Shannon Corregan: Defending the right to bodily autonomy

Hundreds of Victorians will be marching on June 8 toward Centennial Square as part of our second annual SlutWalk.

For a quick recap, SlutWalk became an instant international movement in 2011, after Toronto police Const. Michael Sanguinetti suggested during a speech on campus safety at York University that women should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

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SlutWalk’s goal is to change the conversation about sexual assault from victim-blaming (i.e., placing the onus on women to avoid being raped, as though rape is a natural phenomenon, like the weather) to teaching men not to rape.

Its broader message is that women have the right to make their own choices, including their own sexual choices. Slut or prude, it’s all the same: Women are people.

This is an incredibly important message, given the events of last weekend.

On May 23, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college student at the University of California Santa Barbara, went on a killing spree and murdered six people before shooting himself. His first victims were his male roommates, but it is clear that he then knocked on the door of a sorority house, and when he couldn't get in, shot two women in the street. In his video manifesto posted to YouTube hours earlier, Rodger says: “I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there.”

There’s nothing I can say about the UCSB massacre that hasn’t already been covered by Jessica Valenti at The Guardian, or in “Elliot Rodger and men who hate women” on the website The Belle Jar, but it’s worth repeating a few points.

Yes, Rodger had been in therapy. No, this is not enough to explain why he did what he did. This kind of thinking is lazy and dangerous. Calling him a “lunatic” or “deranged” does not help us understand his actions, and it incorrectly stigmatizes people who live with mental-health issues. We cannot call him “crazy” and have done with it.

News stories keep asking where the red flags for his “crazy” were, but there were plenty of red flags. Rodger was active on misogynistic and anti-feminist websites, and had posted several diatribes to YouTube. He found a home among other men who blamed women for their own sense of alienation. To quote Tina Vasquez’s Twitter comment: “People can leave an online trail of their hatred for women and it doesn’t raise any red flags because hating women is normal.”

If this statement sounds extreme, I can only point to the evidence: Nobody thought his opinions counted as red flags.

Rodger hated women because he felt that, as a class of people, they owed him. He wanted to punish women for failing to give him what was due to him as a man.

“I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it,” he says in his video. He was angry at women for rejecting him and angry at the men they chose instead. And nobody thought this was weird.

There is an enormous array of cultural forces telling women that if men aren’t interested in them, it’s their fault — they’re too needy or too bossy or not skinny enough. We also have an enormous array of cultural forces telling men — in subtle but powerful ways — that women owe them their time, attention and sexual interest, and that if they don’t receive it, they have a right to be angry, as though they’ve been cheated or wronged.

A few weeks ago, a boy in Connecticut stabbed a girl to death for refusing to go to prom with him. Only hours after Rodger’s murders, a man in California shot at three women who refused to have sex with him.

A woman cannot be simply uninterested in a man — she must be deliberately withholding. And this is what SlutWalk is working against: The idea that a woman’s body is not a place of neutral personhood, but a sex object first.

Last weekend, women and men paid the price for Rodger’s misogyny. Next weekend, women and men will be marching to defend women’s right to bodily autonomy without recrimination.

Not all men are Elliot Rodgers, but all men need to understand that all women live in a world where Elliot Rodgers exist. We need you to be part of the solution.

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