Friday, August 7, 2009

Correlation and Causation Part II: Mr. Sodini and the Women

I've been thinking about the scripts that the media is faithfully and thoughtlessly following in reporting the story of George Sodini, who opened fire on women in an exercise class in Pennsylvania this week, killing 3. By now the story is well-known - sad lonely man who's been rejected by women all his life hatches a plan to get revenge, blah, blah, blah. I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of sad and lonely people who are socially awkward and therefore viewed as disposable in our culture. And I'm not saying it's not a huge problem, something we should be ashamed of. But I wonder at the unquestioning way the media repeats, and most of us accept, that the causal link goes in this direction. I think the following is a parallel case.

Andrew Sullivan makes a case for same-sex marriage using a conservative framework: marriage is good for society in that it stabilizes people, and sort of calms them down. Men who are married commit less crimes and are less given to drinking and partying and mental illness and hooliganism, which is one of the coolest words ever. Since marriage has this great effect on people, social conservatives should want gay people to get married. At least the men, anyway. The conservative response to this can be summed up in the words of Pat Robertson:
Andrew, it’s not marriage that civilizes men, it’s women.
Whenever I've heard this argument, I've always wondered why we accept the fact that there's a causal link between marriage and more socially accepted behavior so readily. The statistics certainly show that there's a correlation. But who's to say that marriage is causing the difference in behavior? Couldn't it be the case that most women don't view men who are prone to hooliganism marriage material to begin with? Could it be that the men who are ending up in adult partnerships are the ones who are ready to grow up and leave off, or at least curtail, the partying and hooliganing? Assuming that there is a causal relationship here, why would we have to assume that it goes one way rather than the other?

So how does this relate to the Sodini case? The script being bandied about is that Sodini became bitter and misogynistic and murderous after years of being mistreated and ignored by women. Women created this monster. But it seems just as likely that he was a bitter and misogynistic person to begin with, so women either avoided him, or broke up with him once they learned what he was really like, thus further fueling the bitterness and misogyny. This version of the story is just as plausible as the currently popular one, but I haven't heard it suggested by the MSM. Perhaps this version of events just isn't sensational or victim-blaming enough for them.


  1. I'd go with not victim-blaming enough. This version of events is itself a product of society's and the media's misogyny. It is, at least to a woman, pretty damn obvious why she wouldn't want to get involved with someone with this sense of entitlement toward women, even before the bitterness, if there was a before. What is "obvious" about the notion that women civilize men, or that if you date or marry a misogynist he becomes less so, when in fact all the evidence of domestic violence shows otherwise? If you are going to make a sensible assumption, the obvious one is it. If, however, you want to promote the notion that women are responsible for men's behavior, you'll go with the other.

    For comparison of this particular meme only, and not to suggest that racism is less prevalent today than misogyny, I wonder why you never hear anyone say that if only PoC would keep racists happier by providing them with more sex and affection, this whole problem of racism would fade away? Presumably no one says that because it's so obviously ridiculous. Not that PoC don't get blamed for the existence of racism in other ways. But despite the fact that there are male racists who are perfectly happy to marry women of color (giving them a chance to dominate someone they view as lesser in two ways), and plenty more who've shown themselves to be quite willing to have sex with them (although historically it hasn't been sex, but rape) the people telling this tale do seem to have grasped that it's foolish to suggest that women of color should soften the racists' attitudes by having sex with or marrying them. I have to assume that's because they think this would be insulting to men of color, not because it wouldn't otherwise be an excellent approach. And of, course, you don't want to get the men of color mad because those guys are scary. Found some racism behind there, too. . . Who'd have thought?

  2. Maud,

    I think all the talk about how Gates wasn't polite enough to the cops and how as a mature black man he should know better than to mouth off to the police is a parallel here. As if it's the fault of POC when they're profiled and treated differently by the police.

  3. Meg'n - I think you're absolutely right. It's the same old story, either way - they make us treat them this way. It's every abuser's indignant defense. If only zie would a), I wouldn't have to hurt hir! But if zie does a) the abuser is just so frustrated that zie failed to b), thus again forcing the abuser's hand. Only there's no end to this alphabet.