Women

05.27.14

Not All Sexism is Equal

There is a very long, and very significant, distance between a guy who would whistle at a woman on the street and one who would open fire on a campus.

I’ve been debating for three days whether or not to write about the UCSB murders and the conversation that is swirling on twitter and in feminist and progressive media about the shooting and its relationship to misogyny. I consider myself a proud feminist and I retweeted some of the #YesAllWomen tweets. I created one myself:  “Because somehow nobody noticed, or was concerned about, how much this young man HATED women until he murdered them.”

But I’m more than a little uncomfortable with how the horrifying murder of six people (including four men) – in the name of a hatred of women – has essentially been co-opted as an airing of grievances against men.

Wrote one blogger  “The Santa Barbara County sheriff described the shooting as ‘obviously the work of a madman.’ But Elliot Rodger doesn’t need to have been a madman. It’s enough that he was a man.”  

To be fair, women have many grievances to air in our culture: we are paid less, we are promoted less frequently, our bodies are critiqued, our bodies are hurt, we are killed – all of these things, disproportionately by men.  Until now, many of us have been denied a voice, in the workplace, in our family, against a perpetrator of a crime. Twitter is giving many a voice and, like Sasha Weiss points out in a New Yorker piece about the power of #YesAllWomen, is “an especially powerful vehicle for activism, a place of liberation.”  

And this man did do something terrible. He also said terrible things about women:  

“Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights . . . Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such…It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy, and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentleman."  

"On the day of retribution I will enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled stuck up blonde slut I see inside there. All those girls that I've desired so much, they would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them. While they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes. I'll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true Alpha Male."  

There seems to be no doubt that this man was driven by hatred for women. That he had been rejected by women, resented them and detested them. But – is his brutal, horrific act really representative of how our culture views women?  

The agreement, on twitter and beyond – though there is some counterrnarrative, including this focus on mental illness at Time – seems to be that men are taught by society that they’re entitled to attention from women and have a right to sex, and that it's fair for them to be *upset* when women reject them. So his reaction – “how dare these sluts reject me, I will therefore kill them” – is a natural, if extreme, extension of that logic. The logic being, if society didn't treat women like commodities, and teach men that women "belonged" to them, I suppose this killer wouldn't have been indoctrinated with that message.  

Not only does that come dangerously close to absolving him of personal responsibility by laying blame at the foot of the culture but most men – (and I know, #YesAllWomen was created in response to #NotAllMen but this matters, very much) – do not kill women.  

Because that’s what this man did. He took loaded guns onto a school campus and opened fire. After stabbing his roommates.

The #YesAllWomen tweets engage a very wide range of concerns: criticism over appearance, getting trolled on twitter, school dress codes, walking alone at night, equal pay and rape and domestic violence. These are all valid and topical areas of discussion, and much open conversation and action are needed to create a culture where women are properly valued.    

But there is a very long, and very significant, distance between a guy who would whistle at a woman on the street and one who would open fire on a campus. And as much as we want to place the elements of #rapeculture and #EveryDaySexism on a continuum it would be incredibly dangerous to forget that.  

The movement seems to express a collective anxiety that, unless all anti-woman behaviors are elevated to the same plane, none will be taken seriously. While there is some legitimacy for that – society has long considered crimes and inequities against women as less signicant – it serves nobody to proffer all sexist behavior as equally malicious and equally destructive. 

The disturbing normalization of hatred of women is certainly a conversation worth having; a commenter on the New York Times wrote: “police did watch some of his video manifestos before his rampage, and they dismissed his rants as those of a man unlucky with women. I think it is THAT misogyny – that police would not see these manifestos as a sign of insanity or hate – that is more worrisome than the misogyny of a clearly deranged man.”  

I fear, though, that by refusing to acknowledge this act as what it is – extreme – and instead using it as a proxy for all harms against women we risk losing legitimacy for a conversation about #EverydaySexism, miss the opportunity to talk about the real need for mental health and gun reform, and do a grave injustice to the six people who lost their lives at the hands of this one man.