'When Women Refuse' Proves Violence Doesn't Usually Come With a Misogynistic Manifesto

Started in the aftermath of the Isla Vista, Calif., massacre, the Tumblr blog chronicles the horrific and all-too-common consequences of sexism.

(Photo: When Women Refuse/Tumblr)

Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at GOOD.

Male violence against women who refuse sexual advances isn’t merely the domain of a college student suffering from mental health issues. It’s an epidemic that’s a troubling part of the fabric of America. That’s the message sent by When Women Refuse, a Tumblr blog created on Monday in response to Friday night’s horrific mass shooting in Isla Vista, Calif., near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The blog's creator, feminist activist, author, and Lux Digital cofounder Deanna Zandt, told Think Progress that she was inspired to start the site because “we still don’t view gender based violence as a large cultural issue—we tend to think of these as isolated incidents.”

In the aftermath of the shooting, media detailed the mental health challenges of the shooter, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, who targeted women who had spurned his advances. Rodger killed six people before turning a gun on himself. Snippets of Rodger’s 137-page manifesto to friends and relatives have been published, and then there are the chilling videos he posted on YouTube.

"I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it," Rodger declared in one video just hours before he embarked on his shooting spree.

In an effort to distance themselves from Rodger’s deadly misogyny, men took to social media with the hashtag #NotAllMen to post tweets like, “Dividing men into the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' is short-sighted.” Zandt told Think Progress that she noticed that several guys in her social networks also shared the belief that Rodger’s actions were an exception. Then, after seeing writer Kate Harding sharing news stories on her Facebook page of men who’d used violence after being rejected, Zandt decided to launch the Tumblr to show Rodger’s actions weren't an isolated incident.

Anyone can submit a story of a woman who's been the victim of violence because she rejected sexual advances. Scrolling through the When Women Refuse submissions shows that Rodger’s actions aren’t unique. There’s the story of a 16-year-old stabbed to death after refusing to be a guy’s prom date, and the tragic (and all-too-common) tale of a woman whose controlling ex couldn’t get over her and stabbed her, her mother, and her new boyfriend.

More than 60 stories have been posted in the past day, and many of them are personal.

“My friend Raven Buckley was a beautiful 25-year-old woman with a bright future. On April 25, 2008, she was leaving her office for lunch when she was approached by a man that she had briefly dated,” said one submission. “After telling the man that the relationship was over, she [was] held down and shot multiple times on the busy streets of downtown Atlanta.”

The Tumblr spread thanks to the #YesAllWomen, a hashtag created over the weekend in response to #NotAllMen. The hashtag makes it clear that although not all men craft manifestos, post YouTube videos, and shoot women who have rejected them, all women have experienced some sort of sexual harassment or violence.

“There’s been a really positive reaction from both men and women,” said Zandt. “I think it’s been really eye-opening for many people. The most common response has been ‘Oh, my God, I had no idea.’ ”

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