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Elliot Rodger's war on women

On the heels of a school shooting, #YesAllWomen sees more than a lone gunman.
People gather at a park for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif.
People gather at a park for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif.

Not long after 22-year-old Elliot Rodger's murderous rampage in Isla Vista, California on Friday, #YesAllWomen was born on Twitter. The claim was that misogyny isn’t the exception but the rule, and that all women have experienced it.

Shortly after declaring his intentions to enact a “day of retribution” in a YouTube video and a 140-page manifesto, Rodger killed six people, all college students, and himself.

This image from video posted on YouTube shows Elliot Rodger.
This image from video posted on YouTube shows Elliot Rodger.

In his pre-shooting video, Rodger declared as targets “all you girls who rejected me and looked down on me, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men.” Two of his victims were young women.

Rodger was disturbed -- he was treated by "multiple" medical and psychiatric specialists, the family's lawyer said Saturday. But the women using the hashtag recognized something that went beyond one man.

#YesAllWomen are taught that men's egos are more important than women's fear,” tweeted law professor Mary Anne Franks. And @Molly_Kats wrote, “#YesAllWomen Because I know more women who have been sexually assaulted than ones who haven't.” As in any social media gathering, amid all the outpouring of personal experiences came disbelief and backlash. “If #YesAllWomen is such a revelation to you,” wrote @atotalmonet in response, “you need to talk to more women. And by talk, I mean listen.”

Mass murders like the one Rodger committed with legally-purchased guns are rare. But women being killed by guns, usually by an intimate partner, is shockingly more common. And many using the hashtag over the weekend found Rodger’s toxic blend of misogyny and racism to be depressingly common. “#YesAllWomen because when I watched Elliot Rodger's videos,” wrote @ourladyofcoffee, “everything he said was already familiar. This is not an isolated incident.” 

"How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me?” Rodger wondered in his manifesto. “I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more." Elsewhere he asked, "How could an inferior Mexican guy be able to date a white blonde girl?" and admitted, “I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian." The Southern Poverty Law Center has uncovered more racist misogyny allegedly posted by Rodger online.

In the manifesto, Rodger was obsessed with blondness, the ultimate signifier of whiteness. First he dyed his own hair blonde. Then, according to the manifesto, he spent years brooding over blonde girls and women and fantasizing about tearing off the skin of their blond boyfriends.

In all of its exhaustively detailed pages, no woman actually rejected him. The closest he came to speaking with a woman he desired was to say "hi" to one he passed randomly. When she didn’t respond, he wrote that he cried for an hour in the bathroom. In other words, this was not about the cruelty of a specific incident with a woman -- though that too, of course, would be senseless and inexcusable -- it was about women as an archetype, the controllers of sexuality.

This is a worldview that Rodger didn’t invent. At the end of the manifesto, he spelled it out. "Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilized men of intelligence." It is striking that he used the politically freighted phrase “right to choose,” normally associated with reproductive freedom, in reducing women to commodities for male use. Instead of being angry at women for holding the power to decide who comes into the world, he focused on women’s perceived freedom to decide who has sex and who doesn't. “They are the main instigators of sex,” he wrote. “They control which men get it, and which men don't.”

Rodger vacillated between seeing himself as god-like and as justifiably loathed. He alternated between seeing sex as the salve for every pain and the cause of it. “In an ideal world, sexuality would not exist,” he wrote. "In order to completely abolish sex, women themselves would have to be abolished." (Gay people do not exist here except as vocabulary for insults.) He proposed concentration camps for women, with a few allowed to survive for reproduction. All this, he said, was “my war on women.”

That's a familiar phrase to those who watch politics, and know how that name has been given to the various policies that would seek to curtail women's autonomy, or that would keep women less safe from violence. The rage that Rodger felt towards women may be sickeningly familiar to any woman who has failed to give a man exactly what he wanted exactly when he wanted it, whether that man was a stranger or an intimate. Not all men do this or think this. But for those who responded with #Yesallwomen, there are  enough men who do.