When it comes to portraying crabby, slightly crazed, or hyper testosterone-leveled men, Jack Nicholson is an absolute genius. Think of Jack “Johnny” Torrance in “The Shining,” Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in “A Few Good Men,” or the red-lipped, wide-mouthed, cabaret-style Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman.” Among these over-the-top characters, a sleeper favorite might be the role that won Nicholson an Oscar in 1997: Melvin Udall, the misanthropic, cranky, best-selling novelist in “As Good As It Gets.”
One scene from the movie involves Melvin, in full rotten crabapple mode, getting cornered by an overenthusiastic receptionist who loves his books. “How do you write women so well?” she gushes, eyes wide and dewy.
“I think of a man,” Melvin replies, his tone flat, “and I take away reason and accountability.”
While somewhat amusing, Melvin’s sentiments are certainly not very nice. Unfortunately, were he a real person, and if he spent significant time on the Internet, his bias might have been confirmed this weekend, when feminist Twitter activists misspent at least three days hijacking a mass murder to boost their self-esteem.
On Friday, tragic news broke out of Isla Vista, California: a crazed Santa Barbara City College student, despairing of his lack of success with the ladies—“Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men but never to me”—apparently decided to go on a shooting spree. He allegedly ended up stabbing his three roommates (all men), shooting two young women outside of a sorority house, and killing another young man in a convenience store before shooting himself in his shiny black BMW coupe. (The accused killer’s father, it has been reported, was an assistant director of the first “Hunger Games” film.)
And that’s when an odd thing happened. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “hours after a shooting rampage in this coastal college town that the alleged gunman said was ‘retribution’ against women who’d rejected him, a woman launched a conversation on Twitter about what it’s like to feel vulnerable to violence. ‘As soon as I reached my teens, I didn’t feel comfortable being outside in the evening on my own street,’ the woman wrote in one of her first posts under a Twitter hashtag called #YesAllWomen.”
#YesAllWomen immediately caught fire. Hundreds of thousands of tweets later, the hashtag emerged as the top trend on Twitter, dominating the Memorial Day weekend. Women from all over the world joined in. “It’s probably one of the most important tags on Twitter yet,” declared Cosmopolitan; on Sunday, Vox.com called it “the most important thing you’ll read today.” Over at the Atlantic, one article declared the #YesAllWomen movement a “sobering reminder of how commonly [women’s] full personhood is denied.” Time, NBC News, and the Los Angeles Times all took approving note.
Some of the #YesAllWomen tweets offer harrowing tales of sexual assault. The vast majority, however, seem, well, less than empirical: “I know that not all men threaten women, but that all women have been threatened by men.” (Really? How do you know?) “Imagine the creative energy we would release if half of humanity didn’t have to devote so much time in fear of the other half.” (Yes! Then they could spend more time writing things on Twitter.) “I’ve spent 19 years teaching my daughter how not to be raped. How long have you spent teaching your son not to rape?” (Quick answer—so far, on three sons, I’ve spent about zero seconds. But they’re all under six, so I figure they don’t turn into rampaging, predatory, inhuman monsters until they’re about 12 or 13.)
Don’t worry, it gets much more ridiculous. Other #YesAllWomen complaints—and please, keep in mind that this is in response to a killing spree—include the following: “Here’s to never hearing a dude tell a woman to ‘smile’ ever again”; “If I don’t feign an interest in what the too-friendly grocery clerk is telling me, everyone in line will judge me”; and, my personal favorite: “When I asked for Happy Meal and didn’t specify a gender, they gave me ‘boy’ toys. Male is the default.” As far as I can tell, that last one was not a joke, but I did laugh out loud.
Lest you think I’m cherry picking, check out the thread yourself. The tweets I’ve selected are pretty much representative. There are a few awful tales of abuse, stalking, or rape, but the vast majority of tweeters basically complain about obnoxious bosses, horrible boyfriends that no person in their right mind should go out with in the first place, or some random dude wolf-whistling at them on their way into their entry-level analyst job at Goldman Sachs. In fact, if your only experience with feminism was the #YesAllWomen Twitter extravaganza, you might become convinced that the greatest concern of America’s female population is the right to be studiously ignored while wearing hot pink pleather hot pants to that entry-level analyst job at Goldman Sachs. (And, actually, not to be mean, but given their estimation skills, I get the feeling that most of the #YesAllWomen tweeters are not that good at math, so maybe employment at Goldman Sachs is a bit of a stretch.)
Let’s make no mistake—sexual assault is a serious problem. The sad reality is that women have to take more safety precautions than men. But #YesAllWomen, when it comes down to it, isn’t even remotely about sexual assault. It’s not about feminism or empowerment, or practical solutions to crime (like, say, concealed carry laws), and it certainly has nothing to do with a deranged college student killing six people. It’s about taking a tragedy and turning it into “I Want To Talk About Me.” In fact, #YesAllWomen might end up being the most narcissistic event of 2014, which is saying something, given that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West just got married.
Why, in our age of unprecedented plenty—and, at least in America, unprecedented power for women—is victimhood so appealing to so many? When complete strangers were murdered on the West Coast, why do hundreds of thousands of people, healthy in body if not in mind, enthusiastically latch on, insisting that they were victims too?
For certain people, the Internet offers a compelling, powerful alternate universe in which to dwell. Press reports describe the accused murderer as living in a lonely world of YouTube videos, video games, and twisted representations of reality. In his mind, everything—every loss, every perceived failure, every tiny personal slight, real or imagined—was blown out of proportion. Everything was taken personally. Everything, in the end, was all about him and his imagined victimhood.
Scarily, many of the posters on #YesAllWomen, to varying degrees, seem to share the same problem. For all of his hatred of women, the crazed, lonely murderer and the impassioned “feminist” Twitter activists might have something in common after all. Yikes, ladies. Yikes.
Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin, TX. Sign up to receive her columns atwww.heatherwilhelm.com.