Violence against women is a global problem.
One week ago Elliot Rodger sent his 141-page autobiographical manifesto, “My Twisted World” to his parents, therapist, police and various mental health professionals. Then he stabbed his two roommates and their friend to death and went to the nearby sorority house he was obsessed with to kill all the women there. When he couldn’t get in, he shot the first three women he saw, killing two. He then drove around, running over five people and shooting eight more, killing one of them, before being wounded by police and finally killing himself.
The entire killing spree lasted only ten minutes. He had 400 rounds of ammunition and three semi-automatic weapons when he was found by police.
Since the mayhem on May 23, a spontaneous outpouring of sentiments and stories by women about their own experiences with male violence was localized in a Twitter hashtag, #YesAllWomen. The hashtag sprang up within hours of Rodger’s rampage and 48 hours later Twitter noted more than a million tweets had been posted.
The social media frenzy ran counter to the meme being promulgated by mainstream media that Elliot Rodger’s disturbing videos and manifesto–rife with his hatred of women–was all about mental illness and not about women at all.
Rodger is pretty much out of the news cycle already, 24/7 news being what it is. What is not out of the news cycle is male violence against women.
Just days after Rodger’s spree killing two events horrified many: the honor killing of a pregnant Pakistani woman, Farzana Parveen, 25, who was stoned to death on the street in Lahore and the rape/murders of 14 and 16 year old cousins in India. The Indian teens were hung from a mango tree after they were killed. Police witnessed the stoning of Parveen, but did not intervene.
Investigations are underway in both cases.
The focus on the killing of Parveen and the two girls deflected attention away from Rodger’s mass shooting and also diverted discussion away from the intense misogyny in his videos and manifesto. Mainstream media and men on social media also shifted the tone of the discourse over male violence, who perpetrates it and who are its “real” victims. Even David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic and a contributor to CNN said that women in the U.S. needed to stop whining about misogyny and take a look at victims of acid burnings in Asia, as if violence “over there” mitigates violence here.
The stoning of Parveen and acid burnings in India and elsewhere in Asia are acts of horrendous violence. Honor killings are a shockingly medieval crime against women in a 21st century world.
Yet focusing on only these crimes against women negates the global nature of crimes against women in the U.S., U.K. and other countries in the developed world where there is not only just as much violence against women as in the developing world, in many places there is more.
There is no qualitative difference between a woman being raped on her way to get water in a developing country and a woman being raped on her way to a convenience store in a developed country. The implication that crimes against women in Pakistan or India are worse implies that there are no crimes against women in the U.S. or other developed nations.
That’s a male narrative about violence against women.
There are more rapes in the U.S. than in any other country–according to the FBI, 250,000 each year. In the EU it is not the Eastern bloc nations or those on the border between two worlds like Turkey or Albania that are the rape capitals but Sweden, one of the most progressive countries in the EU. Rape is so prevalent, one in three women will be a victim of rape, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.
Acts of shocking violence occur in the West, too. On May 27, just a few days after Rodger’s shooting spree, Tahira Ahmed was found decapitated in her London home. Her husband of 14 years, Naheed, was arrested in her murder. Both her arms had been broken and she had been stabbed multiple times. Yet her gruesome killing wasn’t the London headline–the stoning of Parveen a continent away was. Pretending violence against women is “foreign” erases victims and racializes male violence.
According to the World Health Organization, violence against women is pandemic. The attitudes described by Elliot Rodger are not the anomaly many men would have us believe. #YesAllWomen told endless stories in millions of tweets about misogyny and brutality–crimes against women never punished by law or even societal opprobrium. But the majority of the women tweeting were in the West.
The reality is, violence against women is not one random outburst by a possibly mentally ill man. It is all around us. And women need to use whatever tools possible, from hashtags to the #YesAllWomen rallies being held to getting rape kits tested to demanding men be held accountable for their crimes until more attention is paid to victims, than to perpetrators.