By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor
“Until you give men like Rodger a way to have sex, either by encouraging them to learn game, seek out a Thai wife, or engage in legalized prostitution-three things that the American media and cultural elite venomously attack, it’s inevitable for another massacre to occur. Even game itself, as useful as it is on an individual level, is a band-aid fix upon a culture which has stopped rewarding nice guys while encouraging female whoring to benefit only the top 10% of alpha males, all in the name of societal progress.”
-Roosh, “No One Would Have Died If PUAHate Killer Elliot Rodger Learned Game,” http://www.returnofkings.com (June 1, 2014).
When I was in high school in the early ’60s, the Loretto Academy prom was a significant annual event. Loretto was a Catholic school for girls, and I attended Jesuit High School, an all boys school. Much of our social interaction was with the girls of Loretto. Our drama societies jointly produced plays. Loretto provided our homecoming sweethearts. Loretto Academy was our sister school, if you will.
So as a high school junior I was excited about the upcoming Loretto prom, and was hoping that one of several girls I particularly liked would invite me. Then one evening, a good two months before the event, I received a call from Helen (not her real name). I had known Helen since grammar school. She was tall and thin and plain-looking. She was also very smart and very sweet, attributes too frequently unappreciated by 16 year-old boys. She had called, she said, to invite me to the prom.
I confess that I was disappointed at that moment, and I have wondered on occasion whether Helen could sense the disappointment in my voice. My mind raced. I could not tell her that I had already been invited. And if I declined the invitation and attended the prom with someone else, would I be embarrassed? Would she? “I’d love to go,” I blurted out. “Thank you for asking me.”
Several weeks later, my mother came home one afternoon and was quite agitated. She had seen Helen and her mother at a local department store, shopping for a prom dress. Helen’s mother had mentioned that they could find nothing that “didn’t just hang on that girl,” and she had said it loudly enough for Helen and others to hear. My mother was incensed that Helen’s mother would publically humiliate her own daughter in that manner. “She’s such a nice girl, ” she said, “but it’s no wonder that she has so little self-confidence. ”
As prom night neared, my classmates began talking about their dates. When I told my friends that I would be going with Helen, the teasing began. I mostly ignored it, but it angered me nonetheless.
The evening finally came and I awkwardly pinned the mandatory corsage onto Helen’s gown while our parents took equally awkward pictures. She was radiant and for the first time I was glad that she had invited me. I was determined to enjoy the evening and to make certain that Helen enjoyed it as well.
The hotel ballroom that night was decorated in traditional prom fashion, featuring streaming paper ribbons and balloons, bored parents coaxed into serving as chaperones, small seating tables with centerpieces and candles, a large buffet table containing a punch bowl, small glasses, plates and snack foods. A local band played the music we all danced to in those days, the twist, the bop, the stroll, the watusi, the bunny hop.
Sometime after we arrived, I went over to the buffet table and began to fill two glasses with punch. The taunts from some of my friends began immediately. How were things going with Helen? Was she my steady girlfriend now? Had I kissed her? Were we slow dancing? Even my football coach grinned at me and asked in a slightly mocking manner whether I should be leaving my prom date by herself for very long with all the good-looking guys in the room. And I said nothing. I carried the glasses back to where Helen was sitting, feeling red-faced and ashamed at my own cowardice. I had been more concerned with my friends’ perception of me than of the crude disrespect they had shown Helen. And I had said nothing.
I thought of Helen and that prom again while reading the various reactions to the recent Santa Barbara spree killings. Of course Elliot Rodger was insane. But his misogyny was not incidental to his insanity. It was central to it. It was its fuel. All spree killers act out of hatred of one sort or another, but only a fool argues that our culture of misogyny should not be part of the discussion, and fools abound.
Misogyny, racism, religious bigotry, homophobia and all other forms of group hatred share at least two characteristics. The first is a lack of recognition of individual human dignity, a refusal to respect every person one encounters as an autonomous moral agent, a failure to regard human beings as ends in themselves, the foundational duty of all morality.
The second is that all forms of hatred are learned. They have teachers and students. Some students become ardent proponents. And some students, like Elliot Rodger, go mad.
When I stood at that punch bowl, I allowed misogynistic disrespect to go unrebutted. I should have told my friends that Helen deserved the same consideration as every other girl in the room. I should have challenged the assumption that girls are trophies to be won through degrading competitions and that I had settled on someone whose physical attractiveness somehow made her a less worthy “prize” in the contest. I should have called them out on their shallow, callous cruelty. But I said nothing and became complicit by my silence.
So now, Helen, wherever you are, I hope you are well. I want to thank you, sincerely this time, for honoring me with the invitation to spend that special evening with you. And I ask you now, fifty years later, to forgive me for not having said the things I should have said so long ago.