The Toronto Van Attack And Male Supremacist Violence
In the wake of the deadly Toronto van attack that claimed the lives of ten people and injured 14, details pertaining to the motivations of the attacker have begun to pour in. The apparent reason for what has come to be the largest mass-killing in recent Canadian history was the killer’s self-identification as an “incel”. “Incel” is a slang term that refers to an internet community of people, usually young white men, who are “involuntarily celibate” (which itself is a foolish concept). This usually comes along with clear expressions of violent misogyny and racism, as well as an extreme sense of aggrievement.
According to Facebook posts by the killer, he was a fan, if not a disciple of mass murderer Elliot Rodger. Rodger, who killed six and injured fourteen others in a drive by shooting near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014, carried out his killings for a simple reason: women who he felt entitled to would not have sex with him or give him the attention that he felt he deserved.
Unlike his idol, the Toronto killer was unable to successfully take his own life amidst all of the carnage he had caused, so possibly we’ll get a full explanation from the devil himself, but that will ultimately be necessary. Rodger himself left behind a manifesto making his motivations clear and the Toronto killer’s endorsement of Rodger tells us all that we need to know. Frequent violence against women is obviously as old as society itself, but something that is, for a lack of a better term, unique about these sorts of attacks is how they are designed to be and are received as some sort of spectacle.
The terroristic violence that we see in these cases really isn’t all that different than the racial terror campaigns against black people in the south at the hands of the white population during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. There we saw a long-oppressed group taking significant strides towards equality and the threatened privileged-group react violently in an attempt to restore the former order. And it didn’t just consist of people being disappeared in the darkness of night and suddenly winding up dead, which many women still experience today, but it also consisted of very public, extremely brutal and well-documented tortures, murders and rapes that were meant to strike fear into the “underclass” and to remind everyone of what the traditional social order was.
Murderers ranging from The Virginia Tech Shooter to the Parkland Shooter to the far-right extremist who killed three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood either had a history of violence against women or used experiencing rejection at the hands of a woman as an excuse to carry out mass killings.
As the occurrence of these specific types of events seem to increase, it is important to ask why this is happening and what larger social dynamic is being reflected in these events. While many people will naturally give many answers, there is one clear one. It is a fact that when we talk about social capital in contemporary American (and to larger extent “western”) society, women (as well as men of color and LGBT men) have more of it now than they ever have at any other point in history. Unlike the days where women were effectively cut out of vast swaths of the workforce and had their ability for self-determination compromised by both dominant attitudes and de jure law, women are more or less no longer forced to rely on men for survival.
The mass killings that we see so frequently today are a response to this dynamic. The men of my generation, much like the men of previous generations, were taught that women are both prizes to be won and possessions to be owned. Girls and women were, and for many still are a frontier to be conquered and a land to be exploited of their resources until the point of complete exhaustion, and it is exactly this frame of thought that is so incompatible with the realities of modern society. While women have blasted into the future through their collective struggle, men are overwhelmingly still stuck in the stone age. The women of previous generations may have had to put up with and bear the children of mediocre and abusive men that they weren’t attracted to for a majority of their lives because they weren’t allowed to compete with them in education or in the workforce, but the rules have drastically changed and this is what these men who hold these sentiments cannot handle.
Many men today cannot cope with the fact that they cannot have what their grandfathers had. They cannot cope with the loss of privilege that was supposedly promised to them by their ascribed social status. Every act of violence against this new world that we now inhabit is a clear attempt to restore the “good old days” where women were supposed to be powerless play-things for men to use and abuse as they pleased. These terrorist attacks that are carried out against women and whoever else is unfortunate enough to incur the wrath of male (particularly white male) aggrievement are every bit as political as an ISIS or Al-Qaeda attack, and it would be irresponsible to say otherwise.
For the sake of comparison, reactionary violence by far-right Islamic groups is always quickly met with wide denunciation and wall-to-wall news coverage, but reactionary violence by men against women and the rights that they have fought tooth and nail for is often treated as a mere blip on the radar or the focus is simply shifted to a more palatable issue such as mental illness or gun violence.
It is here where the mainstream media, which is controlled by the same capitalistic, white supremacist and patriarchal structures that control the rest of society, truly exacerbates the problem. While the mainstream media has no problem carrying water for islamophobic warmongers who are eager to demonize billions of people in order to justify their never ending war against brown and black people in the Middle East and Africa, they show no such effort to merely address the more pressing domestic issue of violence and hatred towards women.
American men driven to violence for these reasons are responsible for far more American deaths per year than Islamic fundamentalists, yet the reasoning behind their attacks receive not even a fraction of the attention. This is of course a function of the powerful simply being unwilling to confront and change what is to them the comfortable status quo. Until we as a society treat these misogyny-fueled macabre spectacles as the political attacks that they are, then we’ll never be able to organize effectively against them and fight for a better alternative.
As long as we continue to focus on ultimately inconsequential issues such as mental illness or gun violence while ignoring the larger structural and societal issues that cause these events, then these sorts of attacks will become more common. Unfortunately for us as a society, I fear that the more social capital that is gained by women, men of color and LGBT people, the more we will see increasingly brutal violence from the groups that are most threatened by their progress, including but certainly not limited to straight, cisgender white men. Men, as a whole, can be better. We just have to decide whether or not we truly want to be better, and that is a decision that has steep consequences for everyone in society.
The archaic ideas with which many modern men still build their identities with have become obsolete, which consequently renders the traditional masculine identity obsolete. Reactionary male supremacist terror attacks are how certain men in our society have responded to this, will the rest of us not only reject the violence itself, but the system that creates the conditions for the violence? Or will we maintain the status quo by sitting idly by and explaining away their truest and darkest motivations in order to ensure our own comfort?