- Rebecca Solnitwriter, historian and activist. She is the author of over a dozen books, including, most recently, Men Explain Things to Me. She is also a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine.
Santa Barbara is grieving after a 22-year-old man killed six college students just after posting a misogynistic video online vowing to take his revenge on women for sexually rejecting him. The massacre prompted an unprecedented reaction online with tens of thousands of women joining together to tell their stories of sexual violence, harassment and intimidation. By Sunday, the hashtag #YesAllWomen had gone viral. In speaking out, women were placing the shooting inside a broader context of misogynist violence that often goes ignored. In her new book, “Men Explain Things to Me,” author and historian Rebecca Solnit tackles this issue and many others. “We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern,” Solnit says. “Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.”
AARON MATÉ: We turn now to the massacre in Santa Barbara, California, where a gunman killed six other people and wounded 13 others. Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college student, fatally stabbed three roommates at his apartment complex near the University of California, Santa Barbara. He then opened fire at a nearby sorority house, killing two women. Rodger continued his rampage with a drive-by shooting on scores of pedestrians, killing one. The attack ended when he crashed his vehicle, found dead at the wheel of what police called a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The rampage was part of a plot Rodger outlined in videos and a manifesto posted online hours before. He described his anger at being sexually rejected by female classmates. He spoke of launching a, quote, “war on women” for failing to see him as, quote, “the true alpha male.”
ELLIOT RODGER: Girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male.
AMY GOODMAN: Elliot Rodger was armed with three semiautomatic handguns and multiple rounds of ammunition, all of which he had purchased legally. In an emotional statement the following day, Richard Martinez spoke out about the loss of his 20-year-old son Christopher, who was killed in the rampage. Martinez denounced the National Rifle Association and the politicians who stand in the way of gun control.
RICHARD MARTINEZ: Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, “Stop this madness! We don’t have to live like this”? Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, “Not one more!”
AARON MATÉ: The massacre also prompted an unprecedented reaction online with tens of thousands of women joining together to tell their stories of sexual violence, harassment and intimidation. By Sunday, the hashtag #YesAllWomen had been used over 500,000 times, the most on Twitter. In speaking out, women were placing the shooting inside a broader context of misogynist violence. While there’s been intense scrutiny of the shooter’s background and mental illness, there has been far less focus on a culture of violence in which nearly all mass shootings are carried out by men, and people like Elliot Rodger feel entitled to victimize the women who reject them.
AMY GOODMAN: In her new book, Men Explain Things to Me, the writer, historian, activist Rebecca Solnit tackles this issue and many others. She writes, quote, “We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender,” she writes.
Rebecca Solnit joins us from the studios of San Francisco. A writer, historian and activist, she has written over a dozen books, including her latest, Men Explain Things to Me. She is also a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine.
Rebecca, your response to what happened in Santa Barbara over the weekend on Friday?
REBECCA SOLNIT: One of the things that was fascinating was the battle of the story. There was such a mainstream desire to say, “Oh, this was aberrant. Oh, he was mentally ill. This has nothing to do with us. This raises no big questions.” And to see feminists and allies speak out and say, “No, this is about misogyny, this is about entitlement,” was really extraordinary. The term “sexual entitlement,” which I had heard before, but not widespread, suddenly began to be used everywhere. And it feels like it really changed the conversation, because so many people insisted on it, so many people got it—this sense that this guy was owed something by women and was furious at them for not giving it to him and that he had the right to exact revenge and all kinds of, you know, what our government calls “collateral damage” on the people around him because his needs weren’t being met.
AARON MATÉ: What can we learn here about the broader culture that enables people like this to do what he did?
REBECCA SOLNIT: I absolutely agree with Richard Martinez that the availability of guns is a huge problem. I think it’s part of a toxic brew in our culture right now that includes modeling masculinity and maleness as extremely—as violence, as domination, as entitlement, as control, and women as worthless, as disposable, as things men have the right to control, etc. And, you know, as well as one of the sad things is that he seemed to have incredibly conventional ideas about what constituted happiness and well-being and his entitlement to them. He seemed to have no resources, no models of alternative ways to meet your needs to be happy, to connect to human beings. So, all of that needs to be addressed, but particularly the violence against women, which is a huge epidemic in this country right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Journalist Laurie Penny wrote an article in the New Statesman headlined “Let’s Call the Isla Vista Killings What They Were: Misogynist Extremism.” In it, Penny writes, quote, “When news of the murders broke, when the digital world began to absorb and discuss its meaning, I had been about to email my editor to request a few days off, because the impact of some particularly horrendous rape threats had left me shaken, and I needed time to collect my thoughts. Instead of taking that time, I am writing this blog, and I am doing so in rage and in grief—not just for the victims of the Isla Vista massacre, but for what is being lost everywhere as the language and ideology of the new misogyny continues to be excused.” Rebecca Solnit, I was wondering if you can comment on this and the fact that it’s not just one video that Elliot Rodger had posted online. He posted numerous videos. And what was his—the indications of his hatred of women before this and why he had not been dealt with?
REBECCA SOLNIT: I think what’s important is to look at the broader picture. He killed six people, but three women every day in the United States are killed by domestic partners, ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends, etc. You know, this is not an isolated event, but part of an epidemic. And you can look at other things he did earlier. In his 140-page sort of manifesto autobiography, he talks about trying to push women off a ledge at a party because they weren’t paying attention to [him], throwing coffee on girls who didn’t respond the way he wanted them to. And you can see these micro-aggressions, and just as you can see Laurie Penny being given rape and death threats, that there is a huge, broad network that we need to look at, and not just this guy, but the fact that, as the hastag says at #YesAllWomen, yes, all women face these kinds of things, not just the women who died and were shot in Isla Vista and the male—you know, the men who got caught in the crossfire. So, you know, I think that we need to broaden the focus from this one guy, who’s no longer alive, and his misery and rage, and to look at the broad picture of how well he fits into a culture of entitlement, how well he fits into a culture of rage, how well he fits into a culture that considers women tools and playthings and property. And then we need to start addressing that. Or maybe we just need to broaden and deepen the way that some of us have been addressing it for decades, including you, of course.
AARON MATÉ: And, Rebecca Solnit, in your book, Men Explain Things to Me, you talk about the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman in New Delhi, and you talk about how that sort of spawned a Emmett Till moment, where India sort of had a reckoning with its rape culture. With the proliferation of—like, with the explosion of the #YesAllWomen hashtag and the response that you saw, are you seeing a similar moment here?
REBECCA SOLNIT: I think we are. I actually feel like, in early 2013, really worldwide, very strongly in India and the United States, we changed the way we talked about rape. You know, we won the battle of the story to stop treating rape as sort of isolated, aberrant incidents and treat it as a widespread problem that arises not from anomalies in the culture, but from the mainstream of the culture. And changing the language was part of that. The word “rape culture,” or the words “rape culture,” the phrase “rape culture,” became very widespread last year and a really important tool in addressing the epidemic of rapes in the military, on campuses and all over the country and in a lot of parts of the world. I feel like the word this year, because we’ve made another kind of breakthrough in discussing it, is “sexual entitlement,” so that—to discuss the broad problems that underlie this particular incident.
So, yeah, I feel like we really shook things up this weekend and that we won the battle of the story. There’s half a million #YesAllWomen tweets. An addressing of the—you know, annoyance of “not all men” as this constant refrain, that changes the subject to the needs of male bystanders, got addressed. And a lot of very powerful women—Laurie Penny, Jennifer Pozner, Amanda Hess and so many more of the great feminist voices of our time—were there immediately to frame this story as a broad story, as a big story, as a story that’s central to our culture, as a story that impacts all women, not just the women who were directly attacked in Isla Vista. And I think that’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca—
REBECCA SOLNIT: —that’s remarkable. I feel like I saw a huge struggle this weekend and one in which we made enormous gains.
AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca, explain “yes all women,” those words, that phrase.
REBECCA SOLNIT: There’s this incredibly annoying phrase, “not all men,” that comes up all the time. You know, you say three women a day are murdered by male partners, and so often some guy will say, “Not all men.” An angry feminist said to me yesterday, you know, “What do they want? A cookie for not raping, beating and murdering?” And, you know, we know it’s not all men, but we need to talk about the fact that it is all women. And that’s what “yes all women” said, is, “Yeah, we know not all men are rapists and murderers, are not abusers and misogynists, but all women are impacted by the men who are.” And that’s where the focus needs to be, because it has such a huge impact.
Every woman, every day, when she leaves her house, starts to think about safety: Can I go here? Should I go out there? Do I need to take the main street? Do I need to be in by a certain hour? Do I need to find a taxi? Is the taxi driver going to rape me? You know, women are so hemmed in by fear of men, it profoundly limits our lives. And of course it’s not all men, but it’s enough that it impacts all women. And it’s pretty nearly worldwide. The tweets were coming from all over the English-speaking world and parts of the world that aren’t primarily English-speaking, to say that this problem impacts me, this problem impacts us, and we need to keep doing things about it. We need to escalate, and we need to address how deeply embedded it is. And we need to make visible what’s been invisible, and we need to change it. And I think this weekend we really started to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca, the title of your book, Men Explain Things to Me, explain it to us, and also the first story and how it relates to what we see this weekend in Santa Barbara.
REBECCA SOLNIT: Yeah, Men Explain Things to Me came about because all my life men would explain things to me that they didn’t necessarily know better than I did, and sometimes I knew much better than they did, because there was this assumption that because of gender they were just inherently knowledgeable and superior and in control, and I was inherently ignorant and in need of an injection of their knowledge, wisdom, insight, etc.
The title story—or the story that inspired it came about in 2003. I was at a party when some guy said to me, “So, I hear you’ve written a few books.” And I said, “Several, actually.” I was at about eight books or seven books at that point. And he said, “And what are they about?” And the most recent one was about Eadweard Muybridge. It’s the father of motion pictures. It’s called River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. And he didn’t comment on that. He said, “Oh, have you heard about the very important Muybridge that just came out?” And he started doing what feminists, immediately after this essay came out, coined or defined as mansplaining—one of the great new words that’s helped us discuss what’s going on in the world. He started telling me about this very important book I should know about. And the woman I was with, my friend Sally, kept saying, “That’s her book.” And he literally didn’t hear her until she had said it three or four times. So this man was telling me about this book I should know about, and it was a book I had written. And he was so full of himself, he literally couldn’t hear me, couldn’t hear her, didn’t ask questions first.
And that was incredibly funny, but it’s part of a slippery slope where men assume the right to talk over you, to not listen to you, to tell you how it’s going to be, to explain reality. What surprised me when I wrote that essay is that I started out with a pretty amusing incident, although one that’s indicative of sexism and a kind of conversational bullying, and I ended up talking about rapes and murders, the ways that women are literally silenced, deprived of their powers, etc. I think it’s important that we look at all this stuff together. It begins with these micro-aggressions; it ends with rape and murder and what Italian feminists call “femicide.”
AARON MATÉ: On our show recently, we featured the voices of college women who have been fighting back against sexual assault, both the incident and then the inability—or the refusal of the schools to punish them. Your take on the way schools in this country have handled rape on campus?
REBECCA SOLNIT: It’s been pretty damn pathetic in a whole lot of ways. One thing is that they tend to worry a lot more in many cases about the well-being of the perpetrators than the victims. Another thing is that they shifted responsibility for preventing rape from men not to rape to women to do all kinds of things to not get raped, which we don’t do with any other crime. And, you know—and then they haven’t pursued these things seriously. It’s also kind of crazy. It’s like, OK, if there’s petty vandalism on campus, maybe that’s a campus issue, but if there’s a felony crime that involves, you know, a woman being strangled, a woman being brutalized, why is that not turned over to the legal system, which is there to deal with those things, the idea that it’s an in-house incident? But what—you know, it’s been mishandled or overlooked, not handled at all, for decades, forever.
But what’s amazing is, because these young women rose up, they said, “This is not acceptable. This is not a legitimate way to deal with it.” Because they used social media, their voices, the mainstream media, they’re organizing to say, “This has to stop. This has to change.” They’re really radically changing how it’s being treated and exposing the universities—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds, Rebecca.
REBECCA SOLNIT: —which are universities from California to Rhode Island, from Florida to Alaska, and saying, “This is going to change.” And they are changing it. This is a very exciting time in feminism. I think that we’re shifting things profoundly.
AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca Solnit, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Her new book is called Men Explain Things to Me.