UCSB Shootings Prompt #YesAllWomen Trend, Outrage Over Misogyny

Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff

Elliot Rodger’s shooting rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., on Friday has triggered an outpouring of grief, sadness, and — on Twitter and Facebook — a torrent of feminist anger. The social media sites are where the hashtag #YesAllWomen has been trending wildly since Saturday, in response to Rodger’s premeditated motives — a lifetime of rejection by women — for killing six (along with himself) and wounding 13 people near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara.

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"I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me but I will punish you all for it," the killer warned, according to a transcript of his now-removed YouTube video, “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution." "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. I will punish all of you for it … On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house at UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there.”

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Rodger’s words have touched off anger among women, and many men as well, who see the killer’s rampage not simply as the work of someone unhinged, but a horrific symptom of living in a sexist society. And many — well over a million, according to Hashtags.org — have been using #YesAllWomen on Twitter to express that anger, commenting on everything from catcalls to rape.

“It is stunning to watch the truly global response,” MSNBC political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry said on radio station WNYC’s "The Brian Lehrer Show" Tuesday regarding the hashtag's rise. “It’s an opportunity to talk about the sense of fear, the possibility of violence, that is part of the daily vulnerability that women live with around the world.”

The hashtag, which did not exist before May 24, peaked on Sunday with 61,500 tweets and has been used around the world, from the United States and the U.K. to Indonesia and Pakistan, according to Twitter. It was still going strong on Tuesday.

"I think it's very, very important, and what's really exciting is that the Twitterverse is proving to be a vehicle specifically for women," National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill tells Yahoo Shine, recalling how other Twitter movements, such as the live-tweeting of the Wendy Davis abortion-bill filibuster last year, have been a powerful part of grassroots activism. To those who dismiss Rodger as just one disturbed man, O'Neill stresses that his "sociopathic self-justification" is actually not uncommon, seen among rapists as well as men who abuse their wives.

The hashtag "allows people the opportunity to tell their stories, but it also allows other people to really listen," Emily May, co-founder and executive director of the anti-street-harassment organization Hollaback!, tells Yahoo Shine. "We've seen tons of stories, but what we've also seen are people saying, 'I didn't know that happened, and I get it now.' That's the real power." She adds that tying the UCSB shootings into tales of sexual harassment is an important step to take. "I think if we bought into the idea that this was one guy, that this was one isolated incident, we'd be buying into a lie."

Social media sites are not the only places where people have been putting Rodger’s rampage into greater cultural, and largely feminist, context. “To dismiss this as a case of a lone ‘madman’ would be a mistake,” writes Jessica Valenti in the Guardian. “It not only stigmatizes the mentally ill — who are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it — but glosses over the role that misogyny and gun culture play (and just how foreseeable violence like this is) in a sexist society. After all, while it is unclear what role Rodger's reportedly poor mental health played in the alleged crime, the role of misogyny is obvious.”

On national news program “Democracy Now!” Tuesday, Rebecca Solnit, author of “Men Explain Things to Me,” noted about the general media coverage of the shootings, “There was such a mainstream desire to say, 'Oh this was aberrant. Oh he was mentally ill. This has nothing to do with us. This raises no big questions. And to see feminists and allies speak out and say, 'No, this is about misogyny, this is about entitlement,' was really extraordinary.”

Students protested to express their outrage near the UCSB campus over the weekend, where one young woman, Nancy Yang, told the New York Times, “If we don’t talk misogyny now, when are we going to talk about it?” Jill Dunlap, a director of the Women’s Center at UCSB, told the newspaper she hoped the online discussions would help fuel discussions on campus. “This whole conversation is about acknowledging that, yes, women have gone very far, but there is still real inequity…” she said. “It opens up a conversation of how to really change cultural expectations.”

Some men have responded to #YesAllWomen online with #NotAllMen, a hashtag that’s been used for a while, usually as a defensive response to feminist arguments. Slate’s Phil Plait wrote about how using that hashtag simply derails, rather than furthers, the conversation. “Instead of being defensive and distracting from the topic at hand,” he suggests, “try staying quiet for a while and actually listening to what the thousands upon thousands of women discussing this are saying.”

Some women and men, meanwhile, have turned #NotAllMen around, using it to highlight the need for #YesAllWomen, to powerful effect.

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