When I first heard about the tragic UC Santa Barbara shooting spree, I was immediately relieved that my cousin, a UCSB sophomore, had chosen that Friday morning to drive home for his only visit this quarter. I also found myself relieved that he is a boy.
Misogyny is the root cause of Elliot Rodger’s attack on his peers at Santa Barbara. Yes, he killed and injured men in addition to women. But in the YouTube video he posted shortly before his rampage, he claimed that his rage and desire to seek revenge was “all because girls have never been attracted to [him].” As for his choice to include men in his attack, he claimed he hated them for “living a better life” than him by being “sexually active.” Both sentiments reflect his belief of his entitlement to women’s bodies.
Since the incident, a number of social media sites including Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook have been rife with posts attached to the hashtag “#YesAllWomen.” This hashtag makes reference to the fact that all women must consistently be cautious of unwanted sexual or violent advances from men. This is also called rape culture: women must constantly be on the alert from attack because we live in a society that normalizes and excuses rape and tends to blame the victim. Women tend to be silent about their experiences with sexual assault for fear of retribution from their family, friends and even police.
In response to #YesAllWomen, another couple of popular hashtags have sprouted on social media: #NotAllMen and #YesAllPeople. The former is used to insist that not every man is a rapist or sexist, while the second seeks to promote safety and equality for all people, rather than focusing only on women’s needs.
Both of these hashtags are problematic. The first, #NotAllMen, is in fact a typical response when talking to men about rape culture and sexual assault. Individuals are often eager to assert that while they are a part of an oppressive group, they are not personally racist/sexist/homophobic or whatever prejudice might be prevalent among a particular group of people. Of course, it is true that not all men are rapists, and in fact some women are. But talking about this instead of the issue at hand, which is the high statistic of violence against women, takes the focus away from the victims and makes the issue about semantics and about men.
Similarly, talking about equality, safety and rights for everyone, which is another common response to discussions about the need to empower marginalized group, erases the history of injustice and lack of power and voice that the marginalized group has endured.
The #YesAllWomen hashtag is important because this murderous act needs to be framed as what it is: an act of misogyny, resulting from a patriarchal sense of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies.
No, this issue is not primarily about gun control. In fact, Elliot Rodger found a knife and his car to be just as effective as a gun in maiming and murdering his classmates. And it certainly isn’t the singular result of a mental illness, either. There have been reports that Rodger was indeed afflicted by a mental illness, but focusing on this fact (or speculating about it, for countless other cases) stigmatizes mental illness and again distracts from the misogyny and rape culture that pervades our lives.
No, not all men are sex offenders or murderers. But all men are privileged by the institutional systems of oppression that render women silenced, underpaid and dead. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can change it. #JoinUs.
Karam Johal is a fourth-year women’s studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.