The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Robert Aaron Long apparently thought he was the victim of his own desire. He’s not alone.

A man adds a bouquet of flowers to a makeshift memorial outside Gold Spa on Thursday in Atlanta. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Washington Post)

David Futrelle’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Cut, Broadly and Salon.

As an explanation for mass murder, it’s a head-scratcher. According to police, after being arrested, Robert Aaron Long told them he carried out shootings at three spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday because he’d been feeling overwhelmed by his own sexual desires. “He apparently has … what he considers a sex addiction,” a sheriff’s department official said, and viewed the spas he targeted as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Long has been charged with the murder of eight people, six of them women of Asian descent.

Long evidently wants us to believe that he is the real victim here, a perpetually frustrated man with a “sex addiction” who could not help but lash out at the women he blames for his problems. As bizarre as this reasoning is, Long isn’t alone in embracing it. It’s a logic I often see among the misogynists I’ve been tracking on my blog,, for more than a decade.

The idea that women have some sort of nefarious and overwhelming sexual power over men is widely accepted as gospel truth in what is called “the manosphere.”

Men’s rights guru Warren Farrell infamously wrote in his best-selling “Myth of Male Power” of the “miniskirt power” and “cleavage power” that he thinks female secretaries wield over male bosses. Female beauty, he has written, is “the world’s most potent drug.” When a straight man sees an attractive woman, Farrell recently told fans on Reddit, it “takes the power out of our upper brain and transports it into our lower brain,” rendering the man more or less powerless. To symbolize the allegedly intoxicating power of the female body, Farrell festooned the cover of the e-book edition of “Myth” with an arty shot of a naked woman.

In conservative Christian communities — and the accused killer is reportedly a churchgoing Baptist — “immodestly” dressed women are sometimes described as being “stumbling blocks” for men, leading them into temptation and a multitude of sins.

What counts as “immodest”? “Only a rebellious woman, who deliberately disobeys the Word of God, would wear pants,” writes David J. Stewart, a relative hard-liner on this issue. “Pants on women are adulterous in nature, and cause men to lust and sin.” Popular “tradwife” blogger the Thinking Housewife goes so far as to call that so-called provocative female attire a form of “aggression” against men, praising one reader who writes, “Immodest dress is analogous to male violence,” and others who describe such clothing choices as “a form of sexual harassment.”

This attitude is surprisingly common in secular spaces as well, particularly in the backward world of Men’s rights activists.

In a manifesto of sorts posted on Reddit’s main men’s rights forum, one anonymous writer argued that the men we call sexual harassers are the real victims of sexual harassment. “Almost all women’s clothing is designed to enhance their sexual allure and heighten their sexual power,” he wrote. “In a world that treated the male experience with the same empathy and concern as western society treats the female experience, when revealing, figure-hugging clothing, makeup, short skirts and push-up bras are worn in the workplace it would be viewed as sexual harassment.”

Canadian psychologist and freelance moralist Jordan Peterson has made a similar argument about makeup in the workplace, claiming, among other things, that lipstick and rouge are both designed to mimic the signs of sexual arousal, making the wearing of makeup a sexual provocation.

This attitude isn’t confined to North America, either. In 2019, a Malaysian member of Parliament proposed a “sexual harassment act” to help protect men from being “seduced” into sexual misconduct. “I propose to the minister that we create a ‘sexual harassment act’ to protect men against the demeanor, words and clothing of women,” Mohamad Imran Abd Hamid told the Malaysian parliament, “which can cause them to be seduced to a point where they commit acts such as incest, rape, molestation, pornography and others.” (He later retracted his proposal.)

But all the talk about clothing, modest or otherwise, misses the real point. To these men, women can elicit male arousal simply by existing — and it’s women who are responsible for anything men do in response.

They’re all wrong. Like the “involuntary celibates," or “incels,” who have been killing mostly women for years now, ostensibly because no woman would sleep with them, Long is responsible for his own lusts, and his own behavior. Sexual frustration and temptation are not licenses to murder.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The Atlanta shootings cannot be dismissed as someone having a ‘bad day’

Alafair Burke: Who will march for Asian Americans after the killings in Atlanta?

Andrew Wang: Anti-Asian violence is surging. But we can’t answer bigotry with bigotry.

The Post’s View: The surge of attacks against Asian Americans requires attention and swift solutions