This installment of the Lydia Lexicon is going to be a bit different than the others. First, we’d like to announce that the Lexicon will officially be released the last day of each month as an overall comprehensive recap of all things feminism, pop culture, politics and crazy people.
Second, and more seriously, this entry isn’t going to laugh and face-palm its way through weeks of news bites. It’s not going to be lighthearted — yes, there will be some light and lots of heart, but the two won’t be meeting in as sarcastic an explosion as past entries.
Instead, let’s get serious about an event that should make men, women, everyone scared, angry and active. In that order.
On May 23, a University of California Santa Barbara student named Elliot Rodger stabbed three men in his residence, shot two women outside a sorority house and shot a man in a deli before killing himself. His spree, which injured 13 others, was part of a “day of retribution” that he had broadcasted over YouTube.
The video was part of a long history of misogynistic cyber rants, including a 160-plus-page manifesto, conducted by Rodger, who was angry that women wouldn’t date him. YouTube has left the keynote video online, but cautions that it’s graphic to watch. That hasn’t stopped almost 3 million people from viewing it.
(This Lydia writer only got a minute into it. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you for it,” he said just as I hit the Exit Window button.)
The event itself is enough to spark outrage. Six people went to school one day and didn’t come home. Like the students killed in school shootings — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Texas A&M, Sandy Hook Elementary, and the 44 others since Newtown — these kids were essentially murdered because they were pursuing their education.
But as despicable as Rodger’ actions were — and they were despicable, regardless of mental illness — the root of it, and subsequent reaction to it, is possibly even more terrifying. That’s because although mental illness was a major player in Rodger’s actions, as were lax gun laws that allowed him to purchase a firearm, there’s a bigger issue at stake here, and it’s something that everyone should be working to fix.
Rodger was an example of what happens when entitlement gets out of hand. I’m not talking about economic or social entitlement, the kind that causes “affluenza” and makes anyone over 40 look at Gen Y as a bunch of spoiled kids. I’m talking about gender entitlement.
Men are told from day one that they deserve a woman (or women, plural). They see it in action films when heroes win the hearts of their female counterparts. They see it in ads that show women throwing themselves at men because they’re wearing a certain deodorant or hair product. They see it every day when grown men get to catcall and drink in every woman’s curve — and if the woman doesn’t like it, they get to call her a slut or bitch, or feminist. They write her off as a frigid, inhuman object oblivious or willfully ignorant of the so-called compliment they’re paying her by objectifying her. How dare she not enjoy being visually violated by a stranger?
But if a man rejects a woman, something is wrong with her. She’s a whore or she’s a prude. She’s doomed to a cubicle-confined career, a Pinterest obsession and a lonely apartment filled with copies of Sheryl Sandberg’s book and lots of cats in the internet proverbial “forever alone” scenario.
Or, in the UCSB shooting, she’ll be shot to death before her life can truly begin.
As despicable as Rodger’s actions were — and they were despicable, regardless of mental illness — some of the responses have verged on the same plane of insanity. It kicked off with a resurgence of the dreaded-but-strangely-progressive #NotAllMen hashtag, a protestation that not all men objectify, discriminate or abuse women, and therefore shouldn’t be lumped into observations of commonplace sexism.
Enter #YesAllWomen, a response to the #NotAllMen tweets, which tried to brush misogyny off the table with the same philosophy used when saying “Not all spiders want to lay eggs in your ears while you sleep” as an excuse not to kill the one poised on your pillow. This new hashtag aimed to say yes, all women face harassment, discrimination and/or violence at some point in their lives — and while it’s not perpetrated by all men, all men have a duty to acknowledge it exists and work with us to make the changes needed.
But, like any Twitter trend, there’s going to be a backlash to the backlash to the backlash…and so on. Unfortunately, the #YesAllWomen trend received a plethora of negative replies, documented by Slate Magazine’s Amanda Hessand others, that demeaned the women and men using it.
Huh. Demeaning women. Never heard of that one before.
I caught myself reading a Twitter feed that was started by a woman who had posted a picture of a pink gun. Below it, her caption said something to the effect of “#YesAllWomen should know how to shoot this. It’s the only protection from rape you’ll ever need.” Following it were kudos-filled replies that often contained statements like:
“Careful: the feminists are PMSing together.”
“The feminists are going to hate this, lmfao.”
“The feminists are in a foul mood tonight. Their cats must not be using the litter box.”
Really? Cats again?
I’m not saying that everyone needs to point to Rodger as the poster boy-man for misogyny (Robin Thicke seems to be a better candidate, having been named Sexist of the 2013 by the End Violence Against Women Coalition). There have been some pretty sound arguments against labeling Rodger as a sexist because it detracts from society’s influence on our expectations of college life, what it means to be a “gentleman” and how we react to people who anger us. Others say that we need to focus — as we’ve tried to do on so many other occasions like these — on the handling of mental illness in our country or the question of gun control.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost the ability to discuss several topics at once. News stories like these have to focus on one aspect at a time, and in a rapidly changing media cycle, that means we only get to hear about one or two implications before a Kardashian gets married or CNN finds some uncovered angle of the missing Malaysia flight to belabor. Our brains have officially started operating like a Twitter feed, only able to admit 140 characters in at a time.
But wouldn’t it be nice if we had an actual conversation about this that lasted more than a few days?
Please get talking. Comment on this story. Tweet at us @lydiamag, me personally at @keliza13 or just to everyone you know using the hashtag #YesAllWomenANDMEN to bring awareness to how the USCB killings as more than a six-victim warning shot for how our society views women.
Kate Everson is a Chicago journalist and University of Missouri alumna. By day she is an associate editor for four HR industry magazines. By night, she reviews films, outlines fiction novels with tough female leads and dreams of being the first person to win two Oscars in the same night for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. When her fingers aren’t getting exercise bouncing across her keyboard, she’s reading Palahniuk and Vonnegut, practicing her Batgirl skills in the dojo or waiting by the mailbox for her Hogwarts letter. As Katharine Hepburn said: “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting.”