After the murderous rampage of 22-year-old angry virgin Elliot Rodger in Santa Barbara Friday night, a guy took to Twitter to say that not all men shared his hatred of women and his determination to take vengeance for being ignored by them.
Soon enough, other men were posting. Similar thoughts were collecting under #NotAllMen, using the hash-tag Twitter tool for aggregating conversations.
Almost immediately, a young woman opened up her own comment stream under #YesAllWomen. No, not all men are guilty of misogyny, was her message. But all women are affected by it.
The conversation exploded, and women from all over the world began to reveal their anger, frustration and fear of men. A Boston analytics company estimated that more than 1.6 million comments had been posted by Tuesday, 75 percent of them from women.
The women began by recalling the lessons of childhood — if a boy teases you, it means he has a crush on you — and they described the rules of caution they have learned to live by. Travel in packs; never leave a woman behind; never put your drink down; carry pepper spray; take a cab, not the subway.
"Because we question why women stay in abusive relationships instead of why men abuse women," wrote one woman.
"Because there are lots of 22-year-old awkward virgin women, but they don't kill a bunch of men over it," wrote another.
They described wearing fake wedding rings and lying about having a boyfriend because the best way for a woman to protect herself from unwanted attention is to let it be known that she already belongs to another guy.
The women talked not just about inequality and objectification and groping in bars but about men's sense of entitlement — entitled to a woman's attention, to her body. And they talked about their fear of violence. Tell a guy, "No, thanks," and he might kill you, they wrote.
Some women posted that they were afraid to post. "Because I shouldn't have to wonder how posting my experiences will affect my job," wrote one woman. "And it will."
That there was push-back should not be a surprise. That it was angry and violent shouldn't be, either. Not in the current atmosphere. The woman who started the conversation with the first #YesAllWomen had to shut down her account because of threats.
Men's rights advocates said women were hijacking the incident in California to support a malevolent feminist agenda. They pointed to the fact that Rodger killed his male roommates first, proving that it was not a hate crime against women. They ignored the 140-page manifesto of rage against women that he left behind.
Richard Martinez, the father of one of the slain young men, took the podium and, his voice hoarse with tears, said this was about guns.
"Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven irresponsible politicians and the NRA [National Rifle Association]. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris' right to live? When will this insanity stop?"
The gun rights advocates pointed to Rodger's well documented mental health issues and said, this is about mental illness.
But the Twitterverse showed us in more than 1.6 million ways that this isn't just about guns. And it isn't just about mental illness.
It is also about the fact that men feel entitled to power over women.
Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at email@example.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.To respond to this commentary, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and contact information.