When news of Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 200 Nigerian girls from a school in April, finally broke, the world was outraged. Opposed to the education of women, the group’s actions were viewed as misogynist extremism – an unimaginable, reprehensible and unacceptable act by a group of Islamic fundamentalists.
More recently a similar explosion of misogynistic extremism rocked the small town of Isla Vista. On Friday, May 23rd (ironically at the same time as a major feminist conference was being held in Toronto) 22-year old Elliot Rodger went on a massacre that left him and six others dead and seven more injured. Prior to his rampage, Elliot posted a video titled “Retribution” on YouTube, outlining in it how as “the true alpha male” he was going to “slaughter” all the “sluts” that had rejected him, saying “…you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.” Filmed in the front seat of his black BMW – that would later power his killing spree – and with palm trees and a golden California sun glowing in the background, Elliot was quite literally and figuratively speaking from a particularly privileged position of upper-middle class, masculine power.
In a similar manner to the ways in which the Boka Haram kidnapping incited the hastag #bringbackourgirls, after the Isla Vista massacre the #YesAllWomen started a polarized social media debate on the ways men feel entitled to women’s bodies. Comments included:
“I have a boyfriend” is the easiest way to get a man to leave you alone. Because he respects another man more than you. #yesallwomen
I’ve spent 19 yrs teaching my daughter how not to be raped. How long have you spent teaching your son not to rape? #yesallwomen
BC when my husband asks me to slow down when we walk together I realize he hasn’t spent his life avoiding street harassment #YesAllWomen
These tweets were all posted by women. One of the few in agreement by a man included:
The #yesallwomen hashtag is filled with hard, true, sad and angry things. I can empathise & try to understand & know I never entirely will.
Popular in this discussion has been the misquotation of Margaret Atwood, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Her full comment came in from a lecture given at the University of Waterloo on February 9, 1982, when she said:
“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.
Apparently not much has changed in the last 32 years.