TRIGGER WARNING: extreme female-targeted violence, death, rape.
In Isla Vista, California, this weekend, six people have been killed in another act of mass violence perpetrated by a young white male. The shooter, Elliot Rodger, who apparently took his own life after being cornered by police, left behind a 140-page online manifesto detailing his motives. He talked of taking revenge on the ‘sluts’ who had sexually rejected him, who would ‘finally see’ that he was the ‘true alpha male’ when he took ‘great pleasure in slaughtering all of [them]’. After stabbing his roommates, he went to a sorority house and shot three women outside, killing two. He then drove around Isla Vista, shooting from his car.
The mindset that Rodger exhibited in his manifesto and his behaviour is not an isolated one. The kind of language he uses will be familiar to most internet users. Similar threats of violence, sexual and otherwise, are commonly deployed by (invariably male) opponents of (invariably female) feminists who dare to speak about their experiences and opinions online, such as Laurie Penny, Anita Sarkeesian, and others.
The idea that a woman owes a man sex in any situation is pervasive. The rape of a woman by her husband was only recognised as a crime in Scotland in 1982, and England in 1991. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that one in five women between the ages of 16 and 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16, and Rape Crisis reports that only 15% of women who are sexually assaulted ever report it to the police. In the US, the cause of 37% of emergency room admissions for women is domestic violence. One in three women in Europe have been a victim of violence during their lifetime.
When, in the aftermath of the events in Isla Vista, women online pointed out the gendered nature of Rodger’s attacks, men rushed to point out ‘not all men’ commit violence against women. Although true, these men are missing the point by lightyears. The point is that all women are familiar with the sharp end of male violence. Yes, all women.
On Twitter, women have taken to the hashtag #YesAllWomen to document their experiences with male harrassment and violence.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote in 1846 that “[t]he death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world … .” This year, an ad campaign for fashion label Marc Jacobs featured Miley Cyrus posing next to staged female corpses. These examples illustrate a toxic attitude towards women in western culture – an attitude that poses women, their sexuality and their deaths as consumable, as ownable, as something less than real.
All women are familiar with the restricted lifestyle ubiquitious male violence forces us to adopt – from holding your keys between your fingers when walking alone at night to desperately trying to appease capricious, abusive partners or family members. The overwhelming majority of my female and trans male friends have been sexually assaulted, and I suspect most people can honestly say the same. Female-targeted violence is epidemic, but god forbid it be pointed out or questioned, because not all men are like that.
#YesAllWomen is full of women who are no longer content to hold their tongues for the sake of men’s hurt feelings. It’s a cri de coeur from thousands of women who don’t care what apologia men have to present for the countless injuries inflicted at the hands of other men. Women who, faced by men like Elliot Rodger and those who defend him, refuse to acquiesce and be silent any more. They are part of a resistance movement stretching back through history and it is these women, and any others who raise their voices in protest, who are carrying it into the future.
I hope, together, we continue to be loud enough to drown out our opposition.
Elliot Rodger is Isla Vista drive-by killer – US police – BBC News.
Elliot Rodger And Men Who Hate Women – The Belle Jar.
Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism – New Statesman.