A distinct period of grieving is uniting a broken community in the days following the horrific mass murder in Isla Vista. The tranquil candlelit vigil that took place only 24 hours after the incident was just the first of many compassionate outpourings. But seeping through the harmonious mourning are several charged topics — mental illness, gun control, misogyny — that have begun to shift the response from grief to consideration and discussion. Though Elliot Rodger killed two more men than women on his deadly rampage, the mass murder has been interpreted by many as a misogynistic act because of the disturbing words and videos he left behind.
“It’s a case of a mentally ill person who was brought up in a misogynistic culture,” said UCSB senior Shelby Gripe, who studies biology. A fair number of young women disassociate themselves from the term feminism, a movement UCSB sophomore Grace Smith said is often stigmatized as “bra burning and not shaving your legs.” But a massive Internet conversation about chauvinism and its effect on women has emerged from the tragedy in Isla Vista. This has prompted some to argue that the discussion should take place first and advancing political agendas second.
However, activists say the horrific incident is a sobering reminder of the consequences of misogynic attitudes carried to an extreme and provides an opportunity to be constructive. Last week, students marched through the streets, placing flowers at memorials along the way, raising awareness about an issue they find prevalent in Isla Vista. They welcomed discussions about a culture that tolerates varying degrees of violence toward women, despite considerable backlash.
Most strikingly, the discussion took off in the blogosphere. Countering an argument that all men commit rape, activists argued all women live in fear of oppression and hostility. “#YesAllWomen isn’t about bashing men; it’s about shedding light on what women go through,” one woman tweeted. Within days of the tragedy, there were more than a million submissions. “To all of those who are sick of #YesAllWomen: We’re sick of having to write them. But we need to,” said another.
As Smith has wrestled with the horrific tragedy and its implications, she believes Elliot Rodger merely wanted a woman for a trophy so he could be accepted into society. “We weren’t even humans to him, but a fancy car or a nice pair of shoes,” she said. “This happens time and time again. Men who commit these murders feel isolated. They think the ‘in’ into society is a woman to have sex with.”
“We should talk about the larger cultural illness that nourished his ideology,” said Alisa Alexander, a teaching assistant in the Art History Department, where four of the six murdered had been either past or current students. “There are whole communities of people who hold similar beliefs. That’s the very scary part, even scarier than the idea of a deranged mass murderer.”
And in living rooms in Isla Vista, the talk is about what the term misogyny really means. For instance, in the hectic streets of Isla Vista, harassment is common, students said, from rude comments to uncomfortable stares. “Most people don’t fight back and that’s why it’s become the norm,” said UCSB senior Rachel Glago. “I usually just ignore the person. Every time I fight back, it gets worse. It takes more than one person to do something.”
Last November, an online forum was created to share micro-aggressions, usually defined as nonphysical acts of hostility between people of different identities. The Facebook page has generated considerable discussion in person, too, Glago said.
Discussions about misogyny overlaps with ones about sexual violence, women said, though a rude comment is obviously not equal to rape. Smith, a 20-year-old Isla Vista resident who grew up in Oakland and was very cognizant of violence and sexual assaults, said she never expected to have to deal with these issues when she arrived in the picturesque, beachside college town. “I saw going to Santa Barbara as an escape … but now after living here for two years, the difference between Oakland and Isla Vista doesn’t seem as big anymore.”
Isla Vista is often described as a bubble, one filled with vibrant young people who especially thrive when the sun comes out. But recently, Isla Vista’s bubble has turned into a fish bowl as news outlets combine stories of recent gang rapes, efforts to place “trigger warnings” on course syllabi, and Professor Mireille Miller-Young’s physical altercation with an anti-abortion protestor with their coverage of I.V.