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5:11 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

A Killer's Manifesto Reveals Wide Reach Of Misogyny Online

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 7:53 am

The misogynistic manifesto written by Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who police say killed six people before taking his own life Friday, quickly led to an outpouring on Twitter under the hashtag #YesAllWomen. Women and men alike used the hashtag to share stories and statistics about harassment and sexual assault.

According to the analytics site Topsy, there have been over 1.6 million tweets mentioning #YesAllWomen so far.

In a piece in The New Statesman, writer Laurie Penny says men have long expressed many of the same misogynistic thoughts Rodger conveyed in forums across the Internet.

In her piece, Penny writes, "Why can we not speak about misogynist extremism — why can we not speak about misogyny at all — even when the language used by Elliot Rodger is everywhere online?"

Penny tells NPR's Melissa Block that the language Rodger used to denigrate women online is similar to the verbal attacks and rape threats she's received as a writer.

She was angry, she says, when she heard of Friday's shooting. "I think that anger is politically important," she says. "Women are usually allowed to say that we're frightened or we feel like victims when we are the target of attacks like this. But what we're not allowed to say is that, 'Actually, I'm really, really cross. I'm furious. I want to stop this happening.' "


Interview Highlights

On men's rights forums and misogynistic language online

The language used on men's rights activists' forums is an extreme version of language that you see everywhere on the Web. ... It's not just sites which are dedicated to hating and slut-shaming women — it's online video games; it's YouTube and Facebook.

The ideology seems to be that men are owed sex and respect and love and adoration by women — not because they deserved it, not because that's what human beings need, but because that is their right as men. And if they don't get it, they're entitled to rape, to beat and even to kill, as was the ultimate end of Elliot Rodger's really sad, disturbing manifesto.

On the origin of #YesAllWomen from #NotAllMen

One of the most horrifying [reactions] has been the pushback that "not all men do this," "not all men think like this." Well, of course, not all men are killers, not all men are violent misogynists. But the idea that before we speak about misogynistic extremism we should take men's feelings into account and make sure no man listening to that conversation feels threatened or has his ego bruised, that's really, really dangerous. That's the language of silencing. And that's what the #YesAllWomen hashtag was a response to.

On the impact of a hashtag

Change doesn't happen when one person stands on a platform and says something powerful. Change is about tiny little alterations in mindset, and the Internet lets that happen much, much faster and much, much easier. It makes it impossible to ignore. And personally for me, that's what a hashtag does; that's what it's about. It all happens so much faster, and it happens on a much more intimate, personal level. It's both personal and political, and that's what makes it so powerful.

On the reaction from men to her post

Many men and boys have emailed me, not just to say, oh, my gosh, this is awful, but they're saying: How can I change this? How can I make this different? How can I, as a man, step up and support women and girls and create a better world?

Because they don't want young men to grow up in this world, either. That, to me, is what's really, really heartening about this conversation, as well as the fact that it's enabling women and girls of all ages ... to talk about their experiences in a public forum which is so wide and so broad, it allows them to be braver and be supported.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: The killings in Isla Vista and the vile misogynistic screed written by the killer quickly led to an outpouring on Twitter under the hashtag #YesAllWomen. More than a million and a half tweets so far, including these - because I shouldn't have had to send my daughter's to college with pepper spray and a rape whistle.

And - because I've never felt completely safe since I was first threatened and harassed at age 14. On the flipside of that, there's a long-standing online current of men who express many of the same misogynistic thoughts as the killer. Writer Laurie Penny has written a powerful piece in The New Statesman exploring the twisted ideology behind the attacks. She calls it misogynistic extremism that's too often ignored and excuse as an aberration, when it's real and pervasive and deadly. Laurie Penny joins me now from London. Thanks for being with us.

LAURIE PENNY: Thank you for having me on.

BLOCK: Laurie, you say in your piece I make no apologies for the fact that this piece is full of rage. Why don't you explain what you mean there?

PENNY: So when I sat down to write this piece, it came after a long week where I had been on the receiving end of a lot of sexist and misogynist attacks online. I had rape threats. And I just had been about to e-mail my editor and say, actually, this has really, really got to me, can I have a couple of days off? And then I went on Twitter, went online and saw that this horrific assault had happened, and that the words being used by the killer were so similar to the threats that I was getting, the threats that I knew many people I come into contact with are getting, and I was just full of anger.

And I think that anger is politically important. Women are usually allowed to say that were frightened or we feel like victims when we are the target of attacks like this, but what we're not allowed to say is that actually I'm really, really crossed, I'm furious, I want to stop this happening.

BLOCK: You've spent time, Laurie, looking into some of the so-called men's rights forums online, forms that the killer in California was apparently quite active in. And you describe them as a disturbing cult of women hatred. What did you find?

PENNY: Well, I think it's important to note that the language used on forums, men's rights activist forums, is an extreme version of language that you see everywhere on the web. You see it everywhere where men believe they can speak about women with impunity and men believe they can harass women with impunity. It's not just sites which are dedicated to hating and slut-shaming women, it's online video games, it's YouTube and Facebook - the language of sexism and rape threats is becoming more and more common.

And the ideology seems to be that men are owed sex and respect and love and adoration by women not because they deserved it, not because that's what human beings need, but because that is their right as men. And if they don't get it, they're entitled to rape, to beat and even to kill, as was the ultimate end of Elliott Rogers really sad disturbing manifesto.

BLOCK: What bothers you, Laurie, about how the killings in Isla Vista have been portrayed in the media?

PENNY: There have been a lot of angles on the Isla Vista killings that have been extremely disturbing. One of the most horrifying has been the pushback that not all men do this, not all men think like this. Well, of course not all men are killers, not all men are violent misogynists. But the idea that before we speak about misogynistic extremism we should take men's feelings into account and make sure no man listens to that conversation, feels threatened or has his ego bruised - that's really, really dangerous. That's a language of silencing, and that's what the #YesAllWomen hashtag was a response to.

BLOCK: You know, I'm struck by a tweet from a man - I may be mispronouncing his name - Albert W. Dubreuil - who wrote - started reading the #YesAllWomen tweets because I've got a daughter, but now I see I should be reading them because I've got two sons.

PENNY: Yes, and many men and boys have e-mailed me not just to say, oh, my gosh, this is awful, but they're saying how can I change this? How can I make this different? How can I as a man step up and support women and girls and create a better world?

That, to me, is what's really, really heartening about this conversation. As well as the fact that it's enabling women and girls of all ages, but particularly young women and girls to talk about their experiences in a public forum, which is so wide and so broad and allows them to be braver and be supported.

BLOCK: Laurie Penny, thanks very much for talking with us.

PENNY: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Laurie Penny is contributing editor with The New Statesman. Her forthcoming book is titled "Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution."

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.