In killer's world, victims get blamed

Story highlights

  • Emily Lindin: Elliot Rodger is part of a culture that says nice guys are entitled to sex with women
  • Lindin: Extremely misogynistic sites promote view that women are prizes, not actual people
  • Lindin: Facebook page created by proponents was called "Elliot Rodger Is an American Hero"
  • She says we need to eradicate this hate by openly talking about it to children, communities

A powerful reaction to women-hater Elliot Rodger's killing rampage Friday night has been the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, where women point out how misogyny and sexism damage them and restrict their lives. It emerged in response to the common, misguided argument that "not all men" are like that.

Of course not all men are like Elliot Rodger. But he is the product of a culture that condones and in many cases endorses the belief that if you are a "nice guy" -- or a "supreme gentleman" as Rodger described himself -- you are somehow entitled to sex with women.

Gun control, campus safety and mental illness are all issues raised by the massacre, but hatred of women concerns me most. I am the founder of The UnSlut Project, which fights "slut shaming" and sexual bullying in our schools and communities. I'm also a graduate student at University of California, Santa Barbara, where the rampage took place.

Why #YesAllWomen took off on Twitter

Rodger and others like him believe that sex is a reward to be earned, not a consensual activity between adults who respect each other, and that women are prizes to be won, not actual people with the agency to make decisions about their own bodies.

Emily Lindin

Nowhere is this mindset more obvious than in the reactions of some men who actually sympathize with Rodger. Many of these men are self-described Pick-Up Artists, or PUAs, who employ a series of strict rules in order to manipulate women into having sex with them, referring to those women as their "targets."

Rodger allegedly participated in forums on the site PUAHate, which criticizes Pick-Up Artists not because of their obviously misogynist tactics, but because those tactics didn't work for him and other PUAHate members. The site shut down Saturday morning with the message: "PUAHate is about to get a massive amount of press," according to the watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center.

After the killings, the extent of misogyny in this community was revealed in the creation of a Facebook page called "Elliot Rodger Is an American Hero," with the advice for everyone to "share your thoughts and pay your respects to Elliot Rodger here. Also, view this final message from our beloved hero," which links to his videotaped rant, with commenters expressing solidarity with his desire for revenge against women. The page has since been taken down.

The creator of the popular PUA site "Return of Kings" -- where "women and homosexuals are prohibited from commenting" -- claimed, "More people will die unless you give men sexual options." "Manosphere" sites like Return of Kings admire "alpha males," disparage "beta males," and promote hypermasculinity.

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But again, most men are not members of these hate communities and not all men hold similar beliefs. That's not the point. These views are just extreme versions of very common, socially acceptable ideas about women and sex. Rodger was undoubtedly mentally unstable, but some of the sexist ideas in his manifesto are, unfortunately, not the invention of a madman. They're the norm.

This is the first time I have publicly identified myself as a graduate student at UCSB. I founded The UnSlut Project by blogging my own middle school diary, so I use a pen name and guard my identity in order to protect people I mentioned in those diary entries.

But in the wake of this crisis, I want to speak out. The university has responded in an admirable way: setting up a 24-hour call center and extensive counseling options to help students cope, establishing the U.C .Santa Barbara Community Fund to honor the victims, and organizing campuswide memorial events.

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As the details of Rodger's history and the crime itself continue to emerge, we will have a better idea of the institutional steps that could have been taken to prevent it. We will write letters to our representatives and use our votes to speak up about what we believe should be done to prevent future tragedies. But in the meantime, on a personal level, we need to take responsibility for our own reactions to this story.

We teach our children from a young age that a girl's value as a human being is inextricably linked to her sexual behavior. Her virginity is something to be "given up" or even "lost." Sex with her is a prize to be won -- and she herself is equated with that "prize."

In stark contrast, boys are taught that their virginity is something to be ashamed of. Their masculinity depends on sexual prowess and physical dominance. It is from this understanding that the PUA movement arises, populated by boys and men who feel worthless because they don't have sex. Their anger is directed at the women -- the "prizes" -- who refuse to "give" them what they feel they deserve.

So where do we go from here? Although it brought to light the various struggles of women across the country, #YesAllWomen is, ultimately, just a hashtag. It will stop trending. When it does, let's continue the conversation outside the realm of social media.

Tuesday afternoon, I will join the rest of the UCSB community at a memorial service for Rodger's victims. As we mourn Katherine Cooper, Christopher Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Weihan Wang, George Chen, and Cheng Yuan Hong, conversations will focus on their lives, personalities, and accomplishments. But as we move forward and try to make sense of what happened, it's our responsibility to start productive, respectful conversations about the misogyny behind Rodger's actions.

Instead of avoiding talking about sex, let's start age-appropriate conversations with our children about consent and respect. Let's speak up when a man in our group of friends speaks disrespectfully about a woman he's had sex with. And most important, let's analyze our own assumptions about what sex means with regard to different genders. Most men are not killers like Elliot Rodger. Most men don't sympathize with his motives. But all of us, regardless of gender, can contribute to changing the misogynist culture that inspired him.

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