On May 23, 2014, we were shocked to watch Elliot Rodger’s chilling Youtube video, uploaded just minutes before he engaged in his horrific murder-suicide spree in Isla Vista, near the campus of the University of California. Six innocent bystanders were murdered and 14 were injured.
The tragic event stunned the rest of the country and we tried to understand why and how this happened, and how it could have been prevented. Yet another terrible school shooting, the same debates about national state of gun control and mental health, and the tired rhetoric of the “troubled loner” – it was “Ground Hog Day” all over again.
But there was a new element to this national conversation, one that addressed the broader issue of male entitlement and violence against women in society.
On the day of the killings, Rodger emailed an autobiographical manifesto to his circles in which he declared a “War on Women”, describing his intent to punish women who denied him affection and the men who received the intimacy and sex he was denied. Rebecca Solnit, author and essayist, wrote that the Isla Vista killing spree was:
Indeed about guns and toxic versions of masculinity and entitlement, and also about misery, cliché, and action-movie solutions to emotional problems. It was, above all, about the hatred of women.
As expected, the focus on misogyny as the root cause generated backlash and criticism. Some male writers took to Twitter and popularized the #NotAllMen hashtag to communicate that not all men are misogynistic and that not all men harass, rape, or kill women.
But what exactly did #NotAllMen achieve, except turn focus away from serious discussion about misogyny, rape culture, and women’s rights and focus on protecting the self-concept of bystander males?
Actually in hindsight, it achieved a lot more than its original purpose. One, it sparked the #YesAllWomen social media campaign. Two, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Frustrated women around the world tweeted #YesAllWomen 1.2 million times in the first four days of its use, drawing undeniable attention to the prevalence of everyday sexism, aggression, and violence against women:
#YesAllWomen was a united echo of: “Yes, not all men perpetuate misogyny and aggression against women. But every woman was/is a target of male harassment, entitlement, and or aggression and we need to talk about this.”
Rodger’s misogyny grew from systematic patriarchy, a system of male entitlement, a “predominant cultural ethos that rewards sexual aggression, power, and wealth, and that reinforces traditional alpha masculinity and submissive femininity.”
Do we have to wait for another horrific tragedy to finally address this underlying issue?
Five months later, the viral video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC” revealed exactly that women are subject to male harassment every day on the streets. However, general feedback to the video was abysmal (as it often is in these cases) as many folks, especially males, did not see anything wrong with the video. The video showed 108 instances of male advances, hollers, and other uncomfortable situations, which were clearly unwanted. One man followed the female subject of the video for several minutes – how is that NOT harassment?
There is something clearly wrong with how we collectively think when evidence of everyday street harassment is dismissed or even justified by a large group of people. It speaks to the systemic culture of masculine entitlement, one that reinforces the alpha male who “gets the girls”, and one that diminishes the right of a woman to walk peacefully and safely on the streets.
According to Laura S. Logan in “Fear of Violence and Street Harassment: Accountability at the Intersections”, research on street harassers suggests two categories of rationalizations under the umbrella of male entitlement:
- Harassment as a form of amusement
- Harassment as a means of terrorizing women
By justifying catcalling, we are emboldening men who shout directives at women (“smile for me, baby!” “show me that ass!”), encouraging voices that objectify women in sexualized caricatures that dismiss any individuality on their part, and endorsing public humiliation of women in a space where they already feel disempowered and threatened.
According to Logan’s research, women dealing with fear of rape or street harassment face the incite/invite dilemma, in which they weigh options to end harassment and prevent rape, while simultaneously avoiding:
- Inciting further harassment or violence
- Inviting continued or more determined harassment
Systematically, we teach girls that it’s their fault for being victimized.
We teach girls to not dress provocatively for fear of inciting rape, to take drinks to the bathroom to avoid getting roofied, to give guys wrong numbers to prevent further advances, to pretend to talk on the phone while walking at night – a growing list of “must-do’s” to ensure their safety, a BASIC RIGHT.
Does it not make sense to instead address the problem at its root: the men who feel entitled to our bodies, the men who react aggressively to rejection, the men who would rather ruin/kill a woman than be single, and the deeply-ingrained, fucked up culture that cultivates and allows this behavior?
To my cis-male readers rolling their eyes right now, rest assured that this isn’t personal. I’m (we’re) not specifically pointing the searing finger of blame at YOU. This isn’t a misandry bitching session, not a sexist decry of the male gender and identity – this isn’t about YOU.
This is about something bigger than you and bigger than I; it’s about undoing the systematic male entitlement built into our culture and truly establishing equality for both genders. This is about undoing a culture and system that teach girls to prevent inciting male aggression, rape, and violence. This is about recognizing that male entitlement and female victimization are two sides of the same coin; interlaced, connected, one leading to the other.
If you do find reason to be offended then maybe that is something to be examined in depth. We could spar with semantics and bicker over bruised egos, toss #NotAllMen rhetoric at every instance of a woman being victimized, or actually GROW A DAMN PAIR (boobs or balls, or both, your choice) and acknowledge a problem greater than ourselves and be a part of a movement for a better tomorrow.
Think about being in our shoes. If you can’t, then think about your sisters, mothers, your female friends, and your daughters. Imagine being afraid to just simply say “no” to the drunk dude harassing you, because you might get hurt really, really badly.
We’re not “equal” until we don’t fear the other sex anymore.
Six years ago, when I sat down and wrote the essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” here’s what surprised me: though I began with a ridiculous example of being patronized by a man, I ended with rapes and murders. We tend to treat violence and the abuse of power as though they fit into airtight categories: harassment, intimidation, threat, battery, rape, murder. But I realize now that what I was saying is: it’s a slippery slope. That’s why we need to address that slope, rather than compartmentalizing the varieties of misogyny and dealing with each separately. Doing so has meant fragmenting the picture, seeing the parts, not the whole. – Rebecca Solnit