By now we’ve seen the headlines. We’ve scrambled to make sense of a horrific act of violence that brought a quiet college town to its knees. We’ve cursed, we’ve mourned and in the case of us Gauchos, we’ve stood together – wounded but unified – in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.
Last Friday, a gunman drove through the UCSB beachside town of Isla Vista slaughtering six and wounding thirteen more before turning the gun on himself. Hours before the event, he uploaded a video explaining the reasons for his attack. Both his 140-page manifesto and a YouTube series documenting his tortured psyche are available online if you’re interested. I won’t provide a to link them in the hope that one day my approach will be the norm – that our society won’t glorify killers by helping their twisted works go viral. Needless to say, he was a deeply troubled individual whose writings reveal a life of loneliness and mental health problems that lead to crippling psychosis. From his final video, he claims to act on the presumption that women owed him their affection. Deprived of it, he vowed to punish them and the “inferior” men they preferred.
And he did just that. For over the 30th time in the past 8 years, we awoke to news of yet more dead in a mass shooting. But this time, the killer’s perceived motives sparked reflections on a culture that was able to produce such a monster.
I’m a graduate of UCSB. The oceanside burb of Isla Vista was my home for my four years of college and the following year during which I decided I couldn’t leave the place. Even though I’ve been a citizen of Los Angeles for a year, I still consider IV a significant part of my life, as are my friends who still live there. Mass shootings plague our country regularly – more often than any developed country should be comfortable with, but that’s beside the point. You never think these things will happen in your backyard. But making my home in a college town for so long, I’ve become privy to a few truths.
Misogyny is alive and well, and while cases like those of the IV gunmen are few, his attitude towards women is sadly not an isolated one. Our culture is very much one rooted in male entitlement. Anyone who disagrees is probably a proponent of the #NotAllMen hashtag that spread across the Internet immediately following the release of the gunman’s misanthropic manifesto.
Before I continue, I need to make something clear. The motives behind the killer’s senseless rampage cannot be boiled down to “he hated women.” Obviously, it was much bigger than that. He was a desperately unhappy man who was a child of divorce, neglect, the ostracizing of his peers and mental illness. If we are to really understand what happened, we must approach the issue with that mindset.
Yet regardless of the gunman’s nuanced psychopathy, many have gravitated toward the content of his videos in which he blames his loneliness on the absence of female affection – an affection he felt entitled to.
Of course it is assumed that “not all men” believe that they are entitled to a woman’s affection. Some men (and dare I venture to suggest, MOST men) treat women as they are: PEOPLE. Women aren’t ethereal beings sent to earth to grant the worthy with sex. But the loud minority would suggest otherwise. A gaping power imbalance exists between men and women in our society. That much is self-evident in the 77 cents women are paid to every dollar a man is and the caution they are forced to take in the company of men. As a man myself, I am disgusted that such inequalities exist, yet my capability to do something about it is relatively limited. I have at my disposal a computer and a heart full of hurt – and dammit, I’m going to use both of them.
In the wake of the Isla Vista tragedy, women have reacted to the rampage by broadcasting how they are denied full personhood in our society. Those reflections have transcended the horrific event that sparked them.
Under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, the issue of profound gender inequality has been brought to the forefront of the Internet forum. Even those who are skeptical of the subtext reducing hashtag shouldn’t be quick to dismiss this label. It proclaims that while, yes, all men aren’t responsible for the systematic marginalization of women, all women have had to deal with the repercussions of men who are. Every woman has had to cope with the catcalls of a stranger as she walks down the street or unwanted intrusive attentions of a stalker or worst of all, rape.
I am reminded of a story a male friend told me a while back. He was on his way to meet me and a few of our friends at Woodstocks Pizza one night when he was approached suddenly by a random woman who took him by the arm. She turned to him and said, “You seem nice, mind if I walk with you for a while?” Being the nice guy he is, my friend said, “Sure.” The two walked for several blocks before she peeled off outside the pizza place, thanking my friend as she left. He told us the story over hot wings and beer, laughing that he must seem really unintimidating. We didn’t think much of it at the time, but in retrospect I’m left with this thought, it’s fucked up that women can’t go anywhere without thinking they’ll get raped. Therein lies the inception of #yesallwomen.
#YesAllWomen because if you're too nice to them you're "leading them on" & if you're too rude you risk violence. Either way you're a b*tch.
— Sara (@Saradujour) May 27, 2014
Because when I get pulled over, I call & ask for a female officer, because the cops in my county rape women in their custody. #YesAllWomen
— Tess Sharpe (@sharpegirl) May 25, 2014
#YesAllWomen because some women weren't even women yet when they first began experiencing misogyny.
— zellie (@zellieimani) May 27, 2014
Although yes, not all men engage in a culture that treats women as objects and tools of male pleasure, it’s still an institution that affects all of us. Whether it’s the women forced to live under its misogynist guidelines or the empathetic men who watch such atrocities without much agency at their disposal. It’s a vicious system, but not permanent if we all stand together and say, “Enough!”
The response to #yesallwomen has been universal and diverse, encompassing all inequalities women have had to endure at the hands of patriarchy. Every whistling stranger, every lecherous man in a position of power, every frat boy who deems himself entitled to the girls at his party. As it stands, institutions set in place to dissipate rape culture aren’t doing their job. UCSB has felt its share of failed justice where survivors are left in limbo at the hands of bureaucracy. Meanwhile, attackers are left to roam free, unreprimanded by the slow hand of the law.
So where does this cruel cycle end? With us. Even if you are a man who’s never treated a woman as anything but an equal – behaved as a loving, supportive friend with no ulterior motive to get at “what you deserve” – it’s not enough to deflect with #notallmen. Yes, we are aware of that. But what are you doing about those other men that make #yesallwomen a truth. It starts with an open mind and a recognition of the problem. It starts with teaching our boys that women are no different from them – that they aren’t entitled to their attention or affection.
But it doesn’t even take focus on women’s rights to make this a reality. It really comes down to one thing, be good to everyone. Our world becomes a better one when we realize that we are all people – man or woman, young or old, healthy or plagued with mental illness. If we remember that much, maybe our system of violence and marginalization will finally end.