The nation reeled when 22-year-old Elliot Rodger shot and killed several men and women this past weekend in Isla Vista, Calif., allegedly as a sort of twisted retribution for years of sexual rejection. "I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it," Rodger said in a video he posted online before the attacks.
Just hours later and a few hundred miles away, 21-year-old Keith Binder allegedly shot at three women who spurned his sexual advances at a party. They escaped without physical injury, but the two events are otherwise scarily similar.
As PolicyMic writer Elizabeth Plank points out, rather than depicting criminals like Elliot Rodger (and Keith Binder) as a product of society, "The media has depicted him as a bloodthirsty madman, a mere glitch in the system. And yet the facts show a very different story."
To tell this wider narrative, a new Tumblr "When Women Refuse" sprung up over the weekend, drawing attention to the fact that misogynist miscreants like Rodger and Binder are not anomalies — they are just particularly high-profile versions of an ongoing story in which violence is inflicted on women who reject sexual advances.
In just the last few weeks, a man in New Orleans tried to strangle a woman in her friend's home after she spurned his advances; a Massachusetts state representative held down and punched a woman after she refused to have sex with him; a man in Kingston, Jamaica, stabbed his wife to death after they hadn't had sex for two months; and a Connecticut teenager stabbed and killed a girl after she turned down his invitation to prom.
Some other stories already collected on the Tumblr include the two men in Jharkhand, India, who threw acid on a woman after she said she wouldn't sleep with them; the man in Washington D.C. who beat up a group of women after they said they were lesbians and ignored his chat-up attempts; the marine's wife who was killed after she refused rough sex; and the Baltimore teenager who shot and killed a pregnant woman after she rejected sexual advances from him and his twin brother.
"When Women Refuse" serves as a sobering reminder that when men feel entitled to women's bodies, it is not only demeaning, but dangerous. These men see women primarily as sex objects, as prizes to be won and owned, and therefore also believe that women who do not acquiesce to that worldview deserve to be punished.
The media isn't innocent in the propagation of this culture. When Rodger named his first crush, a then-10-year-old whom he recently called an "evil bitch," the tabloids cast her as "the model that teased Elliot Rodger that made him hate women" and "the aspiring model whose childhood rejection of Elliot Rodger lit the fuse that turned him into a murderous madman," criticizing the woman for "barely remembering him" a decade later. As Mary Elizabeth Williams writes at Salon, this "fuels that pervasive, too often unquestioned notion that men lash out because women say no. And it’s a toxic and an irresponsible, sorry excuse for journalism."
Rodger's shooting spree — due to its death count, blatant motive, disquieting video message and misogynist manifesto — may have been particularly sinister. But it is not an isolated event. It is part of a wider, violent culture of male entitlement and female sexualization that hurts, maims and kills.