Point of View

Isla Vista shootings show why men as well as women need feminism

May 27, 2014 

Elliot Rodger’s Google+ profile photo


In a recent interview with Time magazine, actress Shailene Woodley set off another round of Internet and media conversation on the merits of feminism. In particular, she commented that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist because she “loves men,” saying the idea to “‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power is never going to work.” What is unsettling about Woodley’s view is not only its lack of understanding of what feminism is, but also that, sadly, many share this mistaken impression.

Woodley is not the first celebrity to come out against feminism, and most likely she won’t be the last. Yet the fallacy of her words and, more importantly, society’s general lack of understanding of or respect for feminism should be reconsidered in light of the tragedy of the Isla Vista shootings May 23.

In a premeditated act declared as “retribution,” Elliot Rodger killed six individuals and injured seven others before taking his own life in response to the rejection he felt from women. Undoubtedly, Rodger was a deeply disturbed young man, but his actions were more than just those of a lonely, mentally ill boy. Rodger’s crimes stemmed from a deep-seated misogyny, a hatred of women.

In addition to YouTube videos, Rodger left behind a chilling 141-page manifesto in which he outlined his feelings toward women, describing them as “beasts […] incapable of having morals or thinking rationally,” and at one point writing, “The first strike against women will be to quarantine all of them in concentration camps. At these camps, the vast majority of the female population will be deliberately starved to death.” As in his videos, he demonstrated his frustration that women would not pay attention to him and lamented his status as a 22-year-old virgin.

Rodger’s outrage comes from a position of privilege and a cultural belief that, as a wealthy white male, he is entitled to sex and the attention of women. It is this same privilege that led police to ignore warnings from Rodger’s own parents that their son was dangerous, the same notion of male entitlement that only weeks earlier led Christopher Plaskon to stab Maren Sanchez to death because she refused his offer to take her to prom.

While the violence and outcome of these incidents are shocking, the gendered stereotypes that led to them are not uncommon. From a young age, boys are socialized to be assertive and aggressive and to see girls as objects to be fought over, as possessions to be won. The media are saturated with hyper-sexualized images that objectify women, and it is not surprising that Rodger’s preferred method for female genocide would be starvation – as a culture, we send the message every day that, for women, to be less is to be more. Men, meanwhile, are denied healthy outlets for their emotions and encouraged to speak with actions, not words. These attitudes extend all the way from the classroom to the boardroom and are ingrained deep within our culture.

In response to the tragedy, women (and men) have begun speaking out on Twitter and social media using the hashtag “#YesAllWomen” to detail and demonstrate the everyday harassment, abuse and injustices women face daily in society – solely because they are women. The speed and spread of the #YesAllWomen campaign demonstrate social media’s ability to bring feminist concerns to the broader public’s attention while creating a space for much-needed conversations on the intersections of gender, race, class and sexuality.

Yet, while using the Internet as a platform to raise awareness is necessary and good, there have to be a deeper meaning, direction and force behind such conversations if we hope to see any sort of fundamental or permanent change.

So let’s begin the dialogue by being clear about what feminism is. Feminism is the movement for social, political and economic equality between women and men. It is not about “hating men” or “taking power” to replace one gender oppression for another. It is about ending sexism and the gender binaries that lock both women and men into limited roles – roles that paint women as “sluts” and men as “brutes,” roles that make a 22-year-old think that death and destruction are preferable to being a virgin.

Yes, all women need feminism, but so do men.

Jenn Brandt is director of Women’s and Gender Studies at High Point University.

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