Letter from the US: Misogynist murders prompt resistance

May 30, 2014
The huge response by women to Rodger’s misogynist rampage is part of a new assertiveness on the part of women to demand change

On the evening of May 23, the United States suffered another massacre of the type that has become all too familiar.

Elliot Rodger, a 22-year old student at the University of California campus in Santa Barbara went on a killing spree that left seven dead, including himself.

He left a video and a manifesto that made clear his motive was hatred of women.

In response, many women have reacted strongly, denouncing violence against women and the ways they are perceived sexually. Female students at the campus ― and beyond ― have exploded in anger against yet another violent outbreak that was clearly driven by gender.

Rodger first stabbed to death his three male roommates, then shot and killed two women outside a sorority house. He continued his rampage with drive-by shootings of scores of pedestrians in the city, killing one, and wounding 13, before shooting himself and crashing his car.

As in the aftermath of recent massacres, this event has once again raised the need for better gun control laws, as well as the disgraceful way mental illness is dealt with in this sick society.

A father of one of the young men killed was seen giving an emotional speech, broadcast nationally, blasting the gun makers' lobby the National Rifle Association and the politicians intimidated by it. He slammed them for doing nothing after many previous similar massacres.

In the 1990s, most hospitals for the mentally ill were shut down as part of neoliberal cutbacks. The result is that many people suffering such illnesses have swelled the ranks of the homeless.

Many more, including people with full blown psychosis, are in the huge prison population, a cruel and unusual confinement that mars US society.

But a particular aspect of the response to this massacre has been the mobilisation of women speaking out about violence against women — placing the atrocity in the broader context of misogyny.

Rodger outlined his plot in his video and manifesto that made clear his rage against women, and it was these that prompted the mass response. He spoke of launching a “war on women”.

In his video, he outline his hatred of women, combined with a sense of entitlement to their bodies: “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me.

“I’m the perfect guy. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male.”

A male acquaintance said he became “creeped out” when sometime before the rampage, Rodger told him, “women are inferior”.

In his manifesto, Rodger talks about trying to push a woman off a ledge at a party because she wasn’t paying attention to him, and throwing coffee on women who did not respond the way he wanted them to.

Small wonder women avoided him.

Within two days, about 500,000 women joined together to tell on Twitter, under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, their stories of sexual violence, harassment and intimidation. The number has grown.

The New York Times sent a reporter, Jennifer Medina, to the campus to interview women. Medina said: “Many here are urging others to consider the implications of the attack.

“And they are also thinking about the catcalls, leers and the fears of sexual violence that have them traveling in packs and carrying pepper spray in their purses.”

Medina noted: “For many here, the attacks were like a nightmare caricature of the safety concerns they deal with regularly on a campus where a high-profile gang rape recently prompted widespread concerns about safety …

“In dozens of interviews, women voiced concerns about incessantly hearing jokes about rape or what physical features make a woman desirable. At some parties, several women said, their buttocks have been grabbed at the entry door.

“‘I live in fear — this is a difficult part of our reality,’ said Maddie Clerides, 19, a sophomore majoring in global studies. Ms. Clerides said she was not alone in her worries. After the shootings, many women left the campus in fear or at the urging of their parents.”

The hashtage #YesAllWomen was started by one woman the day after the rampage in response to the hashtag #notallmen, which had been used to argue that men should not be universally portrayed as sexist aggressors.

“So yes, women on social media said over and over again, not all men are harassers,” said Medina, “but all women have experienced such harassment.”

This incident occurred in the context of new revelations of sexual assault on the nation’s campuses brought to light by women courageously telling their stories of being victims of assaults. In many cases, university and college administrations sweep the crimes under the rug.

These revelations have forced the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to launch 36 investigations into campus administrations concerning sexual violence.

Lest anyone thinks that elites schools have more secure environments for women, they should know that prestigious schools such as Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, Swathmore, Occidental, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Southern California are all coming under scrutiny.

In another dramatic scene of speaking out against sexual violence, all branches of the US military are facing a huge scandal. The high incidence of rape and other forms of sexual violence, which was covered up for decades by the brass, is now facing the national media spotlight.

In the Armed Forces, complaints must be made up through the chain of command that is, often to those guilty of the assault or to officers who have an interest in protecting the perpetrators. This means number of real assaults is much higher than the number reported.

Despite this, the campaign started by women in the military, has led to a rise in such reports up 43%.

An aspect of women’s courage in reporting rapes is the impact on all members of the armed forces. More men who have been raped while on military duty are defying the stigma and reporting their rapes too.

The huge response by women to Rodger’s misogynist rampage is part of a new assertiveness on the part of women to demand change in a culture that permits sexual assault.

Without courageous women refusing to stay silent, the misogyny at the core of the Santa Barbara massacre would have been downplayed if not entirely ignored. As it is, it has given a fresh impetus to the movement to win change.

[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books.]

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