Isla Vista killer Elliot Rodger was an on-the-record misogynist whose hatred of women stemmed from their sexual rejection of him and hatred of men stemmed from their relative sexual success. Does that make the aftermath of the tragedy he wrought the perfect time to talk about the broad spectrum of violence against women?
That’s been the overwhelming response from women who have used the Twitter hashtag #yesallwomen to relate their daily experiences of misogyny and sexism: navigating the slut/tease dichotomy, being asked by strangers to smile on the street, saying you have a boyfriend because you know men respect another man’s territory more than your professed disinterest. The hashtag is a play on #notallmen, a joke about defensive male interjections to feminist discourse (“Men are mass murderers,” but “Not all men,” etc.). #Yesallwomen took off, I think, due to women’s collective horror upon reading about Rodger’s manifestos. It was like watching your worst nightmare come true. You weren’t imagining all that vaguely threatening resentment in the men whose advances you rejected. It was part of something real, which, in its most extreme expression, is fatal.
This large-scale response doesn’t seek to indict anyone other than Rodger with the murder of six people at UCSB. Still, the backlash was quick and, for the most part, knee-jerk. Take Seth Rogen. “[H]ow dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage,” he tweeted at Los Angeles Times critic Ann Hornaday, who wrote nothing of the sort. But there were other reasons to stay out of the debate. Some argued that cultural misogyny, like video games in shootings before it, distracts from more-pressing conversations about mental health or gun control. And I’ll admit I’m not comfortable publicly complaining about shitty girl things like kissing someone just to end a bad date while six families grieve the deaths of their promising young children.
But the truth, of course, is that it is always the time for all these conversations — mental health, guns, sexism — and there is plenty space of on the internet for all of them. Most of the people participating in this particular one can probably agree that you have to be mentally ill to commit a mass murder, and that the fastest way to prevent the mentally ill from becoming mass murderers is stricter gun-control laws. What Rodger’s misogyny — an angry strain of sexual entitlement bred in the pickup-artist community — did, in this case, was give his illness and homicidal capabilities a direction. “I will attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender,” he pledged. “The hottest sorority of UCSB.” (He was also openly racist.) And even though Rodger killed more men than women on his way to the sorority Alpha Phi, where no one answered the door, his target — “all women for rejecting me and starving me of love and sex” — is a disturbingly and persistently common one.
Each all-too-frequent time there’s a mass shooting, someone notes that all but one in the past 30 years have been committed by a man. And if that weren’t enough to make us have a “WTF, men?” conversation, women are disproportionately the victims of male violence. When Adam Lanza made a target of Sandy Hook Elementary School, he went after not just children but the female-dominated field of early educators. (All six adults killed were women.) And women experience violent backlash for sexual rejection on an individual level, too; in the wake of Isla Vista, news stories about them are being compiled on Tumblr. (When women are murdered, a partner or spouse is the killer 38 percent of the time, according to WHO, compared to just 6 percent of the time when men are killed.) At a certain point, we were bound to stop caring about the individual psychosis afflicting each man who chooses to kill, and start wondering why they so often end up going after women, such as the Connecticut teenager who was stabbed to death last month after rebuffing a classmate’s prom proposal — why a few men (not all men) make the world unsafe for, yes, all women.