Comment: 'Not all men' arguments miss the point in wake of Isla Vista killings

Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic manifesto has inspired a powerful response on Twitter, with women across the world uniting against violence using the hashtag #YesAllWomen. But in some quarters there's opposition to the movement - why?

Isla Vista

Students gather for a candlelight vigil on the University of California Santa Barbara campus May 24, 2014 to remember those killed during a rampage in nearby Isla Vista. (AAP)


Given the truism that death brings out the worst in people, social media really gives them the platform to truly tarnish.

This is particularly relevant of Sunday’s attacks in Isla Vista. As soon as the news became known one man killed 6 and injured 13, people clung online to each other in support and shock, desperate to discuss the issues the attack raised.

This is a natural response, especially when the attacker had just a clearly articulated hatred of women.

But, just as quickly, voices were raised to silence the debate. Quick automatic distraction and disagreement emerged, the nip on the heel to quell debate.

How can you comfortably admit misogyny exists and yet still retain rights to the culture that lets you earn more money, enjoy greater legal protection, safety, professional advancement, status and choice than women? You can’t.
While disagreement is one of the cornerstones of social media, it is astounding what land speed records were reached to voice disapproval, even if the fast rebuttals sprang from stock replies.

Not all men are like this!

Have you considered the people who died?

I’m a nice guy! He killed men too!

It’s depressing people think every guy is a potential rapist or murderer!

Two students look at a sign that reads 'We are Gauchos We are Strong We will Remember' set up outside an apartment in the college town of Isla Vista, California, USA, 25 May 2014 where a deadly shooting rampage left seven dead and 13 wounded. (AAP)

We could make a speedy tweet bot for replies or face another unsettling reality: people react strangely when it comes to discussing violence against women.

There’s no conspiracy in these reactions; these are the natural responses of people who aren’t actively trying to be that guy – the guy who persists with a line of questioning that either skates the edge of sexism or plunges straight off the cliff into Misogynia, population: them. Yet with their discomfort, their need to disagree, they become that guy.

While there is no conspiracy, no organised mission to shut down the feminist front, there is still unchecked sexism at play. A knee-jerk defense mechanism to shut down discussion before anyone has to face the fact every single person lives with the dreadful impact that is sexual and physical violence against women.

When the attacks happened, women started sharing their stories. Of stalkings, of nice guys who took it over the line to how they continually adjust their lives against potential attack – their movements, dress, where they go, how long they stay out, if where they park their car or walk to whether they should complain to police.

Contrast that wealth of personal lived experience, that shadowed hoard of horror tales, of near misses or actually happened and then hear "not all men".

Compare a woman’s life of being told to change every aspect of her behaviour that could "cause" her to be attacked and learn it is "depressing" for men that women view all as potential rapists.

So when a killer leaves behind vast reams of testimony stating his hatred of women and a need to punish them and the men who take women he thinks are his, not to mention 6 bodies and 13 injured people, why are even we arguing over whether this was another example misogynistic violence against women?

It's hard to hear one gender has a stasticstically-proven habit of hurting other genders (as well as its own). But the string-pull responses - "not all men" or "I'm a nice guy" or here's a previous legal standard of proof I'll demand that I require in no other aspect of my life or conversation - are the equivalent of "la la la I'm not listening to you and  downing you out".

But the facts remain. A woman dies every week in Australia in intimate partner violence. One in three women are victims of sexual or physical assault. In NSW alone, there are over 385 domestic violence incidents per day, making it the largest volume crime type in the state.

Thinking of that volume and contrast it to a man bristling against an editorial suggesting men should work harder to be considered feminist. He resented the obligation to continually challenge sexist behaviour because he claimed it would make his life one of perpetual disagreement, a luxury not afforded to women.

But that luxury also speaks to a broader truth – there are some men, nice guys, who have a foot in both camps. It’s a social efficiency where token gestures grant you acceptance within feminism and yet still retain the creature comforts of patriarchy. That knee-jerk reaction to silence the female experience preserves the balance of their male experience and comfort.

How can you comfortably admit misogyny exists and yet still retain rights to the culture that lets you earn more money, enjoy greater legal protection, safety, professional advancement, status and choice than women? You can’t. That’s why women are silenced: because if men acknowledge misogyny and sexism, they have to acknowledge how they benefit misogyny and sexism.

So, violence against women? Not all men want to talk about it. But, yes, all women face the consequences.

5 min read
Published 27 May 2014 at 11:32am