Last week, grisly details emerged in the case of an 18-year-old in the United Kingdom who stabbed three women last summer in what he called "an act of revenge because of the life they gave me." The case is terrifying because the teen, Portsmouth, Hampshire, resident Ben Moynihan, did not know any of the women and was simply seeking blind revenge for his continued virginity.
Moynihan, who has autistic spectrum disorder, left a plethora of evidence detailing the motive for his attacks: basically, rejection and misogyny. "I think every girl is a type of slut," he said in a video recorded on his laptop. "They are fussy with men nowadays, they do not give boys like us a chance."
But his trial is also highlighting an important issue that society still isn't really dealing with: the pressure that men feel to lose their virginity, and how it can inflame their insecurities.
"Virginity" is a powerful myth. Like Elliot Rodgers (the perpetrator of the massacres at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014), Moynihan blamed women for his virginity — as if virginity itself drives men to madness. "I am still a virgin, everyone is losing it before me, that's why you are my chosen target," he wrote in another letter submitted as court evidence. "I just can't live in this flat, I have no future here. So women, tell me how we should do this."
In fact, virginity has no scientific or biological basis; the concept stems from a patriarchal culture that has historically attempted to restrain female sexuality while keeping tabs on paternity lines. "However nebulous its definition," Nolan Feeney wrote in a piece for the Atlantic, "virginity easily sorts women into those who have had sex and those who haven't — which, in societies that place value on a women's purity, also helps determine their worth."
While the societal effects of this stigma have been pervasive for women (shaming them if they're virgins, shaming them if they're sluts), the effects haven't existed in a vacuum. The myth of virginity pressures men, too, but in different ways.
For Moynihan and Rodgers, as for countless male teens, masculinity is too often measured by virility; therefore, they may seek validity from having sex with as many women as possible. "Success with women is also an important part of men's self-image," Noah Berlatsky explained in his dissection of Elliot Rodgers' manifesto in another piece for the Atlantic. "That's a big part of what it means to 'be a man.'"
By this metric, remaining a virgin made Elliot feel like a failed man — much like Moynihan, who revealingly switches between the use of "men" and "boys" in a note: "Every girl is a type of slut, they are fussy with men nowadays, they do not give boys like us a chance." Men get "chances." Men have sex. "Boys" don't get any of either.
The connection between masculinity and misogyny: The pervasive definition of "manliness" very much depends on women, and this makes men nervous. Arguably, it is this mentality that has helped to perpetuate rape culture in America, especially on college campuses: Boys need to become men so badly that they'll do anything to achieve it.
In her analysis of the Steubenville gang rape case, American Prospect's Jaclyn Friedman agrees that society's views on masculinity predicate misogyny; that's not just the hatred of women, but the hatred of all things feminine. "It's a masculinity that defines itself not only in opposition to female-ness," she contends, "but as inherently superior, drawing its strength from dominance over women's 'weakness,' and creating men who are happy to deliberately undermine women's power."
This perspective also distributes the blame for male virginity unequally, with some men ultimately feeling that their failures are mostly the fault of the women who reject them.
In order for society to seriously address violence against women, of all kinds, it must first divorce the mainstream concept of masculinity from misogyny. This means that the virginity myth, in accordance with the societal pressures it places on young men and the consequential harm it causes women, needs to be one of the first things to go. Because men like Moynihan and Rodgers have failed to understand that their fears of emasculation and failure are making them blame women for something that ultimately doesn't even matter — or, technically, exist.