Stories about broken hearts are the fodder for plenty of barroom confessions and country songs. In reality the men who feel they have gotten the short end of the stick in a relationship are often dangerous. Some men have a drink and a good cry to ease the pain, but others can't deal with the loss of control that a fractured romance implies. This manifests itself in terrifying ways.
Recently, I took an informal poll of my social media circle asking women what men they had left had done to try and control or hurt them afterward. I got more than 100 responses in less than a day, and they were stomach-churning. Here are a couple:
“He took my six-month-old baby twins. From their beds in the middle of the night and walked off up the street with them. We didn't see them for the next three months.”
-C, Syndey, Australia
“During counseling (with an HPD marriage counselor) he admitted to using city resources to have me followed and that he knows the home addresses of ‘all the guys I’d been fucking.’ When we were in the parking garage he told me it would be nothing for a homicide detective to ‘make someone disappear.’”
-Angela, Houston, Texas
Last week I wrote about the marriage proposal that happened in Insomniac’s open-world video game Spider-man . Tyler Schultz asked the company to include an Easter Egg saying “WILL YOU MARRY ME MADDIE?” in the title, only for him to report that his girlfriend, Madison Gamble, had broken up with him and was dating his brother. Mainstream game press like Kotaku and Polygon covered it as a human interest story, a romantic gesture gone awry.
I made it a point to contact Gamble, something that most other press didn’t do, because I had a bad feeling about the whole thing. According to Gamble, she had broken up with Schultz for multiple reasons, including violent outbursts, having to act like a “mother” to him in financial decisions and his unwillingness to basically do anything other than play video games. She also said that she had never dated his brother, though the two did have a friendly relationship.
The take away from the whole situation was exactly what I thought it might be. A young man at the tail-end of a dissolving relationship was using a public forum to try to control or manipulate a woman that no longer wanted anything to do with him. And control her it did. Gamble told me that in the wake of the press she’d had to delete her social media accounts due to harassment. By contrast, a search of Schultz’s username on Twitter reveals mostly positive messages, including at least one message proposal. That’s reality. Most of the time men get sympathy; women get...
“I was lucky; he never got physical with me, but he broke into a previous girlfriend’s house with a knife (I hadn't known about her, obviously), and he ended up doing time for what he put a subsequent girlfriend through. She was a local florist, and among many other things he told her customers that she was screwing the teenage boys who helped around her shop. Also, he had a gun by then, and he tried to run her down in a parking lot one night while following her around on her flower-delivery route.”
-Chris, Houston, Texas
“Just before he moved out and while I was on a business trip, he took my elderly cat to a kill shelter over a hundred miles away from our house and she was almost euthanized before I managed to find her.”
-Elizabeth, New York, New York
In my reporting I mentioned GamerGate for a very specific reason. It was the game industry’s highest-profile post-relationship harassment and control campaign ever. Eron Gjoni used chan boards and other deep web forums as a cat’s paw to launch a tidal wave of death threats and more at his ex, game maker Zoe Quinn. Quinn eventually had to drop the lawsuit she had filed on Gjoni for the harassment, citing frequent threats online of rape and murder as too mentally taxing to continue fighting.
GamerGate was many, many things, but what it was at its genesis was a sadistic attempt at revenge and control by a man over his former intimate partner. Like Schultz, Gjoni was showered with condolences over the sexual sins he accused his ex of, painting himself as the martyr in a public way that led immediately to harassment. This wasn’t a story of a relationship gone bad; it was the story of what men often do when the women in their lives leave them.
It might have seemed I have been picking on gamers or geeks. I tend to find that part of the human spectrum has problems with the Women as Reward trope after digesting years of media that uses women and their bodies as trophies. The creates a sense of entitlement. To quote Anita Sarkeesian:
When men’s entitlement-based expectations are not fulfilled they sometimes lash out in resentment or aggression towards women…If they don’t get the response they feel they are owed, they can become increasingly angry, following their targets, insulting them, groping them, or otherwise aggressively demanding to be acknowledged.
But this isn’t just a gamer problem, as the examples I’ve been peppering this article with hopefully show. In a broader sense it’s a problem about how men react when a woman leaves. The loss seems to spark a compulsion to get or regain control, and in many cases violently or in dangerous ways.
In Susan Faludi’s book Backlash, which explores how society responded to the post-women’s liberation era in the 1980s and ‘90s, she describes an explosion of homeless and murdered women as men responded to rising divorce rates and female independence. Between 1979 and 1984, at least one third of the murders targeting women were committed by intimate partners, and the majority of them after the women had left the men. Men, far more than women, are enabled by a patriarchal society to respond like that. And, like this:
“I went on a date with a man, refused a second. He harassed me and eventually killed himself leaving a note blaming me for it.”
-Caspa, Sourthport, United Kingdom
“Aside from physical abuse as I was moving my stuff out six years ago… the most emotionally abusive recently was ‘you can’t go to any comedy shows or speak to any comedians... if you do you aren’t respecting me.’ I fell for it and kept myself in a constant fear that I would run into him, stopped talking to my comedian friends.”
-Veronica, Houston, Texas
Few of the stories I got in my poll were of public manipulation or threat like the ones involving Gjoni and Schultz, but they were all horrifying. Often, they did involve attacking communities the women felt a part of like Veronica above, or a couple of other responders who had their angry exes move in within a short distance of their homes to keep an eye on them. Threats of murder, professional ruin and suicide were the most common denominators.
But what about the men? A great deal of my hate mail was accusations I had simply taken Gamble’s side as gospel. The senders never, EVER questioned why they had taken Schultz’s side at a glance. That’s because we live in a world where it is easy for men to stalk, harass and make claims upon women against their will with little to no repercussion. Popular movies are still rife with guys we’re supposed to find lovable pulling stunts meant to “win” the girl that in real life would be textbook emotional abuse. I’m looking at you, The Notebook Ferris wheel scene.
As it turns out, men whose relationships don't work out are perfectly capable or acting this way to their former male partners. Veerender Jubbal told me that men had stalked and harassed him after continuous declines. Another, person, Kyle, found himself stalked by a man who would not accept his refusal. The way the world is wired gives angry men the impression they have the right to act this way.
Are there vindictive and disturbed women who respond to break-ups badly and in dangerous ways? Of course there are, but murder statistics don’t lie. A man in a break-up is far more likely to be the instigator than the target. That’s been true as long as we’ve been keeping crime statistics.
It’s especially frightening in the current climate. The incel (involuntary celibate) community is populated with young men consumed with rage over the lack of romance and physical intimacy they feel entitled to. Natalie Wynn (aka Contrapoits) calls them a death cult, and she’s absolutely right. Those communities not only produce mass murderers like Elliot Rodger, they laud him as a saint worth emulation.
There’s a significant overlap between incels, the greater manophere, alt-right ideas, deep web forums and geek/gamer spaces. Women like Gamble who might be unprepared for the full brunt of the internet when it’s focused on a woman these men consider evil can end up threatened.
We simply can’t pretend that every man’s sob story about a broken heart is in good faith. There’s far too much women’s blood on the ground resulting from entitlement and rage. If we’re going to avoid a repeat of ProposalGate (I am so sorry about that name) and its less-public cousins, we need to deny men the space to hurt people that leave them. The moment Schultz turned his proposal into a weapon we all should have been suspicious. Maybe we will be in the future, and fewer women will end up harassed, hurt or dead.
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