Content Note: Discussion of violent misogyny
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood
I do not want to write this, it physically sickens me. I have watched the YouTube video Elliot Rodger posted before he started murdering people. I have read excerpts of police responses. I have read comments from Rodger’s family. I have seen photos of the victims. I have spent most of my weekend discussing rape culture and male entitlement and the constant daily terror all women live in, with my partner and son. I have cried. I have vomited. I have been triggered.
In his final YouTube post titled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution” (which has been removed because it violates YouTube’s policy about violence., but you can find in many news reports), said: “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it.”
“On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there.”
It has been pointed out, repeatedly, that Rodgers didn’t kill women exclusively. He did stab three men in his apartment before he went to a local sorority, where, thankfully, his aggressive attempts to get into the building were ignored. Rodger’s particular problem with other men was with those who were not virgins: “All of you sexually active men, I hate you,” he stated.
What was abundantly clear from the very first report that I read about Rodger from The Guardian was that he hated women. He wanted to punish them for rejecting him. He wanted to punish the world for the fact that he was still a virgin. He felt entitled. He felt he was owed. He felt that his anger, his, as he said, “loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires” were a perfectly reasonable catalyst to his wanting to murder everyone in his path. He called himself “the supreme gentlemen” and repeatedly blamed “you girls” for not giving him attention, affection, adoration and sexual fulfillment.
He said: “When you hit puberty, life either becomes heaven on earth or a living hell. It all depends on how many girls like you, or if girls like you at all. My life turned into a living hell. No girls liked me, and I hate them all for it.”
Elliot Rodgers was a misogynist. He was a follower of the Men’s Rights Movement, he was a member of the Pick Up Artist community. He felt that being an “incel” which is short for involuntary celibate, justified his considerable rage.
After the news I, along with what felt like half the planet watched the hashtag #YesAllWomen, started by @gildedspine trend around the world. As I write this it is now 2:30 Monday afternoon and it’s still trending. #YesAllWomen was created in response to the quick and tired response that gets trotted out whenever a high-profile crime with misogyny at its centre is committed: “not all men.”
This excuse, this reason, that we hear automatically whenever anyone dares to point to the fact that we live in a toxic culture of male entitlement is that “not all men are like that.” No one said they were. But our culture, on an almost global scale, reminds us every day that men are privileged and women are obligated.
Somewhere in deconstructing the motive for such an abhorrent crime it must be acknowledged that Rodgers did what he did because he hated women. In 24 years as a feminist, it has never once crossed my mind that “all men are potential rapists”, which is a favourite argument that gets pulled into “debate” (it’s never really a debate when a stranger jumps on your Twitter feed to tell you that you are illogical or hysterical).
I find that statement particularly rankling because I am the mother of an 18-year-old boy who I have taught to never touch people without their permission or enthusiastic consent. It wasn’t a hard lesson to teach. I don’t think my son is a potential rapist. I don’t think my partner is a potential rapist. I don’t think any of my cis-het-male friends are potential rapists. I do believe that all women, queer, trans* women, lesbians, cis-women, live in constant physical threat and in a permanent state of hyper-vigilance.
As the hashtag grew, the commonalities in experiences were striking. There are engrained survival strategies that women employ almost instinctively even though they are learned. They have been passed down to us for so long I don’t know if anyone will ever figure out their origins. Some of the advice we’ve been given kept cropping up again and again:
Very quickly, and sadly not shockingly, the hashtag began filling up with hate for feminism, women, and any attempt to discuss the structural misogyny at the heart of our culture. Which proves the point that we live in a culture that reinforces this sense of male entitlement.
Here are a few recent tweets I pulled in about 10 minutes of checking Twitter in the last half hour:
I didn’t want to write this but I felt I had to. I know there are probably other posts around the world and on the news right now about the public response to the murders and articulate discussions about the #YesAllWomen hashtag. The Round-Up Jarrah posted here yesterday is full of thoughtful, excellent posts about the killings.
This entire post might be woefully inadequate at expressing my agony over this, our shared experience of lives lived in fear. I don’t have anything new to add to the discussion except, please listen. If you find the hashtag makes you feel defensive, if you feel your entire gender is being attacked because not all men are murderers, rapists, pick-up artists or violent, you are the people who need to read and listen the most. We need you to hear us. We need our culture, our shared culture, to change.
(Full disclosure, at one point I had tweeted that Rodger was not an isolated “madman” but the product of a phallocentric culture and was quickly checked by @politiquestions and reminded that some women have penises and therefore my language/argument was bigoted and inaccurate. I apologized and deleted the tweet because they were absolutely correct.)