Sisterhood Blog

Why Santa Barbara Rampage Is Terror Against Women

By Sarah Seltzer

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University of California students at a vigil for the shooting victims. Getty Images

I spent the holiday weekend at my alma mater in Vermont at a writer’s retreat. On our last night in town we were reminded to walk home in numbers, especially if we were women.

Independent in my comings and goings, you’d think that I would scoff at such recommendations, but not this weekend. Not after the mass shooting in Santa Barbara reminded me that there are people out there who hate women enough to inflict random violence on us.

There are misogynist terrorists. There are those who would hurt me because I am Jewish — as tragic incidents in Belgium and Kansas this year show — but the truth is it’s far more likely I’d be targeted because of my gender.

As many writers have noted in the past few days, this weekend’s shooter left screeds online detailing his intent to kill women as punishment for their rejection of him. His horrible act has sparked a national conversation, not just about gun violence, but about murderous misogyny — a specific strain that lurks in movements of “Pick-Up Artsts” and “Men’s Rights Advocates” who congregate online.

Jaclyn Friedman described this hate-fueled “movement” last year in a piece that is now re-circulating.

One of their tactics is to put out a cash bounty for personal information — including home addresses, places of employment, email addresses, and phone numbers — of feminists who upset them. The deluge of hate mail, rape and death threats for those on the receiving end of these witch hunts is hard to describe.

There’s also a more generalized strain of dangerous male entitlement and hatred beyond these organized groups. On the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen conversations about why women feel they must give out fake numbers or wear fake wedding rings abounded — the former because men who are rejected, flat out, might be more prone to violence, the latter, because “I belong to another man” can effectively set a boundary, while “I’m not interested” can provoke ire, and danger.

Sally Kohn is one of several writers who has made the key point that white men who commit such premeditated acts of mass violence get treated by society as nice guys with mental illness. In fact, she notes, most folks who go through with terrorist acts are probably mentally ill. But their ideology is blamed along with their circumstances.

The people who commit mass acts of violence are crazy. Some are also ideologically motivated. We call them terrorists. And yet while in America we’re quick to recognize and politicize the broader implications of Islamic extremism, misogyny is treated not as an ideology but simply a sub-category of crazy.

There will be women now who are even more afraid than they were before to congregate in groups, to leave the house alone, to go out and have fun. If that kind of fear isn’t the price — and the goal — of terrorism, what is?


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