As I sat down to write this, I had to google to find the name of Steve Stephens, the man currently evading police after murdering an 74-year-old man and uploading the video on Facebook. I have read at least three updates surrounding the story, but his name escaped me as I focused on the details. One name that stuck, though, is that of Stephens alleged ex-girlfriend.
I won’t mention her name again. If you’ve heard about the story, I’m sure her name is already committed to memory. It’s trending on Facebook. Tweets and FB statuses galore mention the woman, thrust into the national spotlight through no fault of her own, by name. But they don’t just mention this woman, they’ve found her alleged social media accounts and posted pictures of her smiling with him. Her face is plastered all over the social media accounts of strangers who speak her name only to demonize her.
Somehow, even though this woman hasn’t been named as a suspect, she is being blamed for the heinous crimes that claimed at least one innocent man’s life and has left Cleveland and the tri-state area in absolute terror since yesterday. That started because Stephens indicated in now deleted Facebook posts that he was distressed over the woman’s rejection. And while I refused to watch the video of the Stephens killing his victim, reports say he asked the victim if he could say the woman’s name because she was the reason he was being killed.
Those declarations were all that were needed to kick the misogynoir into high gear. This woman, who did nothing more than exercise her right to reject a man she is uninterested in, has been called every slur imaginable. She has been instructed to just go “apologize and suck his dick,” because a woman, especially a Black woman, has to sacrifice body autonomy, trade sex and ingratiate herself to a murderer so that in order to prevent the death of more innocent people. “Someone’s grandfather died because she ignored dude’s phone call,” one Facebook user declared, never mind the fact that people ignore the calls of people they don’t want to associate with all the time and the rejected party’s don’t go out murdering random people.
— The Failing Amber M (@HollaBlackGirl) April 17, 2017
Still the worst of the victim-blaming, misogynoir came from those declaring that he should’ve just killed her. Not that he should’ve just not been so fucking fragile that a woman’s rejection would fuel his rampage, but that he should have taken out his rage on an appropriate target, because a man’s rage is always justifiable and a woman is always the canvas fit to endure that rage. I mean, no one values Black women anyway, right? What difference would one more Black woman murdered by a man who misidentified obsession and entitlement as love or interest make?
There’s one person responsible for the horror of the crimes committed in Cleveland in the last 24 hours and that person is Steve Stephens. His ex-girlfriend’s refusal to maker herself miserable staying with a man she doesn’t want because he’s dangerous doesn’t change that. His cowardice isn’t her burden to shoulder. His rage wasn’t hers to contend with nor was he set off by her not answering his call.
This man was conditioned to believe that if he wants a woman, she damned well had better reciprocate that desire. He’s been being taught by a society that makes “nice guys” feel like being nice earns them entitlement to a woman’s time, energy and interest. Described by those who knew him as a nice person, Stephens was mislead into believing that a nice man is the same as a good man (I explain the difference in the two here). He’s watched the way society has policed women’s emotions and attraction, telling us that we owe men who smile at us and politely request our phone numbers reciprocity, or at least, a good excuse for rejecting them (like “I’m married” because men only respect a woman’s “no” if they believe she’s otherwise committed to another man, i.e. the property of another man). Steve Stephens didn’t kill a stranger because of his ex-girlfriend’s rejection. He killed a stranger because he’s evil.
We need to stop placing the blame for the instability of men on women. And we damned sure need to attack the misogynoir so rampant in our culture that Black men, and sadly “pick me” Black women, immediately sympathize with a killer while indicting and making infamous a woman who pulled no trigger or drove no getaway car. Black women can’t be simultaneously powerful and powerless.
We’re blamed for staying with abusive men who often murder us and then blamed for getting away from men who turn out to be murderers. We’re blamed for only liking thugs and bad boys and then blamed when we do choose those nice guys who turn out to be maniacal cowards. We’re blamed for not sacrificing our safety, happiness and even lives to negotiate a man’s instability.
And the 37-year-old who made the decision to make somebody hurt because he refused to analyze the fragile masculinity that was bred into him is excused. And a society complicit in convincing men that women are here primarily and alwaysto serve men is excused of its responsibility to dismantle that phenomenon. And the Black men who claim to be good guys continue to be excused from holding other men accountable for their demonstrated hatred of Black women, especially Black women who dare refuse to stay with men they don’t want, love or feel safe with in order to feed the collective male ego.