How did this happen? Was it too-lenient gun laws? Insufficient attention paid to Rodger's mental illness? Maybe. But also good, old-fashioned misogyny, as detailed in a 140-page manifesto and a series of YouTube videos. Rodger wanted to sleep with these (young, blonde, hot) women. It was his basic right as a man! He even studied tricks and strategies to seduce them. How dare they refuse him!
Sometime on Saturday, the hashtag #YesAllWomen started showing up on Twitter as a way for women to share their stories of dealing with the Elliot Rodgers of the world who felt entitled to their bodies; it branched out into stories of more casual everyday misogyny. I spent several hours on Sunday night transfixed. It was depressing and heartbreaking and enraging all at once. It made me feel like the loser in a game that was always rigged to begin with: I can think I am equal to a man, but someone will always tell me I'm wrong. Yesterday morning I called up Kate Harding, a Chicago feminist blogger who's written for Jezebel and Salon and is now working on a book about rape culture, to try to make some sense of it.
"This entitlement to women's bodies is part of our culture," Harding told me. "It's not something [Rodger] came up with himself. He was part of the PUA Hate community. It's a reaction to PUA [pickup artist], which is about tricking women into having sex with you. The PUA Hate guys are mad because PUA techniques didn't work. They couldn't figure it out. They went to the forums for advice because sex was something they felt entitled to. Elliot Rodger was an active poster.
"They have an intense hatred of women as a group. They don't believe women should be entitled to choose. As a guy, you put effort into your appearance and tricks. What's your reward? They're denigrating women's intelligence and judgment, like they're not intellectually and morally capable of choosing the right man. It's all tied together in hatred and fear of women, 'aggrieved entitlement,' as Michael Kimmel calls it.
"#YesAllWomen is a response to an internet meme, #NotAllMen. Some men get defensive and wounded because they're lumped in with those guys, so they blurt it out without listening. We know most men don't hate women. Don't cut us off. Think about what you can do. Cut out rape jokes and victim blaming and everyday sexism. Not all men commit violence, but all women have dealt with sexual harassment, violence, threats, and intimidation by men."
Harding, however, finds the tremendous response heartening. "Not everyone who's posting identifies as a feminist," she pointed out. "It got way bigger than that."
But will it do any practical good, or is it just an international outpouring of collective anger and frustration?
"It's either going to tip or not," Harding predicted. "If not, I'm going to scream. It's maddening. We talk about it, and guys tell us to lighten up. We've been lightening up all our lives. It wears on you. It restricts our ability to participate in society fully. This is definitely an opportunity to have a real conversation about this in a way there hasn't in the past."
(And yet one of the original creators of the #YesAllWomen hashtag has disabled her account because there was so much harassment.)
On Monday, another writer, Deanna Zandt, started a Tumblr inspired by some of Harding's Facebook posts called When Women Refuse, a collection of stories about women who have been raped or assaulted by men they declined to have sex with. It's far grimmer reading than #YesAllWomen.
"Some people do legitimately feel that under certain circumstances, men are entitled to take sex from a woman, even if she refuses," Harding said. "It's a continuum. They'll beat or kill her if she refuses instead of raping her, and it's sad and fucked up to say that rape is the lesser crime. It's so commonplace and accepted, we need images of beaten, broken, maimed women to drive home the point."
Can a hashtag fix that? Or at least make a start?