After California killings, Twitter’s #YesAllWomen reveals the vast extent of misogyny

05/30/2014 3:34 PM

06/03/2014 2:23 PM

Like many others, 26-year-old Tamara Vitale of Overland Park had all but grown used to headline-grabbing stories about mass killings.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Boston Marathon bombing. The fatal shootings at Jewish facilities in Overland Park.

But when she read the story about Elliot Rodger, it struck her differently.

He was the 22-year-old who on May 23 killed six University of California, Santa Barbara students and wounded 13 others before killing himself in a rampage ignited, at least in part, by his misogyny — an all-consuming hatred of women.

Vitale read his 144-page manifesto. She watched his self-recorded video, in which he proclaimed, “I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut I see inside there, all those girls I’ve desired so much. They would have all rejected me.”

“Right from the beginning,” said Vitale, an actress and master’s degree student in international affairs at the University of Kansas, “I felt this story was more personal.”

She is far from alone.

Just as the killings at Sandy Hook and in Overland Park sparked conversations on mental illness and anti-Semitism, so the killings around Isla Vista, Calif., have generated what has grown over the last week to be a tsunami of commentary in print, television, radio and social media on the prevalence of misogyny in modern America.

Almost immediately after the killings, someone on Twitter used the hashtag #NotAllMen to make the point that Rodger’s misogyny is aberrant and hardly shared by all men. The counter, however, was swift with the creation of #YesAllWomen, which generated more than 1 million responses from users.

Primarily the comments are from women who, while acknowledging that Rodger’s violent sentiments are extreme, maintain that they sadly and dangerously are far from unusual.

While many men may not be misogynistic, the dangerous reality, the collective sentiment holds, is that many men are, having grown up in a culture where aggression toward women can be found in virtually every corner of American life.

In video games like “Grand Theft Auto.” In movies. Online. At work. At school. On the streets.

Among the tweets:

#YesAllWomen — because one in five college women will be sexually assaulted before she graduates.

#YesAllWomen — I just got sent home for wearing this at school (a tank top) but the guy beside me has a M.I.L.F shirt on.

#YesAllWomen — because the the best way to insult a man is to call him a woman.

Vitale contributed her own: #YesAllWomen — I’ve been raped 3 times, and I guarantee you that 2 out of the 3 guys don’t think they did anything wrong.

Certainly theories explaining Rodger’s murderous behavior abound and go far beyond misogyny alone.

“None of these things are simple,” said Oregon-based forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, author of books that include “The Mind of a Murderer” and “Serial Predators.” “Every time you have one of these incidences, a whole constellation of factors figure into it.”

Beyond deep-seated misogyny, others have talked about privilege. Rodger grew up in wealth. His father, Peter Rodger, is a photographer and director who worked on one of “The Hunger Games” movies. Some posit that Elliot Rodger’s belief that he was sexually overlooked emanates from an inflated sense of entitlement.

Others point to a history of mental illness. They speak of his overt narcissism, laid bare on a foundation of feeling weak, like nothing, diminished and overlooked.

Rodger, referring to himself as the “supreme gentleman,” said in his video, “I will take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male.”

“Mass murderers tend to be people with these rigid temperaments who are unable to absorb life’s discontentment,” Ramsland said. “They have these rehearsal fantasies of power. They are angry, lamenting, self-pitying and they feel entitled. He wants to blame people for all the failings in his life.”

Instead of looking strictly at misogyny, Stephen Diamond, a clinical and forensic psychologist who for 10 years did evaluations for the Los Angeles criminal court system, said it’s also important to consider the roots of rage and anger in someone like Rodger, his feelings of being mistreated, neglected and rejected.

“We have to remember,” Diamond said, “it wasn’t just women he was angry at. He killed his roommates. He was also angry with men.”

While directing the mass of his murderous hate toward women, Rodger did in fact speak repeatedly about hating all of humanity.

Four of his six victims were male: Cheng Yuan Hong, 20; George Chen, 19; Weihan Wang, 20; and Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20. Two were female: Katherine Breann Cooper, 22, and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss, 19.

“His anger was more generalized,” Diamond maintained. “The way I might put it is that his deep-rooted rage, his deep-rooted anger about these other things manifested itself in misogyny.”

In other words, women were the target of his rage, but the cause was likely some other noxious combination of nature and nurture. The core hatred often takes different forms.

“That kind of anger or rage can also manifest itself as anti-Semitism,” Diamond said, “in homophobia, in racism, in nationalism, in terrorism.”

Commentators elsewhere have focused on the role of the Internet in the crime and how, as a constant viewer of “pickup artist” websites, Rodger could so easily fuel his plans of male retribution in an echo chamber of like-minded misogyny.

Little doubt that the topic of the aggressive world women must contend with struck a resonant chord.

Natisha Johnson, a mother of five from Kansas City, Kan., sees misogyny reflected in the sexualized images of women her son finds on video games and on television. When young men go out in the real world, she thinks, they expect women to look and act like those media images.

Her husband, Brandon Johnson, doesn’t think most men are misogynistic.

“The average man is not angry at women,” he said.

But the Johnsons are realists and teach their girls to be careful.

“I think women have to be on guard to what kind of men are out there,” Natisha Johnson said. “You never know because people don’t wear labels.”

Lindsey Glass, 23, of Kansas City said that it is a reality of a woman’s existence, like the air they breathe, to know there are men in the world who hate and want to hurt women. She and her boyfriend, Cameron Scruggs, 24, had been talking about the Santa Barbara murders and violence toward women.

Glass said she is always on guard with men, no matter where she is — on the street, in a club, at school.

“Just being the object of a man’s gaze, I feel threatened,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what their race or their age.”

“It’s the fear of not knowing who is and who isn’t (misogynistic) that puts women on edge,” Scruggs said.

“It’s ingrained in me,” Glass said. “When I got my driver’s license, my dad gave me Mace. My first day of college, they gave me a rape whistle. Women have to be paranoid. For some men, a woman represents a market in society. It’s as if we are a tool they are entitled to, as a symbol defining for them what a real man is. That is creepy.”

Misogyny is ubiquitous precisely because it is deeply and historically embedded, said Linda E. Mitchell, a distinguished professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It often begins with sexism.

“Sexism is the thin edge of the wedge,” she said. “Sexism is what makes it possible for people to make fun of women in public and get away with it, or smack women around and get away with it.”

Some have seen sexism as a factor in recent events such as the firing of Jill Abramson, The New York Times’ first female executive editor, or the fact as reported Thursday that 70 percent of Google’s 26,600 U.S. employees are male.

“The whole notion that women aren’t good at math is because men don’t want women to be good at math,” Mitchell said.

She suggested that the road is short from sexism to misogyny, a hatred and aggression toward women that “is pervasive in the way that racism and anti-Semitism and anti-humanism is pervasive.”

In Western civilization, Mitchell said, misogyny’s roots date back at least 2,400 years to the Greek physician Hippocrates, who blamed what he saw as overly emotional women on a “wandering uterus” in search of male nourishment. The Greek word for uterus, hysterika, was used to coin “hysteria.”

After Hippocrates, Mitchell said, there was Aristotle, who devised what he construed to be a logical proof of women’s natural inferiority.

“He identified the male as superior,” Mitchell said, “and because the female is not male, then the female is a deformed male.” Thus being “deformed,” the female was inferior.

In a blog after Rodger’s killings, Mitchell put what she saw as a misogynistic crime in broad perspective.

“Three hundred schoolgirls abducted weeks ago in Nigeria,” she wrote, “and the government there does more or less nothing, even though the crazy group that abducted them has a history of selling women they abduct into sex slavery. …

“Rampant sexual harassment and abuse in the U.S. military — of both women and men — by serial predators who have carte blanche from their COs to continue the behavior.

“Gang rapes and attacks on women by frat ‘boys’ and college athletes that are hushed up by university administrations because it is ‘bad publicity.’ … The list goes on and on.”

Then came Rodger’s killing spree.

“How is this different from the murderers and thugs called Boko Haram?” Mitchell wrote. “How is this different from the murderers and thugs called the Taliban?

“How is this different from the murderers and thugs we might encounter on the streets every day, who beat their wives, say disgusting things about women, enjoy watching violent pornography in which women are victimized, and terrorize their neighbors?”

Looking elsewhere, Mitchell sees misogyny in Pakistan, where a woman recently was beaten to death in an “honor killing” by men in her village, including her father, for refusing to take part in an arranged marriage.

Mitchell sees reflections of it in the U.S. and in the way the National Institutes of Health in May urged researchers to begin using male and female rats in their drug tests. Only male rats have been used for years, despite the fact that women make up half the human population.

Cynthia Calkins Mercado, an associate professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, certainly sees misogyny playing out in reams of statistics on crime against women.

“In cultures where misogyny or even more chauvinistic attitudes are prevalent, those societies tend to have higher rates of sexual violence,” she said.

Some 2,800 women were murdered in 2012 across the U.S., according to the FBI’s most recent complete set of crime statistics. The FBI logged more than 84,000 forcible rapes, an average of 230 women a day, in 2012. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 1.3 million women a year are assaulted by their partners.

Yet even Mercado concedes that it wasn’t until the Santa Barbara killings that her answer began to change on the question of whether misogyny is widespread in everyday life.

“I might have answered no a couple of days ago,” Mercado said. “But now having seen some of these #YesAllWomen hashtags, I am saying yes. In a way, this stuff happens without your conscious awareness. It is a culture where these kinds of things are normalized.”

She summed up with a sentiment echoed by others.

“If there is anything important or good to come from his horrible act,” Mercado said, “it is that it is raising awareness of the experiences women are subject to.”

To reach Eric Adler, call 816-234-4431 or send email to eadler@kcstar.com.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

To reach Kaitlyn Klein, call 816-234-4068 or send email to kklein@kcstar.com.

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