May 27 2014
Jessica Valenti’s seemingly bizarre response to accused killer Elliot Rodger’s killing rampage already has been noted on the blog.
It’s become customary for these mass killings to be instantly politicized. But Valenti ’s response seemed to me to go where we have not been before.
Valenti regards Rodger’s mass murder spree as the result of sexist values in our culture. Valenti, I noted, appeared unable to recognize insane behavior when she sees a deranged person go on a killing spree.
Neither apparently does the New York Times, which had a front-page story today headlined “Campus Killings Set Off Anguished Conversation about the Treatment of Women.
Rodgers did hate women (and, indeed, he hated men, too: more men than women died in the Isla Vista rampage). Among the ravings he left behind was this: “Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men but never to me." To me that sounds nuts, especially when set into the tragic context of death and destruction.
Nevertheless, within hours of the murders, a twitter tag called #YesAllWomen had been created to talk about Rodger’s actions. Like Valenti, #YesAllWomen seem to situation what the deranged Rodger did within the framework not of mental derangment but of merely exaggerated behavior in a supposedly sexist society.
Heather Wilhelm describes the #YesAll Women tweets at The Federalist. She notes:
Other #YesAllWomen complaints—and please, keep in mind that this is in response to a killing spree—include the following: “Here’s to never hearing a dude tell a woman to ‘smile’ ever again”; “If I don’t feign an interest in what the too-friendly grocery clerk is telling me, everyone in line will judge me”; and, my personal favorite: “When I asked for Happy Meal and didn’t specify a gender, they gave me ‘boy’ toys. Male is the default.” As far as I can tell, that last one was not a joke, but I did laugh out loud.
I’ll admit that I was baffled by the response of Valenti and like-minded women to the killings. However, I think Wilhelm has nailed what is at its root. In her post, headlined “Hijacking a Mass Murder to Boost Self Esteem,” she concludes:
Let’s make no mistake—sexual assault is a serious problem. The sad reality is that women have to take more safety precautions than men. But #YesAllWomen, when it comes down to it, isn’t even remotely about sexual assault. It’s not about feminism or empowerment, or practical solutions to crime (like, say, concealed carry laws), and it certainly has nothing to do with a deranged college student killing six people. It’s about taking a tragedy and turning it into “I Want To Talk About Me.” In fact, #YesAllWomen might end up being the most narcissistic event of 2014, which is saying something, given that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West just got married.
Why, in our age of unprecedented plenty—and, at least in America, unprecedented power for women—is victimhood so appealing to so many? When complete strangers were murdered on the West Coast, why do hundreds of thousands of people, healthy in body if not in mind, enthusiastically latch on, insisting that they were victims too?
For certain people, the Internet offers a compelling, powerful alternate universe in which to dwell. Press reports describe the accused murderer as living in a lonely world of YouTube videos, video games, and twisted representations of reality. In his mind, everything—every loss, every perceived failure, every tiny personal slight, real or imagined—was blown out of proportion. Everything was taken personally. Everything, in the end, was all about him and his imagined victimhood.
Scarily, many of the posters on #YesAllWomen, to varying degrees, seem to share the same problem. For all of his hatred of women, the crazed, lonely murderer and the impassioned “feminist” Twitter activists might have something in common after all. Yikes, ladies. Yikes.
That doesn’t let the New York Times off the hook, though.