Rejection is painful for anyone who experiences it and because it’s an emotion we have to physically tolerate, experts say it naturally makes some people question their self-esteem.
Meaghan Peckham, a clinical social worker and therapist based in Toronto, who focuses on areas of domestic abuse, violence and sexual abuse, adds it also makes us question ourselves.
“It increases a sense of threat around connection… when we experience rejection, it can feel profoundly threatening and people deal with it differently, [sometimes] they can be destructive.”
Often with cases around gender-based violence or abuse, she adds, there are stories of men who feel rejected by women in their lives, whether through a break-up, divorce or if someone is not interested in sleeping with them.
While rejection doesn’t always lead to violence, Peckham says it contributes to a larger problem of feeling entitled — especially to sex.
“Depending on the man, and this is not all men, some will resort to violence either through asserting dominance or aggression to make the person feel the pain they’re feeling. This is a society of toxic masculinity.”
She adds some young boys are socialized to have entitlement and are also told they should get what they want. “Men are socialized, if they are aware of it or not, that women serve a purpose for sexual gratification [and sometimes] that is the only goal.”
On Monday, Toronto police arrested suspect Alek Minassian, 25, after he drove a rental van on a busy sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 14 others. He was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.
While police are still unclear as to what Minassian’s motives were, they did state most of the injured were women. Earlier this week, Facebook also confirmed a post was made by Minassian’s page that alluded to the incel movement and mass killer Elliot Rodger. Facebook has not confirmed, however, that it was Minassian himself who wrote the post.
WATCH: 10 dead, 14 injured in Toronto van attack
Incel is a combination of the words “involuntary” and “celibate,” a bitter nod to the fact that men who join this movement feel they are socially, but especially sexually, rejected by women.
They are misogynists who are often associated with the Men’s Rights Movement, and believe that all women are vapid and choose mates purely based on their looks.
Rodger killed six students and injured 14 others in Isla Vista, Calif., in 2014. After killing two roommates, he posted a manifesto online, writing about how he was “rejected” by women in his life (one woman he referred to had a boyfriend) and other sexist and racist commentary about a world without women, Medium notes.
Arezoo Najibzadeh, the executive director of the Young Women’s Leadership Network based in Toronto, tells Global News when instances of gun violence or a mass murderer become known to the public, some of the killers have been linked to misogynistic views.
“[Rejection] may not directly lead to violence but it is part of the bigger discourse, Najibzadeh says. “A lot of this is rooted in misogyny and entitlement from sex.”
She says in regards to how members of the incel movement feel like they are entitled to sex or love or relationships from women, a lot of this stems from how our culture can normalize the fact that women exist for pleasure. This can be seen in pop culture, in the entertainment industry, she adds, and can be reflective of how men and women interact with each other.
“[You see] women as arm candy or existing in spaces as jokes,” she says, adding that in her line of work in particular which focuses on politics, you also hear a lot of stories of young women who are told they can’t excel in their careers without having sex with men in their fields.
“It comes down to the normalized sense of entitlement.”
Emer O’Toole, an assistant professor of Irish performance studies at Concordia University recently wrote in The Guardian, that if Minassian was motivated by violent misogynists like the incels or Rodger, it shouldn’t be ignored.
“If involvement in misogynistic online communities is indeed part of the picture here, we need to resist any narrative that would push this into the background. Hatred of women is not a mental illness; it is a widespread and dangerous social problem. It is a problem we need to address before more people die.”
Najibzadeh adds before we look at rejection as a role, the larger issue at hand is toxic masculinity. “Men are not being taught how to deal with their emotions with other tools other than anger and violence,” she says.
Peckham agrees, and adds when things like rejection happen, for example, some men may not even be aware what they are feeling is pain, and because of this, they often don’t know how to express themselves.
“They have been taught aggression is an appropriate way to deal with pain,” she continues.
She adds all of this makes it hard for some men and women to have genuine connections, which can lead to sexual relationships or relationships in general.
“We all seek connection… but some don’t know how connection works,” she continues, adding that with the incel movement in particular or anyone who is misogynistic, aggression or thoughts of aggression tend to be the way out.
Toxic masculinity and misogyny can’t be fixed overnight, and experts like Peckham and Najibzadeh worry if education is not set in place, especially around healthy relationships and consent, we could see more instances of violence.
“[Toxic masculinity] is integrated in every part of our culture and is really causing a lot of damage in terms of being able to have healthy relationships,” Najibzadeh continues. “We are not preparing our youth for this… we need to put an emphasis on having sex and consent education, because not a lot of people are receiving this information at home. Collectively, as a society, it is our responsibility to inform young people.”
Peckham says it does start at home when children are younger and parents have to remember their own biases, prejudices and comfort levels around emotions that will translate back to the children in the household.
“It may be as simple as a boy crying and parents saying, ‘OK, be a big boy, stop crying’… there are just these ways we get socialized that emotion is not OK and we collectively wonder when [tragedies] happen, we wonder what went wrong.”
— With files from Marilisa Racco
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