By now we’re all a little fatigued by the feverish pace at which Twitter hashtags emerge, saturate social media, and then vanish. The latest one, #YesAllWomen, is about arguing that all women are subjected to some sort of sexism, misogyny or violence at some point in their lives.
It is being taken far more seriously than most previous hashtags and is promoting far more debate. And it is doing so for the worst of reasons: it speaks the truth.
If any of my fellow men doubt this then I would urge them to ask their female friends what negative experiences they’ve had. Your findings are likely to be both illuminating and horrible.
The #YesAllWomen campaign started in direct response to a mass shooting that occurred in Santa Barbara, California, on May 23. The murderer, Elliot Rodger, stabbed three people to death, killed another three by gunfire, wounded 13 others and then took his own life.
Often with events such as these we wonder what the killer was thinking. In this case we don’t need to wonder. Rodger went to great lengths to explain exactly why he felt the need to kill. He made several YouTube videos and wrote a manifesto that was more than 100 pages long. It makes his motives clear: he expected women to give him sex, and got angry when they did not.
The manifesto paints a picture of a lonely boy who had few friends. He was frequently bullied, which is a serious problem, and he was rejected by potential romantic partners.
He may also have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder but the parts of his manifesto that I’ve read suggest that this doesn’t quite fit, or at least does nothing to explain his violence.
It is clear that Rodger had narcissistic tendencies. The manifesto is peppered with claims of his superiority.
His own characteristics are wonderful and underappreciated, his failures the fault of others. At times he refers to himself as being “a god”. He also saw a variety of therapists and was prescribed psychiatric medication. It is unclear whether he was taking it, and that too is a problem.
He was also active on websites devoted to “pick-up artists” and “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRAs). It is worth noting that despite their poor reputation not all MRAs are sexist. But in my experience most of them are and what links MRAs and pick-up artists together are the twin beliefs that women exist to be exploited by men and that the problems men face can be directly linked to the evil that women do.
In this environment Rodger found a target for his rage and it was all the women in the world. He hated humanity as a whole but his rage became focused on women specifically. Despite what some have said the fact that Rodger’s primary targets were women is not in question. He explicitly stated that his geographical target would be a sorority and that he intended to kill as many women as possible. This is misogynist extremism.
The #YesAllWomen campaign attempts to argue that Rodger’s spree is the result of society’s widespread acceptance of everyday sexism and that his violence is different only in scale but not in kind. In response others are claiming that sexism alone cannot explain Rodger’s violence. This is partly true. No one wielded those knives or pulled those triggers except Rodger himself.
But to claim that society’s sexism doesn’t bear at least some responsibility is to be wilfully blind.
The amount of time Rodger spent on those hateful websites (and I use the word “hate” deliberately) suggests that he felt they were important. And he repeatedly said, both online and in his manifesto, that he believed that women were the cause of his problems and that they would bear the brunt of his retaliation. The sad list of victims shows how directionless and arbitrary his spree became. But he intended women to be the prime targets of his rampage, and they were.
This case is not entirely about misogyny, sure. But when a misogynist claims he wants to hurt women, finds an audience of fellow misogynists to serve as a reinforcing echo chamber, and then goes out and does violence, it is hard to argue that misogyny did not play a big part.
The story of Elliot Rodger is about a lot of things that are wrong with society. Bullies tend to go unpunished. Psychiatric medication is poorly monitored. Guns are too freely available. Love is hard to find. And society is far too tolerant of cowards who think that violence against women is justified.
And yes, all women have had to suffer because of it.
Andrew Verrijdt is an educational psychologist.