There is little doubt that deep-rooted misogyny was part of Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage last Friday night, killing six and injuring 13 in Isla Vista, California. As a result, much of the online conversation has been focused on just how common various kinds of violence against women are.
Many have tried to remove misogyny from the conversations by pointing out that few men are killers and trivializing attempts to put these murders in their cultural context. I’ve been calling this the “not all men” era, during which people have been loudly (and absurdly) invested in derailing online conversations about violence against women by pointing out that not all men are rapists or feel entitled to women – something we already know. Regardless, #notallmen has been popular recently, resulting in great comics and think pieces on why the statement is unnecessary and usually irrelevant.
Frustration with the “not all men” defenders refusal to see misogyny in the Isla Vista murders led to a flood of tweets tagged with #yesallwomen, a hashtag created to discuss “what ‘not all men’ might do, but women must fear.”
According to Think Progress, 51,000 #yesallwomen tweets were sent in a single hour during its peak. The Wall Street Journal reported more than 500,000 #yesallwomen tweets were posted over the weekend. Many discussed everyday sexism, sexual harassment, and displays of male entitlement.
Some in the media seem eager to portray Rodger as a lone madman, mentioning that his family had sought help for him and he was seeing therapists. This is not a new strategy. As Molly Crabapple pointed out on Twitter: “White terrorism is always blamed on guns, mental health – never poisonous ideology.”
But to let this framing go uncontested is dangerous, and ignores the culture of violence and entitlement that helped create Rodger in the first place. As Jessica Valenti writes in The Guardian: “It not only stigmatizes the mentally ill – who are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it – but glosses over the role that misogyny and gun culture play (and just how foreseeable violence like this is) in a sexist society. After all, while it is unclear what role Rodger’s reportedly poor mental health played in the alleged crime, the role of misogyny is obvious.”
Rodger made a chilling video calling himself “the true Alpha male” and a manifesto that outlined his “Day of Retribution.” He described killing his roommates (which he did), then attacking members of a sorority. “The Second Phase will represent my War on Women,” I will punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex … I cannot kill every single female on Earth, but I can deliver a devastating blow that will shake all of them to the core of their wicked hearts.”
As others have pointed out, Rodger’s beliefs and rhetoric sounds alarmingly similar to those echoed on mens rights’ forums and websites. Indeed, a Facebook page celebrating Rodger’s actions and denouncing "feminazis" made the rounds before it was deleted (screengrab here, which has been edited to protect privacy and condensed to fit the space).
But the connections don’t stop there. Most mass shootings are committed by men, and women and girls are at a much higher risk of assault, injury or murder if they reject a man. One study of 15 school shootings found that romantic rejection is commonly cited as motivation in gun-related attacks, and another analysis showed that it’s female students who are more likely to be victims. Just last month, a teen girl was allegedly stabbed to death in Connecticut because she rejected an invite to the prom.
Unfortunately, disproportionate violence against women exists online too. As I write this, I’m anticipating at least several super-nasty comments about feminism or my gender. If I’m especially lucky, I’ll get a few death threats. So to have these experiences played down with claims of insanity, trolling or “not all men” when one man has recently carried out such threats, is extremely troubling, and misses the point entirely.
“Hashtag activism” often has questionable reach and results, but #yesallwomen reminded us that the Isla Vista tragedy didn’t occur in a vacuum. As Jess Zimmerman wrote: “Misogyny is a poison and you’re drinking it.” We all are, and we’d do well to keep that in mind – even if we’re not violent predators, there are certainly things we can all do to challenge a sexist and oppressive culture. (Say, for example, by acknowledging it instead of downplaying its effects.)
At the very least, think of #yesallwomen as a powerful re-framing exercise: It took the focus from #notallmen – a conversation dedicated to diluting women’s experiences – and signal-boosted women’s voices and perspectives. When women are constantly disbelieved, silenced and challenged when sharing their experiences anywhere, the success of a hashtag built around exactly those things is a triumph.