Elliot Rodger’s fatal rampage set off an anguished public conversation that continues to reverberate around the country.
There is no “upside” to the horror of what happened in Santa Barbara. But given that it did happen, we are heartened to see that now—finally—we may be having the right conversation.
Yes, we need to talk about mental illness. Yes, we really need to talk about guns. But we also need to talk about men’s violence against women, the culture that fuels it—and the role that men can play to stop it.
This is the national conversation we did not have after similar mass murders, such as when George Sodini shot and killed three women (wounding nine more) in 2009, having earlier written that “30 million women” had rejected him.
It’s the conversation we need to have about the content of “When Women Refuse,” the Tumblr launched two days after the shootings that collects stories of violence against women who rebuffed men's sexual advances.
Finally we are having this conversation today, more broadly and visibly than before, and with more men than ever before.
Let's be clear. A small minority of men is violent. A micro-minority of men is as violent as Elliot Rodger.
But, as the hashtag that took over Twitter in the wake of the violence dramatically demonstrated, #YesAllWomen have, in some capacity, experienced (and most make daily decisions in order to avoid) men’s violence.
The already-existing hashtag #NotAllMen resurged in defensive response. (As in: not all men rape, not all men kill, not all men are evil. Of course not. That’s not the point—and, by the way, that’s also a pretty low bar to set.)
But what else happened?
Men started reading the #YesAllWomen posts. Many were men who maybe understood intellectually that men’s violence and discrimination against women are not good things—but who had never realized the full extent of their infusion and intrusion in women’s daily lives. And many were men who went on in numbers and with passion we’ve never seen before, to tweet and blog about this, vowing to be allies and partners in challenging it.
Men like Arthur Chu in the Daily Beast, and like Andrew Garda of Dad Moon Rising,who wrote:
“We, as men, have a responsibility to change this. Not just by not being jerks to women, but to actively support women in their rights as human beings. Forget equality because it’s not even about that. It’s about treating people like people.”
This is what it’s going to take. Men holding other men accountable; men challenging the cultural scripts about masculinity that incubate discrimination and violence. These scripts equate male power and success with dominance, money, access to women and sex and indeed, a sense of entitlement to all these things.
We need to give our boys other scripts: power and success, even love, through respect, integrity and humanity; and teach them that women are equals, not spoils. We need to say “Come on, dude,” when our buddies make sexist comments or gestures.
And we need to encourage men like Arthur and Andrew and their peers, because—as the positive response to Breakthrough’s “Be That Guy” animation shown at the Indy 500 and elsewheredemonstrates—stepping up both takes courage and makes you the coolest guy in the room. #NotAllMen are a part of the problem, but, #yesallmen must be a part of the solution.
In his chilling manifesto, Rodger wrote, “Who’s the alpha male now?” This phrase may be an allusion to the terminology of communities of men who practice certain dominance-based “pickup” techniques and with whom Rodger interacted. But really he’s talking about his final Rambo-style blaze of so-called glory, about the model of masculinity he felt entitled to and was denied of.
Let’s change that. Let’s make this tragedy the national cultural watershed it should be—our no-going-back moment. Let’s see the national response as analogous to the men and women marching side by side in Delhi’s streets in the wake of the infamous—and also watershed—2013 gang rape of “Nirbhaya.”
Let’s make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable by making equality and respect more acceptable—even aspirational. In that model, everyone wins: Men aren’t held to impossible ideals of masculinity and standards of male success; women aren’t blamed when men can’t live up to those ideals. Men and women together, we can all work to build different, diverse, humane ideals for ourselves and others. Who is the alpha male now? Now is the time for new answers.
Phoebe Schreiner is Vice President and U.S. Country Director of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable.
Michael Kimmel is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. He is the author of GUYLAND and ANGRY WHITE MEN.