A deadly attack by a gunman obsessed by grievances toward women near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has touched off an anguished conversation here and on social media about the ways women are perceived sexually and the violence against them.
“If we don’t talk misogyny now, when are we going to talk about it?” asked Nancy Yang, a second-year global studies major, as she stood a few feet from a memorial created in the wake of the rampage on May 23 that left six people and the gunman dead and 13 wounded. “Yes, we have to have compassion, and we don’t know what this perpetrator was going through, but there are underlying issues here,” she said. “We can’t do that without thinking about the way we talk about and speak to women.”
Even as students are still dealing with the shock of hearing gunshots in front of a local convenience store and seeing the dead and wounded bodies in the street, many here are urging others to consider the implications of the attack. And they are also thinking about the catcalls, leers and the fears of sexual violence that have them traveling in packs and carrying pepper spray in their purses.
Of course, they say, a lewd look is not the same as a sexual assault. An unwanted comment is not the same as a gunshot. But many women, on the university campus and online, said they believed that some of the attitudes toward women expressed by the gunman, Elliot O. Rodger, in his perverse manifesto reflect some views that are echoed in the mainstream culture.
For many women, the attacks were like a nightmare caricature of the safety concerns they deal with regularly on a campus where a high-profile gangrape in February (a 19-year-old was allegedly raped and beaten by at least three men) prompted widespread concerns about safety.
In dozens of interviews, women voiced concerns about incessantly hearing jokes about rape or what physical features make a woman desirable. At some parties, several women said, their buttocks have been grabbed at the entry door.
“I do live in fear — this is a difficult part of our reality,” said Maddie Clerides, 19, a sophomore majoring in global studies. Clerides said she was not alone in her worries. After the shootings, many women left the campus in fear or at the urging of their parents. “We don’t walk in groups because we like being in cliques; we have real concerns. We don’t invite this on ourselves by the way we look,” she said.
The conversations have also exploded on social media, with hundreds of thousands of people using the hashtag #yesallwomen to discuss violence against women and reveal deep-seated feelings of anger and horror at the sexual expectations and violence directed at women.
Several others wrote about being told by boyfriends and husbands that they continued…