Beware the lonely, angry men
We have so many mass shootings in this country, and so much gun violence in general, that those who come to a sweeping conclusion on the basis of any one massacre are playing a fool's game.
Yet the facts wrapped up with Tuesday's rampage at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area nonetheless raise disturbing questions about relations between the sexes in the contemporary United States — and in particular about the complex and ominous interaction of loneliness and rage inside a certain subset of American men.
In focusing on the gendered dimension of the attacks, I'm presuming they weren't racially motivated hate crimes, as many assumed in the hours after the shootings took place, so much as homicidal misogyny. It's understandable why people leapt to the other conclusion, given that six of the victims were women of Asian descent and the country has seen a nearly 150 percent spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans over the past year or so. Yet the confession of the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, seems to indicate he didn't explicitly choose his targets out of racial animus. Rather, he targeted women who worked at the spas he frequented, and those women happened to be Asian. Moreover, if the statement by the Cherokee County Sheriff about the perpetrator's state of mind can be believed, the shooting was proximally provoked by an impulse to lash out at the objects of his lust.
That would place Long in the vicinity of incels — the "involuntarily celibates" who turn their failures at attracting women into an ideology of virulent misogyny that can inspire real-world acts of violence. Long supposedly frequented these businesses, so he wasn't celibate. But he apparently confessed to being a sex addict — and his actions on Tuesday demonstrate that he reacted to his own compulsion to seek sexual satisfaction in a form of prostitution (rather than in a stable relationship) by harboring and acting out in rage against the women who serviced him for money.
Obviously this is the most extreme manifestation of pathological relations between men and women one can imagine. But it's still worth reflecting on more broadly because its murderous toxicity is a function of a combustible mix of emotions (loneliness, frustration, anger) that are experienced in less sociopathic form by plenty of men who don't become mass shooters — and because the distinctive way partisan polarization is interacting with sexual differences in our time is likely to produce quite a lot more of these unfulfilled men over the coming years.
Marriage rates have been falling for years. Men and women are both unhappy with the dating scene. There are numerous reasons for both trends. But one of them is the country's growing political divide. Joe Biden won women by 15 points in 2020 while Donald Trump won men by 8 points.
When this gender gap is combined with increasing cultural and moral animosity between the parties, the possibility of a couple negotiating a cross-partisan relationship or marriage seems increasingly remote. One especially noteworthy bit of evidence of this difficulty was captured last summer in a poll from the Pew Research Center. It found that 47 percent of single adults on the dating scene definitely or probably would not consider being in a committed relationship with someone who had voted for Trump. Twenty-six percent said the same about dating someone who had voted for Hillary Clinton.
That's a snapshot of a country in which the pool of potential heterosexual partners is quite a bit more constricted than it might first appear. A significant chunk of men are averse to becoming involved with the sizable portion of women who vote for Democrats, and a larger percentage of women apparently want nothing to do with men who support a Trumpified Republican Party.
There are, of course, plenty of women who vote for Republicans and men who vote for Democrats. But combining the partisan gender divide with the much higher number of people unwilling start a relationship with Trump voters yields a population with relatively fewer dating options for conservative men.
This is something that the right is aware of and worried about — at least based on a pair of essays published recently in The American Mind, a website run by the Claremont Institute, the intellectual home base for Trumpian conservatives.
Both columns attempt to make sense of the distinctive challenges facing conservative men looking to date, marry, and start families. The first and more serious essay, by Helen Roy, begins with her noting that when she talks to conservative male friends about their love lives, "the conversation almost always begins and ends with the same sentiment: There are no like-minded women out there for me." The problem arises from both sides of the partisan divide — "Modern women aren't into conservatives, and conservatives aren't into modern women" — but ultimately the women deserve the lion's share of the blame, she says. That's because "the kind of woman our society produces is generally quite unpleasant."
The political has become personal: relentless feminist indoctrination from an early age has convinced many millennial women that to be sexually and professionally dominant is ideal. Most women are living up to societal expectations, and destroying their own mental health, ability to pair-bond, and procreate in the process…. In seeking their political mirror image in women, conservative men see no one. In calling themselves conservative, no one seeks them. [The American Mind]
What can be done? First, Roy counsels dropping the "conservative" label altogether, since "branding oneself in this way is a womanly stance … that accomplishes nothing real while seeking abstract validation." In fact, right-wing men should refrain from talking about politics with women at all and instead aim to "be builders. Build your body, your home, your garden, new networks, and business."
If men build a world with "high standards and natural hierarchies," women will "follow" because they are "socially submissive creatures" and many of them long "to submit to a mission against the modern world." That's because the modern world makes them miserable, and so women are eager (often without realizing it) to fall in behind men who "strike out on their own from the system that rewards women for dominating them."
If anything, the second American Mind essay (presumably authored by a woman writing under the pseudonym Peachy Keenan) displays even greater contempt for the attitudes and outlook of young women in America today. Taking its cue from poll data showing 1-in-6 young adult (18-23) Generation Z women identifying as LGBTQ, with 72 percent of those claiming to be bisexual, the essay claims that calling oneself bi gives now gives one "extra social points" and "elevated social status as a protected class."
But Keenan also blames the trend on "the tragic feminization of men" that has led them to "forget what it actually means to be a man" and has therefore driven women to flee into the arms of other women. As for solutions to this problem, the author offers little beyond a call to "build off-ramps from this chaos, and a pathway back to healthy heterosexuality for children assigned straight at birth." She also offers a warning that a failure to do so will make "Generation Z girls the most medicated, dysfunctional, childless, self-sterilized generation ever."
It's unclear how widespread such atavistic views about men and women are on the American right. Fears of emasculation under modern conditions have a long history in this country, and among American conservatives in particular. Recent trends appear to have tapped into and reactivated that tendency. Having a president for the past four years who unapologetically exemplified (and rewarded) a crudely primitive form of masculinity no doubt contributed to this. And right on schedule Trumpism's intellectual defenders have stepped up to the challenge of providing it with pseudo-philosophical justification.
That's unfortunate for several reasons — not least because teaching young conservative men that they will find girlfriends and wives by thinking and acting as if they are owed female adoration is exceedingly unlikely to work. The same goes for teaching men that women who fail to respond warmly to displays of preening self-regard are mentally defective. None of it will help these young conservatives to become less lonely, sexually frustrated, or emotionally unfulfilled.
On the contrary, encouraging misogyny in American men is liable to make their loneliness, frustration, unfulfillment — and anger — far worse. We should all understand by now how dangerous that can be — and that it's unlikely to end well for anyone concerned.