Why I can’t write about the Isla Vista massacre

Less than a day later, we all know the story: in Santa Barbara, California, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger stabbed three people to death in his apartment before embarking on a drive-by shooting rampage that left seven people dead and, by differing accounts, anywhere between seven and thirteen injured. Rodger’s father Peter works in the film industry (media accounts emphasise his role in the recent blockbuster The Hunger Games). He and Elliot’s mother reported their son to police after discovering a disturbing series of YouTube videos Elliot had made. A video named ‘Retribution’ was posted only hours before the killings, outlining details eerily similar to the bloodshed that followed. A total of 21 videos were uploaded over a three month period, indicating an obsession with his perceived rejection by women: quotes such as ‘If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you’ and threats to ‘slaughter every blonde slut I see’ have become ubiquitous on media reports about the murders.

Rodger was also linked explicitly to both men’s rights and pick-up artist communities, with his video declaration about being ‘the true Alpha Male’ employing the language for which these movements are notorious.

Confession: I Need You To Keep Talking, All of You.

And like clockwork, the words follow. Defences, attacks, we try and talk our way through the shock, the horror, the disgust and the confusion. We build towers out of tweets and Facebook status updates as we struggle desperately to create something concrete to cling to when events like this happens. It’s about mental illness! It is not about mental illness! It’s about gun control! It’s not about gun control! It’s a broader issue about the representation of women! It’s not a broader issue about the representation of women! Yes no yes no yes no yes no. We don’t know, we can’t know, but we need to know. Please, someone, blog the answer I know you are unable to provide me with. Blog it now.

I cling to the noise, I need it. Frenetic and desperate as it is, it’s at least  something tangible.  At times like this, my allergy to pop-feminism websites like Jezebel and its signature shyness about intersectionality fall by the wayside: I want community mindedness, and I’ll tolerate even the shallowest essentialist sloganeering to get it. With work-like determination, I circumnavigate the sewer of Internet weirdness that events like this trigger. I wait for Amanda Palmer to write a poem. I wonder how The Onion will respond. Keep the volume up, troops, the silence is where the real thoughts live.

Confession: I Do This to Make Sure My Gaze Stays Looking Outward.

There is something about the magnitude of the murderous misogyny that manifested in Santa Barbara that creates a strange tension I find very difficult to articulate.  On one hand, the idea of real people being murdered because some terrifying sexist weirdo had access to firearms renders my own lived experience of gendered violence pretty minor by comparison. But then again, I can’t help but wonder about what precise lines that separate so-called ‘everyday sexism’ and ‘casual misogyny’ from acts like this: where are those lines, who draws them, and how do we identify them? Is there a spectrum of seriousness based on body count and how much blood has been spilt? If so, can we provide the victims of gendered violence – in all its guises, with its myriad brutalities – with an infographic so they can sleep better at night?

Here’s why I panic: maybe there aren’t any lines. Maybe all misogyny is violent, all sexism holds at its core a kind of brutality – be it emotional, physical or psychological.  I cannot talk about what happened in Santa Barbara and quarantine it from my own life, and this makes me ashamed for reasons I struggle to admit: is this disrespectful to those who died so needlesslessly and so horribly?

Confession: I’m Scared.

The recent brouhaha surrounding anonymous reviewing at the Saturday Paper makes my decision to submit this article to Overland anonymously frankly feel pretty pissweak. Mea culpa: I am a coward.

For the last five years I have been the victim of what is commonly described as a stranger stalker: someone I do not know got it in their head to commit significant amounts of their time and energy to terrorising me and my child. This threat has become part of the furniture of everyday life in my household (quite literally, in the case of the baseball bat kept under our bed, one that I still take to the mailbox with me on my harder days). I have taken this person to court on numerous occasions and, unlike many women in my position, I can say both the police and the courts have been sympathetic to my situation.  I know it is bad for me but – again, another confession – sometimes I look at this stalker’s (prodigious) online profile, just to remind myself that he’s not some monstrous boogieman I’ve conjured in a childlike dream state. Oh, you self-identify as a feminist I see? Lesson: it’s not only the men’s rights activists and the pick-up artist forum members we need to watch out for.

After reviewing the details of my case, judges and members of the police force (both male and female) have told me this stalker ‘probably’ isn’t dangerous. To their credit, however, they also admitted that ‘probably’ isn’t good enough. What also isn’t good enough is that I can’t put my own name on this article. And be it Santa Barbara or Brunswick, what absolutely isn’t good enough is that a woman cannot walk down the street safely.

In terms of gendered violence, phrases like ‘everyday sexism’ are the euphemistic equivalent of ‘king hit’: there’s nothing casual here, let’s stop shrugging this off. Misogyny is always brutal in some way: someone is using force to gain power over someone else based on gender difference.  I feel guilty that I cannot glean any kind of objectivity or clarity about what has happened in Santa Barbara, bogged down as I am in my own experiences. What has happened to these people – and what happens to legions of women around the world, around Australia, around my suburb every single day – makes my story seem tame, almost dinky, by comparison. What is the unit of measurement for the trauma resultant of gendered violence:  do we need to bleed more?

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Keep ‘fighting’ sister. I think gun control is really important. I think men influencing men is important. Your story isn’t ‘tame’ or ‘dinky’. You sound like you’ve done the right things. Sit tight and remain confidently assertive. There’re lots of us in this boat. We need to stay calm for our own sakes but putting your case is critical until the chains fall.

  2. I don’t think submitting this anonymously makes you a ‘coward’. If anything it further validates the notion that sexual discrimination is systemic in our society, and in some cases leads to grotesque acts of sexual violence.

    I don’t think it’s productive to draw lines. No spectrum differentiating between ‘tame’ to ‘severe’ acts of gendered violence helps foster an understanding of how to confront this problem.

    I speak from personal experience as a survivor of sexual violence in my teens. At the time I was led to believe it was ‘my fault’. Only learning later this simply a form of victim silencing.

    All we can do is speak out, and let others know how prevalent sexual violence is.

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