A terrible tragedy occurred on May 23, 2014 when Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded thirteen additional people in Isla Vista, California. His attacks, which took place near University of California, Santa Barbara campus, ranged from stabbings to shootings to attacks with his car. At the end of his spree he took his own life.
The day before the attacks occurred, Rodger released a video on YouTube explaining his plan for the killings and giving an explanation for why he wanted to hurt so many people. Ever since he was young, he had been a social outcast, and he felt extremely frustrated at the rejection he had faced over the years, particularly from women. In part, he wanted to take “revenge” on women for never giving him the affection and love he felt he was owed.
It’s chilling that Rodger felt that he was entitled to women’s bodies and affection and that, when he didn’t get what he wanted, he had the right to punish them for treating him “wrong.” It stands as a testament to the underlying sexism in our culture that teaches us that men have a right to access women’s bodies. In response to the attacks, the hashtag #YesAllWomen was created in order for women to share experiences that demonstrated men’s “entitlement” to women’s bodies. It was meant to show that this is a universal experience for all women; that every woman has at least one experience where a man felt entitled to access her body in some way or another. The hashtag has exploded in popularity and many heartbreaking stories have been shared by women all around the world. It has been eye-opening to see how many women have been directly affected by misogynistic actions or gender violence.
Seeing these hashtags have given me the opportunity to reflect upon my own experiences. I could tell several stories of when men or boys felt entitled to in some way use my body. When I was just a kid, a boy in my neighborhood catcalled me as I walked home - and when I didn’t respond, he threw a rock at my neck. As a teenager, boys would constantly pick me up without my permission, leaving me feeling very powerless. A boy once tripped me on purpose so he could catch me when I fell; I guess he thought it was cute and romantic. I thought it was rude and embarrassing. In college a young man I was friends with constantly pushed the boundaries of our friendship and made me feel like we were more of a couple rather than friends. He rarely asked for my consent when he held my hand or cuddled with me. I constantly felt worried about what he would try next and whether I would be able to physically ward off his advances.
As women, we live in a world where men feel as though they have a right to our bodies. Part of the power of #YesAllWomen is that it reveals just how universal this experience is for women and the fact that it must change if we want our society to be a safe space for women and girls. If you are a woman and you haven’t already participated, I urge you to share your stories with others or to read the stories that have already been shared; together we can show the world the ugliness of misogyny and fight for change.