Attributing the rampage in Isla Vista to ‘a madman’ ignores a stark truth about our society
We should know this by now, but it bears repeating: misogyny kills.
On Friday night, (May 23, 2014) a man – identified by police as Elliot Rodgers – allegedly seeking “retribution” against women whom he said sexually rejected him went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, killing six people and sending seven more to the hospital with serious gunshot injuries. Three of the bodies were reportedly removed from Rodger’s apartment.
Before the mass murder he allegedly committed, 22-year-old Rodger – also said to have been killed Friday night – made several YouTube videos complaining that he was a virgin and that beautiful women wouldn’t pay attention to him. In one, he calmly outlined how he would “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see”.
According to his family, Rodger was seeking psychiatric treatment. But to dismiss this as a case of a lone “madman” would be a mistake.
It not only stigmatizes the mentally ill – who are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it – but glosses over the role that misogyny and gun culture play (and just how foreseeable violence like this is) in a sexist society. After all, while it is unclear what role Rodger’s reportedly poor mental health played in the alleged crime, the role of misogyny is obvious.
In his final video, Rodger opined:
College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure, but in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness, it’s not fair … I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it.
Rodger, like most young American men, was taught that he was entitled to sex and female attention. (Only last month, a young woman was allegedly stabbed to death for rejecting a different young man’s prom invitation.) He believed this so fully that he described women’s apathy toward him as an “injustice” and a “crime”.
You forced me to suffer all my life, now I will make you all suffer. I waited a long time for this. I’ll give you exactly what you deserve, all of you. All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men.
Rodger was reportedly involved with the online men’s rights movement: allegedly active on one forum and said to have been following several men’s rights channels on YouTube. The language Rodger used in his videos against women – like referring to himself as an “alpha male” – is common rhetoric in such circles.
These communities are so virulently misogynist that the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups, has been watching their movements for years.
Yet, as the artist Molly Crabapple pointed out on Twitter: “White terrorism is always blamed on guns, mental health – never poisonous ideology.”
If we need to talk about this tragic shooting in terms of illness, though, let’s start with talking about our cultural sickness – a sickness that refuses to see misogyny as anything other than inevitable.