Like many others, I was horrified to hear that Elliot Rodger, a 22 year old California man killed 6 people, apparently in an act of revenge towards the women he was attracted that wouldn't sleep with him and the men who succeeded where he failed. This incident seemed to touch many of us in a painful place and has led to heated discussions on misogyny, male entitlement, and sexual harassment. Two twitter hashtags gained popularity as a result of this incident - #notallmen for men who say that not all men do these things, and in response to that - #yesallwomen for women to explain how misogyny affects all of us on a daily basis. What follows is my story, and thoughts.
I was about 8 or 9 when I was first experienced discomfort around the opposite sex. It was an incident that was innocent enough. A boy in my class had a crush on me. He had made this clear a couple of times, and I guess I hadn't responded positively enough for him, so he decided to change tactic. I was walking home from school when suddenly I hear somebody calling out my name. It was his brother warning me "Aletia, look out, [boy's name] is coming to kiss you". The two of them were racing towards me at an alarming rate. I ran the rest of the way home with those two boys tearing after me, and left it to my father to explain why I didn't want to come out of my room and be his girlfriend.
In his article entitled "Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement and Nerds", blogger and self confessed nerd Arthur Chu describes how video games like Mario and movies like "Revenge of the Nerds" contribute to a belief amongst nerds that if you are persistent enough, try a different tactic, or pretend to be somebody you are not, you will eventually "get the girl". This sense of entitlement (to a beautiful girlfriend) is a strong theme in Elliot Rodger's manifesto and his video. (Yes, I watched and read). The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the right of a woman as a human being to have a say in who she dates, and when.
A few years later, as a young teenager, also on the walk home, an older man followed me and when he got close enough, asked me out. I didn't know what to say, because I didn't know him, and thought I was maybe too old for getting kidnapped, but too young for dating. In the end, I declined and nothing else happened, but it was odd, and left me a bit warier than I had previously been of strange men. Since then there have been the usual wolf whistles, persistent asker-outer-ers, and other awkward moments that I won't go into. In my late twenties, I was accused of having an affair with a much older man, and this really shook me. One rumour was that the man had fantasised about having a relationship with me, based on what I had thought was a positive, platonic, mentoring relationship.
These encounters have left me very hesitant about friendships with older men. They also tap into another emerging theme: that, yes, all women have experienced incidents that make them wary of men. Some of the stories on the #yesallwomen hash tag are far more disturbing than mine, but the point is that overwhelmingly it is men who rape and sexually harass, and it is mainly women (although young men too) who are the victims. Society tells women how to avoid rape, placing a sense of blame incorrectly onto women, while very rarely telling men to take responsibility for their actions. The idea that we need to be raising young men who respect women and understand what they go through is hardly on anyone's radar.
In the article "Lessons from #Notallmen / #Yesallwomen", by Devin McHutchin, the idea of male privilege is explored. The reality is that, while not all men will rape or murder, all men do benefit from being male and the privileged position men hold in society. Centuries of positive reinforcement mean that men on average are more confident than women, earn more, and are treated with more respect for the simple reason that they were born male. I remember feeling a strong sense of injustice because my father let my boyfriend drive his car but not me, despite the fact I am still the only one out of the three of us with a completely clean driving record. My boyfriend at the time had no qualms about benefiting from this priveleged, boys club mentality. And, just as I benefit from being white, and know that I can be unintentionally racist from time to time, I am wary of men who claim not to be sexist. Even my gentlest, most gender-aware male friends have been known to make occasional assumptions or comments that perpetuate patriarchal norms, and cause offence.
So, I do feel that #yesallwomen have stories of harassment, discrimination and worse. Our past experience does influence how we respond to new men that we meet. And yes all men benefit from society's bias towards them. What we as men and women need to do is to change the way we all view the coupling process. The only sense of entitlement anybody should feel is entitled to say no. Also, we should be brave enough to stand up and question the most harmful beliefs that lead to violence against women, and encourage the men in our lives to listen, openly and humbly, to our stories, as that is always the first step to healing.