People gather at a park in Isla Vista for a candlelight vigil to honour the victims of the mass shooting. Photo: AP
Over the weekend, six people were killed in a Californian neighbourhood near UC Santa Barbara. Their murderer was a man whose name I’ll elect not to use, because it doesn’t deserve to be remembered. But he was a young man who hated women and resented them for withholding their affections from him. To punish them for these transgressions, he determined to target the ‘hottest sorority house’ at UCSB and ‘slaughter’ every ‘spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut [he sees] inside there.’
In a video posted to YouTube, the shooter (who began his killing spree by stabbing his three roommates to death) lamented that, “For the last eight years of my life, since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, never to me.”
There are few things uglier and more threatening to women than misogynist male entitlement. It reminds us that our right to exist with some semblance of freedom is viewed as a contractual arrangement; as long as we behave ourselves, we won’t be punished too severely for the simple crime of being a woman.
Under the hashtag #yesallwomen, a litany of complaints and outrages have swept across the Twittersphere. Within hours, the hashtag was trending internationally. Women raged against the violence that was to threaten them and keep them in line; men (for the most part) offered their solidarity and support, while urging others to read the rolling timeline of tweets regardless of how challenging and uncomfortable they might prove to be.
One of the most retweeted pictures under the #yesallwomen tag was a meme that’s been floating around for some time now. It perfectly illustrates the troubling cognitive dissonance that comes with according value to a woman based on her male connections.
In addition to furious objections over subjugations of living in a culture which normalises violence towards women and charges them with being responsible for avoiding it came anger over the lack of respect shown for women’s autonomy. Women argued accurately and with fierce eloquence against the idea that a woman is ‘off limits’ if she ‘belongs’ to another man; that street harassment isn’t a ‘compliment’ but another manifestation of entitlement, one which seeks to remind women that their bodies and dignity belong to someone else; and that even their outrage and anger is stolen from them and portrayed as the misandric criminalisation of male sexuality and/or identity.
#YesAllWomen because when a girl is harassed or even groped by a stranger in public, we're told to "take it as a compliment"— AB (@bottrill) May 25, 2014
#YesAllWomen because when women stand up for their right to feel safe & not get killed or raped, men turn it around & make it anti-male.— ♕☮ Genny Λstartiel ❤ (@Astartiel) May 25, 2014
Because "the friendzone" is not just an annoying meme; it is an expression of entitlement and threat of violence against women. #YesAllWomen— Charles Clymer (@cmclymer) May 24, 2014
#Yesallwomen are taught that it’s their responsibility to modify and shrink their behaviour to protect themselves from sexual violence.— Clementine Ford (@clementine_ford) May 25, 2014
The outpouring of female anger was not, as some have called it, ‘armchair activism’ but a meaningful and spontaneous public response to the dreadful hate crime that happened in Santa Barbara. Despite the support offered by many men to #yesallwomen, it’s frustrating to see so many others insist that these senseless deaths had nothing to do with the perceived emasculation of being denied the alpha identity that the gunman felt women owed to him.
At its most benign, those hesitant to identify the misogyny present are focusing instead on the gunman’s fragile mental health - as if misogyny (particularly the homicidal kind) isn’t a clear and indisputable expression of acute mental illness exacerbated by the frequenting of MRA websites and pick up artist communities.
Because the friendzone is the fictional exile of the entitled. “Sexual partner” is not a woman’s default mode. #yesallwomen— Harrison Mooney (@HarrisonMooney) May 25, 2014
But frighteningly, there are others who appear to empathise with the fact that loneliness and female rejection ‘caused’ this young man to exact his cruel form of revenge. That if it weren’t for the ‘agony’ of female rejection and the refusal to ‘give’ sex to him, he might be a well-adjusted person.
This is what misogyny and male entitlement writ large looks like. The denial of its existence is what allows ongoing violence against women to flourish. Women experience a broad range of gender related violence every day, from incessant street harassment to sexual assaults to murder. It is the shadow we live under and the threat we live in fear of, and we endure it solely because we are women. It’s what leads to a young girl being stabbed to death by a schoolmate because she won’t go to prom with him. And it’s what allows a young man to believe so fervently that he is ‘owed’ female attention and adoration that when he is repeatedly denied it, he decides someone must be punished in order to reinstate his power as a dominant male.
If this isn’t a result of structural misogyny and male entitlement, what is it? A coincidence? Why is it that one woman murdered every week in Australia by her partner or ex-partner is not considered a manifestation of the ongoing, ritualised hate crime that specifically targets women? Why must we be further insulted by having our anger explained away as irrational and misplaced? We know what pure, unadulterated misogyny is because we have felt its wrath; yet we’re once again being told our instincts are wrong by people for whom such hatred can never be anything more than theoretical.
Margaret Atwood famously said that men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them, while women’s greatest fear is that men will kill them. Misogyny and male entitlement are sustained acts of aggression against women that everyone should be invested in opposing.
No, not all men kill or harm women.
But yes - all women have a right to be angry and afraid when they do.