in Santa Barbara by a 22 year-old spoiled little psychopath have sliced open what has always been a marginalized conversation about gender, revealing the guts of our culture’s pervasive dysfunction around women’s sexuality. Like the haruspex of ancient Rome, we must take the opportunity to divine meaning from the entrails.
Before he took up his weapons, Elliot Rodger blatantly blamed his impending rampage on all the women who wouldn’t have sex with him. Who knows if he even asked them nicely—he felt sure that he was owed their “adoration” and attention, and by “depriving” him of it, they deserved to die.
While this obviously falls under the umbrella of flat-out insanity, many rightfully recognized this as misogyny—a poisonous attitude against women that goes back to the tale of Lilith’s banishment from the Garden of Eden.
Misogyny feels entitled to womens’ servitude and feeds on the fear of female empowerment. It lurks in the dark, dank dungeons of the internet and in CEO offices on the top floors of skyscrapers. It can thrive in street gangs or frat houses. It is Nietzsche, Patrick Bateman and the Taliban.
Misogyny is chauvinism’s more horrible, sadistic older brother. It is what drives village elders to stone a woman to death for accidentally showing her ankle. It is the tasteless skit on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze that features a six-foot tall goon dressed in hideous drag laughing about rape.
Misogyny is at the root of the closure of 50 women’s health clinics in Texas, Arizona and 25 other states in the past three years. It is the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls and the gang rapes of children in India. Misogyny denies humanity. While chauvinism would merely suppress women, misogyny fucking hates them.
This most recent mass shooting gives a small window to stare it straight in the eye before some other tragedy captures our collective attention. While some of us could complain about “the mens” all day long, there really is no societal counterpart. Margaret Atwood describes the differential as “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
On Twitter, hundreds of thousands of women and a few men have used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to voice their fury and frustration for all that females must fear. Right on cue, a backlash arose via #NotAllMen to dismiss it as the hysterical exaggerations of a bunch of chicks.
The parallel feed/thought process is that not all men harbor that kind of evil, and duh, of course not—not even most men. There are so many fine male role models, the good dads and sweet brothers and loyal friends who love and respect women.
Arguing that only sidetracks the discussion. As the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny writes, “the devil has more than enough advocates today.”
Whether you choose to view Rodger’s terrible act as what Penny calls “misogynistic extremism” or the result of a sick, lonely kid who couldn’t get laid, there is no denying that his attitude towards women—in part created and validated by the cultural tides—figured into it. (It should go without saying that one can be both mentally ill and a misogynist.)
True, over half of Rodger’s victims were male—the misogynistic poison that fueled his violent entitlement harms everyone. As much as objectification hurts girls, boys suffer tremendously from the pressure to find their value in some kind of sexual “score.”
The tragedy in California has no upside, but perhaps it will make us more conscious of the misogynistic tendencies hidden in our language, our beliefs and what we brush aside as mental illness and good ol’ boy traditions. Maybe because of it, my daughter and her teammates will grow up in a fairer, saner, less hateful world. Maybe not.
But as I marvel as my girl bounces the ball from her chest to her foot and sails it down the field, I know I will never quit calling out the poison.