On Friday night in Isla Vista, Elliot Rodger began the “day of retribution” he promised on YouTube, killing six women and men as part of what he himself called a “war on women.” I had arrived in Isla Vista five minutes earlier.
I didn’t realize that when I pulled up to join my friend for the weekend, I was entering a battle zone—and I was the enemy. My friend and I didn’t even realize the noises we heard were gunshots. Instead, during the 10 minutes of shooting, the only fear I felt was triggered by a group of five men who said “Hi, ladies” and jeered as we walked by.
This seemingly insignificant moment of street harassment is so frequent it would have faded from memory, if not for the later realization that while my fear did not have the same cause or intensity as that experienced by the victims and witnesses to the shooting, it did spring from the same root: the enactment of toxic masculinity.
While the events are of such drastically different seriousness that comparing them seems almost crass, both events were instigated by men trying to claim ownership of women’s bodies. Rodger promised to kill “every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut” because they “would’ve all rejected me.” He felt that, as a man, he deserved access to women’s bodies. When that access was denied, the only way to maintain his masculinity was to punish them. Only in this way would they realize that he was “the true alpha male.”
that men as a social class are dominant over women and that they are entitled to women’s bodies. It teaches them that women who won’t give them what they want deserve some kind of punishment.
While Rodger’s Internet history proves he did follow these misogynistic teachings, plenty of men hold similar beliefs without following such extreme movements. How? Our culture teaches men the same things.
Reacting to the shooting on Twitter, Imran Siddiquee, director of communications for The Representation Project (the team behind Miss Representation and the upcoming documentary The Mask You Live In), made the same connection. He observed that a street harasser’s behavior is
so clearly about his ability to impose himself in the space. To exert his ‘manhood.’ He was performing for other men. The woman was just an object via which he could make himself bigger, more valuable… And when value is ‘taken,’ men learn the appropriate response is anger. Take it back. To not would make you even less of a ‘man.’
By comparing these events, I don’t mean to suggest that street harassers share in Rodger’s guilt, or that the Men’s Right’s Activist (MRA) or pick-up artist communities (both of which Rodger belonged to) are responsible. Rodger himself committed murder, and that blame is individual. However, when major news media such as CNN summarize Rodger as “very mentally disturbed” without addressing the underlying misogyny that he described in his 140-page manifesto and several YouTube videos, the connection needs to be made explicit. As sex educator Laci Green states in her recent YouTube video “Elliot Rodger: More Than A Madman,” “Elliot is the monster that we as a culture, as a society, have created.”
In her thoughtful article “Elliot Rodger’s fatal menace: How toxic male entitlement devalues women’s and men’s lives“, Katie McDonough writes for Salon:
The horror of Rodger’s alleged crimes is unique, but the distorted way he understood himself as a man and the violence with which he discussed women—the bleak and dehumanizing way he judged them—is not. Just as we examine our culture of guns once again in the wake of yet another mass shooting, we must also examine our culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity, which devalues both women’s and men’s lives and worth, and inflicts real and daily harm. We must examine the dangerous normative values that treat women as less than human, and that make them—according to Elliot Rodger—deserving of death.
Many other feminist think pieces on the web from The New Yorker to the New Statesman to The Guardian express the same sentiment. This toxic masculinity our culture teaches is why, in the wake of this tragedy, there are still people online who are blaming women‘s rejections as the reason for the mass murder. However, this victim blaming is not going unchallenged—especially by the popular new Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. As Alex Abad-Santos wrote for Vox, “#yesallwomen is … in response to a twisted narrative that the women who didn’t date [him] were to blame for Rodger’s actions…The story, to those people, isn’t that Rodger was disturbed but rather: This poor guy wasn’t treated nicely by women.”
#YesAllWomen destroys that narrative. Here are some examples:
#YesAllWomen has been trending for two days, and the many insightful tweets have called out aspects of Rodger’s blatant misogyny that the media has ignored, and the many other ways our culture allows the devaluing of women—including street harassment.
Misogyny hurts through the fear it inflicts on all women’s lives, in the many ways #YesAllWomen explores. But it doesn’t stop there. Misogyny kills. Sixty-one of 62 mass murders in the U.S. in the last 30 years have been perpetrated by men, 90 percent of whom have been white. The majority of victims have been women, and 40 percent of mass shootings started with a shooter targeting his girlfriend, wife or ex-wife. As Elizabeth Plank writes for PolicyMic, “Many school shootings could qualify as hate crimes against women and girls.”
Misogyny killed in 2009 when a man walked into a Pittsburgh gym and opened fire because of his “rage at women for rejecting him.” Misogyny killed last month when a high school boy stabbed a girl to death for rejecting his prom invitation. And misogyny killed last weekend when yet another man who believed he had a right to women’s bodies and felt emasculated by their rejection decided to reassert his masculinity the way society taught: through violence.
The morning after the shooting, I walked through a town covered in security tape and crossed in front of a deli window with bullet holes. One of those bullets ended a young man’s life. Ironically, the misogynist Rodger killed more men than women in his “retribution”—which, it has been pointed out, proves that misogyny is deadly without regard to sex. While the debate about gun control and treatment of the mentally ill continues, there’s an immediate change we can all make in our lives: speaking up against misogyny in all its forms.
Rachel Grate is studying English and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Scripps College. She writes regularly for PolicyMic, Ms. and MissRepresentation.org, and you can follow her on Twitter @RachelSGrate.