When a man does something heinous, he is a loser virgin who lives in his mom’s basement — that’s what we like to believe, or at least joke about. Post-Charlottesville, actor and comedian Michael Rapaport posted a video in which he told white supremacists to “try and get to second base with a girl, you f*cking losers.” He wasn’t the only one: exclamations of “Get laid!” and “Nobody wants to f*ck a Nazi!” have been echoing through the internet like shouts in the Grand Canyon.
Comments like these suggest neo-Nazis and other violent types are the sort of men with whom nobody would have sex. But more than that: they’re the sort of men who could be saved by sex — if only they weren’t virgins, they wouldn’t have such hate simmering in their hearts.
We’ve heard this all before, including from some violent men themselves. Media nicknamed Elliot Rodger the “virgin killer” after he murdered six and injured 14 UC Santa Barbara students in 2014. Rodger detailed how his virgin status made him feel in a 137-page manifesto that exhibits an outsize hatred for women. He see-saws throughout between self-loathing (because he is a virgin) and calling women subhuman sluts (because he is a virgin). He hated men who were sexually active, too, as well as the women who were sexually active with them.
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His whole screed is littered with statements such as, “I deserve girls much more than all those slobs” and, “I hate all of you and I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve. Utter annihilation.” But some men who denounced his actions, also said they understood his angst; others called for an end to male virgin-shaming. That’s not a bad idea, of course — but only if we also do away with the idea that sex is a legitimate prize for successfully performed masculinity. Otherwise we run the risk of presenting the female body as an antidote to male dissatisfaction, an inoculation against hate and rage and violence.
Take, for instance, one of the think pieces published after Omar Mateen killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year: “Intermale aggression must be turned into guardian instincts, if primate societies (such as ours) are to attain stability,” wrote Stephen Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago, in an essay for Aeon. “Males must transform from little tyrants, competing for females, to selfless bodyguards and potential providers.” Asma goes on to coin the term “the weaponized loser” to argue that society must talk about sexuality and toxic masculinity if it wants to prevent more mass killings. No arguments here. But instead of moving the conversation forward to somewhere new, he brings us back to sex.
To be fair, he does recommend healthy distractions from sexual frustration (such as sports). But he also, quite seriously, argues that decriminalizing sex work and creating better, more realistic sex robots could prevent the gestation of mass murderers. I want to call these proposals both flimsy and wacky, but the fact is they’re rooted in centuries-old beliefs about what makes a good man: a good woman. So, yes, let’s talk about the dangers old-school conceptions of masculinity present. But let’s go deeper than figuring out a way to get dudes laid early.
Because whenever people argue that’s the answer — even in jest — I picture sexy Stepford Wives making their way down an assembly line to be shipped off to pre-fab bedrooms. I mean, who are these selfless, patriotic women ready and willing to save hordes of would-be mass murderers and neo-Nazis from their own worst impulses? It reduces women to managing men, making us culpable in ways we’re really not. It dismisses our agency and reinforces the notion that we’re mere commodities, with little say in our own sexual lives. We represent salvation and satisfaction, but our selves are removed from the equation entirely.
We can draw a direct line from such comments to the horrific way women are treated online, particularly in the dating sphere. Just spend a few minutes on Bye Felipe’s Instagram feeds for an unpleasant taste. (Launched in 2014, the feed showcases the routine harassment — and unsolicited dick pics — women face online.) Women who reject sexual advances, or take what is deemed too long to respond to a message, are routinely called “stupid c**ts” or “bitches” or are informed that, in fact, the advance in question was only a joke, “fatty.” Stuff like this only perpetuates the narrative that women’s bodies belong to men, not to themselves.
The basement-dwelling-virgin trope also lets women off the hook: the alt-right isn’t a boys’ club for hate, after all. What about the women who are part of that movement, or who are Neo-Nazis or KKK members? Don’t tell me they, too, just need to get laid. I can’t believe I have to say this, but: while sex is many things, it is not a panacea for systemic racism. Making jokes about getting laid doesn’t just perpetuate misogyny; it also distracts us from the real work that needs to be done. And that work does not include organizing volunteer orgies for budding neo-Nazis.
Lauren McKeon is the digital editor of The Walrus.