When Elliot Rodger meticulously planned his Day of Retribution, he never could have known that his actions would inspire a social media revolution that empowered women to speak out against injustice. Rodger’s, a 22-year-old student at UC Santa Barbara, had disturbing thoughts about women, sex and relationships. He outlines his rage against woman in a 140-page manifesto he sent to his parents and therapists just before his killing spree in Isla Vista, Calif. To Rodger, women were meant for sexual pleasure and not much else. Rodger has aptly been labeled by the media as a madman, but are his perceptions of women unique? Or is he simply a high-profile example of a common problem?
I remember the first time I was harassed for turning down a sexual advance. At 13, I had the gumption to refuse an older high school boy. Because the boy obviously didn’t enjoy being rejected in front of his friends, he proceeded to push me to the floor and call me a whore before telling my group of friends every reason he thought I was ugly. From my “butter face” to my “trailer park clothes,” he was letting me know my worth. I sat there quietly listening while all my insecurities were used as weapons against me. Bombs named ugly, trashy and chink-eyes were lobbed in my direction. As I looked on to the faces of my friends, they stared back with expressions letting me know that not only did I deserve it; they would do nothing to stop it. At 13, I experienced what misogyny was, even if I didn’t know what it meant.
That was just the beginning. Last week on my drive to work, I was stopped at a street light and casually looked over to the other car only to notice a man staring back at me and licking his lips. While walking out of a bar with a friend on Saturday night, a man started following us so closely you would have thought he was part of our group. We had to duck into a restaurant along the street to evade him. My 19-year-old sister was walking home from a friend’s house in her college town when she passed a man on the street. He caught up with her and punched her in the face. Her crime: Walking home alone and “looking like a slut.”
My sister and I are not unique; this kind of thing happens every day to millions of women in the U.S. We’ve let these oppressive attacks on our sexuality go on without much fuss and protest, but the unspoken acceptance of this practice is beginning to change.
In the past two weeks, the #yesallwomen hash tag has been tweeted over 2 million times. Female journalists at publications like Slate and Pacific Standard have recounted their own harrowing experiences for readers in order to spread a simple message: misogyny and harassment are not only everyday problems; they’re an every-woman problem. Women across the world have used 140 characters or less to voice the most degrading and horrifying moments of their lives. Their stories can and will provide fodder for men just like Rodgers, but to the rest of us, they are tales of survival, inexplicable courage and awareness of an issue every woman and girl will face. It seems as though, for once, the entire female gender is rallying around each other in support.
As children, girls and boy alike are taught to be wary of strangers. Yet, as little boys grow into men, they lose that fear for the stranger in the parking lot. Women are taught as girls to fear strangers, and that trepidation only amplifies as we grow older. We are aware from a very young age that most men can easily overpower us, and our methods of defense are often slim.
Growing up, women learn many methods of survival:
The list is endless. We are engrained with the knowledge of how to protect and prevent an attack, because we all know that it’s only a matter of time before it happens to us. Am I being dramatic? Nearly 1 and 5 women in the U.S. have been sexually assaulted – you tell me.
In the fashion of most controversial topics, an opposing viewpoint has come into the limelight. The hashtag #NotAllMen has been used as a way to diffuse the conversation. The hashtag and tweets suggest that the #YesAllWomen conversation is overgeneralizing the entire male population. The discussion is a defensive move for men who want to assure the world that they are nothing like Rodger. Ultimately, #NotAllMen is unnecessary. Obviously, women know not all men have a hidden desire to harass, rape or abuse them. However, this defense doesn’t add to the conversation, it’s a piss-poor defense of a serious issue and detracts from the original message.
After all, we live in a world where young girls are kidnapped with the intention of being sold as sex slaves for daring to pursue their education; We live in a world where the word rape bait exists and is considered funny; We live in a world where every 9 seconds a woman is beaten; We live in a world where some men attempt to silence women with a hash tag.
As I finish this piece, I realize I’m just as frustrated as I was at the start. The tragedy in Isla Vista will be political fodder for months, if not years to come. Conservatives will insist that the second amendment should stand strong; guns should never be blamed for the actions of people, and will fiercely criticize the feminist outcry. Liberals will demand the implementation of better gun-control laws. And we will all have missed the point.
To be clear: I’m not a feminist, I don’t hate men, and I don’t believe this is a feminist conversation. This is a human conversation about self-worth– some men that have too much and women that are ultimately left with too little.