Elliot Rodger, a twenty-two year old man, went on a shooting spree in Isla Vista, outside the University of California Santa Barbara, killing six people before committing suicide on Friday, May 23rd. The tragedy brings up many prevalent issues in the United States today-- including our lack of resources for the mentally ill and gun control. In particular, though, the incident put the spotlight on our society's treatment of women.
In the months leading up to the killings, Rodger posted a series of angry YouTube videos and a hundred-and-thirty-seven-page autobiography announcing his abomination of all women. His deep, violent hatred stemmed from the rejection and disdain he claimed women were responsible for.
In his book he says "Women represent everything that is unfair in this world, and in order to make this world a fair place, women must be eradicated." He goes on to describe detailed plans to put all women in a concentration camp and "gleefully watch them die."
Rodger’s sentiments are so extreme that it would be easy to dismiss him as a crazy person. But, as New Yorker Columnist Sasha Weiss stated yesterday, "you can make out, through the distortions of his raging mind, the outlines of mainstream American cultural values: Beauty and strength are rewarded. Women are prizes to be won, reflections of a man’s social capital." Rodger was crazier and more violent than most people but his beliefs are on a continuum with misogynistic, class-based ideas that are held by many.
And that is why this tragedy has set off a national conversation on college campuses and in social media. “The hardest issue for anyone to talk about is misogyny, and that’s what this is — we face harassment every day that stems from the same thing,” said UC Santa Barbara sophomore Ariana Richmond. “We’ve become so desensitized to it that we don’t even flinch most of the time. But these are real threats directed against women, and we have to call this what it is: a hate crime directed against women."
Men and women around the world are joining the conversation via the hashtag #YesAllWomen, that already has millions of tweets by college-students, celebrities, athletes, parents, news stations, businesses and teenagers alike. #YesAllWomen was generated on Saturday morning as a response to the already popular hashtag #NotAllMen, which was created to draw attention to the fact that not all men facilitate a hostile environment that promotes sexual harassment and/or violence. #YesAllWomen argues that while it's #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen feel the effect--whether it's when we're cat-called on the way to work or clutching pepper spray on the way home. We're aware, and prepared, for the possibility of male violence.
The hashtag, which I encourage you to explore, displays very real, chilling, terrifying, moving feelings of fear and inequality that women face everyday. More importantly, it demonstrates that Rodger’s hate of women grew out of attitudes that are all around us. It suggests that he was influenced by a culture that rewards sexual aggression, power, and wealth, and that reinforces traditional notions of masculinity and submissive femininity. The New York Times Notes that "Even though most of the tweets do not directly mourn the people Rodger killed, the tweets accumulate into a kind of memorial, a stern demand for a more just society."
If nothing else, the tragedy brought an issue into the spotlight that people want, and need, to discuss. It is a platform for men and women to demand social justice and equality. I'll leave you with a few examples of the the power of #YesAllWomen, and maybe you'd like to join the conversation and add your own.
#YesAllWomen because ‘I have a boyfriend’ is more effective than ‘I’m not interested’—men respect other men more than my right to say no.
#YesAllWomen because I’ve already rehearsed “Take whatever you want, just don’t hurt me.”
#YesAllWomen because every time I try to say that I want gender equality I have to explain that I don’t hate men.
#YesAllWomen because apparently the clothes I wear is a more valid form of consent than the words I say.
#YesAllWomen because every woman I know can share a story about a man feeling entitled to her body.
#YesAllWomen because the odds of being attacked are 1 in 3.
#YesAllWomen because we need to talk, and we need to change.
Image provided by TBO