The Norway killer thought he was reclaiming manliness

What Women Really Think
July 26 2011 4:24 PM

The Norway Killer's Delusions of Manliness

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Photo by -/AFP/Getty Images

At the Daily Beast, Michele Goldberg wrote recently about the misogyny of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, suggesting that “Breivik’s hatred of women rivals his hatred of Islam, and is intimately linked to it.” And indeed, Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto is thick with references to how feminism is destroying Western culture. (It is also thick with references to the scourge of Sex and the City.) Breivik writes that within the “destructive and suicidal ‘Sex and the City’ lifestyle … men are not men anymore, but metro sexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.” The argument, followed to its illogical extreme, is that by emasculating men, feminists make it easier for Muslim extremists to take over.

Resentment of women and yearning for a mythic sort of masculinity is not unique to Breivik among mass murderers. As others have pointed out, it’s a fairly common characteristic of these men (and they’re usually men), including Jared Lee Loughner (author of a post arguing that college women enjoy being raped); Cho Seung-Hui, who stalked women before his massacre at Virginia Tech; George Sodini, who killed and wounded several women after complaining the opposite sex wasn't attracted to him; and Amish schoolhouse murderer Charles Carl Roberts IV, who specifically targeted girls. Former prison psychiatrist James Gilligan told the New York Times some years ago that for his patients, “an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.” Misogyny and homophobia are almost always part of this package.

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Breivik’s self-portrait, as revealed by his manifesto, is – I want to say pathetic, but pathos conjures sympathy, and Breivik doesn’t warrant any. The man who would later kill 76 people by bomb and gun paints a portrait of future glory and acclaim that could not contrast more with his circumstances when planning the massacre. He writes about how he’s living with his mom, watching the TV show Dexter (“quite hilarious”), and fielding suggestions from his sister that he find a girlfriend. (“I do get the occasional lead,” Breivik assures his audience at one point, especially now "as I'm fit like hell." But “I’m trying to avoid relationships as it would only complicate my plans and it may jeopardize my operation.”) He says some friends think he is gay, which is also "quite hilarious, as I am 100% hetero." He defends his living situation as a necessary sacrifice to save funds for his “operation.” “Sure, some people will think you are a freak for living with your parents at the age of 31 but this is irrelevant for a Justiciar Knight,” Breivik writes, referencing the organization, “The Knights Templar Europe,” which he may or may not have made up.

Breivik complains about how his “super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing” served to “feminise me to a certain degree.” He sees the “feminisation” of culture everywhere, lamenting that modern men spend so much time worrying about their clothes and their colognes, and claiming that sexual harassment charges are used to “keep men in line.” He also attempts to humiliate his mother and sister by detailing what he says are the STDs contracted by them. He claims that their shoddy morals have “shamed me.” (His stepfather, the one who Breivik claims gave his mother herpes, gets no blame. He is pronounced “likable.”)

Reading this manuscript, you get the sense that sources of shame were everywhere inside Breivik’s twisted mind: In the uppity behavior of Western women, in the supposed conspiracy of Muslim extremists, in the way that Western culture had allowed itself to be taken over, he believed, by “cultural Marxism.” In his 1997 book Violence, Gilligan suggests that “the patriarchal code of honor and shame generates and obligates male violence.” And indeed, Breivik appears to have been obsessed with manliness and with the notion that he might be falling short. He’d been reportedly bullied as a kid. He so worried about his appearance that one friend claims he had plastic surgery. He is said to have amassed a good deal of money in the stock market – and then lost at least half of it. His writings reveal how much he wished to be vindicated, to be seen not as a failed man but as a “warrior.” In a few decades, he imagined, thanks in part to his own work, a new “cultural conservative world order” would be established in Europe. “They may physically kill a Justiciar Knight, but your name will be remembered for centuries,” Breivik wrote.

In fact, what people will remember Breivik for is his violence. The rest is delusion and cliché.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.

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