While most of the country was experiencing shock, sadness and disbelief over Elliot Rodger’s horrific murder spree, as his motives became clear, some of us experienced an additional emotion: a sickening gut-punch of recognition.
Written by Judy McGuire
Unlike the reclusive Adam Lanza, who destroyed his hard drives before slaughtering 27 children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, we know Rodger’s motivations because the guy had an expansive online footprint. And in case anyone missed his stunningly misogynistic YouTube channel or hateful screeds on Pick Up Artist forums, just minutes before he began his murder spree he emailed 30 people — including his parents and therapist — a rambling, 141-page “manifesto” that blamed the crimes he was about to commit on all the “blonde sluts” who had ignored him in favor of other men.
Blaming women for the things that happen to them is nothing new; after all, we’re still asking rape victims what they were wearing and wondering why domestic violence survivors don’t “just leave.” As the brilliant/depressing Tumblr, When Women Refuse illustrates, being punished — often violently — for setting boundaries is all too familiar for most women, and so within hours of the attack, #YesAllWomen was born.
Because while Rodger has been painted as everything from mentally ill to an entitled brat, many of us saw his crimes as the worst possible outcome to the kind of normalized, everyday misogyny women have been dealing with for years.
Because when my sister went clubbing & politely refused to dance with a guy, he smacked her & dumped his drink over her head #YesAllWomen
— ash✨ (@trashlee_ashlee) May 27, 2014
I grew up terrified of my father, a loud yelly bully who used fear to keep me docile. I refuse to live like that as an adult. #YesAllWomen
— Tara Dublin #IVoted 🌊 (@taradublinrocks) May 26, 2014
Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen
— Emily Hughes 🦔🦙✨ (@emilyhughes) May 24, 2014
And it goes on — from fending off unwanted advances and being afraid to venture out after dark, to having police laugh as you try to report a rape or being forced to allow your convicted rapist visitation with the child you conceived during the crime. While hashtag activism isn’t going to turn a virulent misogynist into a human being, it has helped spread awareness to people (cough, men) who may forget the daily indignities that most women are subject to. But even more importantly, #YesAllWomen has made many women feel less alone, and the importance of solidarity can’t be understated.
We didn’t have Twitter back then, but I still recall the rush of elation I felt as a teenager when I met a friend of a friend who openly discussed her abusive ex-boyfriend. “Elation” may sound like a strange word to use to describe something so dark, but relief doesn’t do the feeling justice. Before meeting her, I hadn’t told a soul that I’d been repeatedly beaten and raped by someone who allegedly loved me. My mother had her suspicions, but reacted to those by lashing out at me, making me feel even more isolated and trapped in the cycle of abuse. But when I met this girl who had been through a very similar experience, I felt free. Finally, I could tell someone what happened to me, without fear of being judged.
So, no, #YesAllWomen probably won’t save any lives and definitely won’t bring back any that were already lost, but if it makes one woman feel less alone, or convinces one girl she doesn’t have to put up with a bunch of crap, isn’t that worth it?
Judy McGuire is a recovering advice columnist, writer, and author of several books, including The Official Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Book of Lists. You can Tweet her at @HitOrMissJudy or read her blog, Bad Advice.