In the wake of Friday’s shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, gunman Elliot Rodger’s disdain for women, men who were with those women, and his overall misogynistic tendencies were hard to ignore.
Through a 140-page manifesto riddled with promises to punish the women who rejected the virgin — a failed attraction he dubbed an “injustice” and a “crime” — investigators and the media sought to rationalize the carnage left behind by an irrational person. Because he hated women (and was extremely vocal about the harassment he himself participated in as a result of rejection) he snapped. And because he snapped, he killed.
And, if one look at media and news outlets are any indication, the center of it all was a woman. The reason for his hate, his killing, is women.
It’s not surprising that we latched on to “a reason.” It’s not often we get to look inside the minds of gunmen like Adam Lanza, Aaron Alexis and James Holmes, who carry out massacres of the innocent. But with the trail Rodger left behind — a cacophony of sexism, delusions of grandeur, some self hate and objectification — it’s a satisfying and automatic response to categorize Rodger’s actions and somehow explain this tragedy.
But there’s a problem.
Rodger’s hate may be about rejection. It may be about women. But using women, and the “lack of sexual options they give men” (according to one men’s rights activist who posted to the popular Pick-Up Artists site) to rationalize Rodger’s actions is dangerous, inaccurate, and perpetuates the same misogynistic culture women hope to dismantle.
Let’s be clear — Rodger’s misogyny cannot be overlooked. This IS certainly about women. So while we can note that the same society that supported, fostered, cultivated and sustained the norm of hyper-sexualizing and hating women is the same society baffled at the “sudden” light feminists are shining at the violence women who reject men’s sexual advances face, we cannot conclude that his hate for women alone drove him to kill.
That’s why highlighting the women who rejected him, the women who “denied his advances,” is a slippery slope and should be handled with care. Was Rodger a misogynist? Definitely. But do we blame his hatred for women for his rampage? No. First, let’s start with a culture that supports his “alpha male” entitlement to women. And stop blaming women altogether.
Stop Blaming Women Because…Mental Illness:
While Rodger’s manifesto certainly does highlight his growing frustrations with women and detail his previous attacks against them, it is his concealed battle with mental illness (Rodger had been in therapy since age 9) that is being overlooked. Society’s mental health taboo (and financial straits) aside, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Rodger, as the privileged son of a second-unit director of The Hunger Games, was given attention in that department and was still failed by society. He was able to spew his grandiose delusions and sense of entitlement to sex and women on anti-Pick-Up Artist message boards (Rodger was also a member of the PUA community, but rallied against them and women when he discovered their tricks to conquer women didn’t work for him). He was able to, legally, purchase weapons with a background check and a history of mental illness. And, despite his parents’ wishes for him to continue on with a mental health professional after age 18, Rodger decided that, as an adult, he wouldn’t seek help. Rodger slipped through the cracks of a flawed system, which enabled his own issues to turn into something even more sinister. To blame women — a symptom he perceived in his own mind — is ignoring the root of his initial battle. (Note: citing Rodger’s mental illness history is in no way diminishing the epidemic of violence against women in society).
Stop Blaming Women Because…Added Harassment & Threats:
Shortly after Rodger’s manifesto became public knowledge, news outlets, mainly The NY Post and The Daily News, posted headline articles identifying the woman who denied Rodger’s advances and “set off” his misogyny.
On Sunday, reporter Myles Miller of FOX 5 tweeted a screen capture of some of the headlines about Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree, which have turned from a fixation on Rodger to a fixation on Rodger’s fixation: A young woman the shooter crossed paths with years ago.
No one made this more clear than the New York Post with their cover and subsequent story today: “The woman the UCSB killer blamed for his misogyny.” (The cover shows the face of the young woman who allegedly snubbed Rodger.)
Though her father cooperated with the Post and the Daily Mail for their stories, the subject of Rodger’s obsession has disabled her Twitter and Instagram accounts. Did her father know her story would be treated quite this way? Doubtful, and whether he did doesn’t much change whether it should have been done in this manner at all.
The two women who spurred #YesAllWoman, a hashtag aimed to highlight that not all men harass women, but all women have been harassed by men, have also locked their accounts due to online abuse.
Focusing solely on the women who fight misogyny…and the woman who Rodger singled out, is putting more women in danger while confirming what we’re fighting in the first place. Misogyny.
Which brings us to…
Stop Blaming Women Because…Victim Shaming:
Simply. Just stop it.
From Think Progress:
Hours after 22-year-old student Elliot Rodger shot and killed 6 people near a Santa Barbara university campus in California on Friday night, an internet user on a messaging board site asked, “Will [A]merican women become nicer after today’s attempt?” “I heard that New Yorkers became a lot nicer after 9/11,” he wrote. “Could this happen to women as a gender after today’s events? I’m seeing that some feminists subreddits are toning down their anti male vitriol after today’s incident.”
It is never the responsibility of the marginalized community to fix the issues of the dominant. Ever.
Stop Blaming Women Because…Rodger’s Own Self Hate:
Rodger’s hate for women may be getting all the spotlight, but it’s his hate of others that should also be discussed. Misogyny aside, Rodger’s 140-page manifesto also included some racially charged language that details his disdain for Asians, which is also half of his ancestry, and concluded that his makeup was the reason for his failed success with women. Let’s not ignore Rodger’s misogyny — it’s an important note in highlighting just how dangerous it is for women to exert agency over their own bodies — but it is also important to note that Rodger’s hate came from a deeper place of unhappiness in the self.
Stop Blaming Women Because…Access To Guns:
Please note that we still live in an America where universal background checks are not a thing and mentally ill people purchase guns legally. All. The. Time.
Stop Blaming Women Because…Misogyny…Period.
Enough said. Identifying just how common Rodger’s twisted thoughts about women are in society is important in the fight against misogyny. But please note, highlighting the dangers of those misogynistic thoughts and blaming the women those thoughts are aimed at are two very different things.
Tread carefully if you aim to be an ally.
PHOTO CREDIT: Handout