I have been, like so many, watching the horrific case of Elliot Rodger, a young man who brutally murdered 6 people. He committed this act of violence after leaving multiple videos and a lengthy and detailed manifesto focused on his pain and rejection by women, his inability to connect with people, and his sense that the world wasn’t responding to him as it should. The 137 page letter is chilling.
I am not a psychologist, nor an academic. I can’t speak accurately about his mental state, though I, like so many again, have opinions, unprofessional as they may be.
I’d like to think he was a sociopath with extreme narcissistic focus (mirrored in a deep and unabating self loathing and huge levels of anxiety). Women were the symbol of wellness, power, and worth. I don’t think there were very many human beings in his life that he actually saw as separate differentiated individuals. His writing about his life was devoid of empathy or compassion about anyone else’s circumstance, only how other people affected his life, not being happy when they helped him and hating them when they got in his way or failed him. His piece makes it seem like the only person who cared about him was his mother.
Nothing in the manifesto, save the end of it, was about non-reality, only about him and his idea world that would come to fruition if people would just behave the way he wanted them to behave. In this case, it was women he felt entitled to, and particular kinds. But his writings show some pretty messed up beliefs about sex and his early experiences with his body and sexual imagery, entitlement and dominance-the lessons of which are all mirrored in our culture. He seems to have found sex particularly disgusting, but also nearly an addiction.
I don’t like that the narrative around the shooting is focused primarily on mental illness. Not because I don’t think he was extremely disordered, but because we focus on this as an individual mental health issue, rather than a cultural and societal illness. We cling to the idea that these rampages are purely isolated occurrences, that somehow these young men, nearly always white or raised in a white cultural milieu, just snapped. Why they snapped? That’s not something we dare deal with. far easier to erroneously blame his attack on schizophrenia or autism, rather than look at the much bigger problems and dynamics that might combine into a perfectly violent and murderous storm.
It’s an additional part of a failed narrative to blame violence committed by people of color as acts of moral and character failing, rather than mental illness. We say that its about drugs and gang violence, that people of color aren’t educated enough or whatever other dismissive bullshit passes for excuse. We rarely give them the out of mental health issues. Racism pure and blunt.
And as for hate crimes, we allow that narrative as well, but only in some specific cases. Shooting up a synagogue is an obvious act of anti-Semitism, for example. Beating up gay men, or killing trans individuals, joining groups that attack based on race, are seen as hate crimes..
But in the cases where women have been killed (and there are many cases of men killing women for issues pertaining to sex), we don’t allow a more realistic narrative, one of hate, entitlement, control and the toxic effects of modern Western masculinity. It’s just mental illness. As Ruby Hamad states so eloquently:
His mental state may have played a role in his crimes but Rodger’s digital trail leaves no doubt that he was heavily influenced by a culture of hatred towards women. He did not choose a sorority house any more randomly than the Brussels shooter chose a Jewish museum. Both were targeted attacks against a specific group of people in the community, and both presumably driven by a violent ideology.
It’s true that not all of Rodger’s victims were women, but his male victims were chosen because they were allegedly getting the sex Rodger felt he was entitled to: “I’ll give you exactly what you deserve … all of you men for living a better life than me. All of you sexually active men. I hate you.”
It is disturbing that even when a killer leaves vast trails of evidence detailing the exact motivations for his crimes – hatred towards an identified group – because that group happens to be “women”, we prefer to engage in mental gymnastics rather than admit that this hatred is a real and not uncommon thing.
Elliot Rodger may have acted alone in his killing spree but he was far from alone in thinking he was entitled to women’s bodies, that sex with women was his right, and that the women who denied him this right deserved to be “punished”. As feminist blogger Melissa McEwan argues, “Dismissing violent misogynists as ‘crazy’ is a neat way of saying that violent misogyny is an individual problem, not a cultural one.”
For all the talk of women’s empowerment, ours remains a toxic culture that denies women’s subjectivity, insisting, for example, that the “friendzone” is a real thing because men can’t seem to grasp the simple fact that women are not slot machines into which they can insert “niceness” and get sex in return.
Jackson Katz wrote about all of these things after Newtown, and begged the media to focus on nanhood not guns or mental illness when writing about such shootings. I’m not sure you can leave out guns and mental health, or manhood or masculinity. Guns relate directly to masculinity. Our current cultural hatred of vulnerability and compassion relate directly to how we accept or deny mental health services. Our cultural mental health itself is in trouble, with its focus on power, dominance, greed, achievement, control of resources by any means necessary. That’s tied into masculinity as a representation.
The misogyny is real. Violence against women as a hate crime? I think it’s real as well, and directly related to the symptoms listed above. We don’t accept the idea of hate crimes against women and here’s why I think that is-women aren’t seen as separate from men, but as a subset of men. Two great authors have amazing articles on the subject of this act being a hate crime and a symptom of misogyny built into our culture, Soraya Chemaly and Pia Glenn. Race also played a role, as noted here by Zac Cheney-Rice.
For about six years I produced a women’s comedy festival here in Austin. For women, by women it was an amazing gathering of talent, humor, and skill. Each year I did press I’d get the question of “Why have a women’s comedy festival?” I always wondered if the Latino Comedy Project got that question. Or if Cine Las Americas heard statements like that? Or if Ballet Folklorico, or Alvin Ailey, or the Bay Area Black Comedy Festival had to answer questions about justifying their difference, their uniqueness.
Something about women separating themselves out irritates our culture. Or maybe it was, as I thought quietly, years ago, that women aren’t a “culture” on their own. They are a subset of men, drawn and born out of Adam’s Rib as per our very bible. Not unique in our own selves, but a helpmeet to serve Adam, and this mythos fills all our cultural norms about women and their role. How can you hate that which is part of you, right? But you sure can keep it in line, because it belongs to you.
When you see women as a sub-set of you, as a resource or as something that you own or control, it twists and toxifies the relationship.
This is about so much, this shooting. It is indeed a mental health issue-for our whole culture is mentally, emotionally, psychically unwell when it comes to power, greed vs softness, love. It is indeed a gun issue since so many guns are just available but also act as a cultural symbol of that desire for dominance, masculinity pathologized. It is most certainly a gender issue and an issue of hatred of women (seen as a resource that now are trying to be viewed as equals).
Since Newtown, there has been discussion of Aggrieved Entitlement, a state of experience that men, white men in particular are experiencing as our culture shifts dramatically.
Masculinity is equally resistant to any type of critical self-examination. The combination of the two, and an intervention which seeks to examine white masculinity in America and its relationship to violence, is destined to create a hostile reaction on the part of many white men.
In all, I am legitimately taken aback by the sincerity of the pain and offense at the idea that white men could be experts at committing singular types of crime in America.
Moreover, in surveying the comments and reactions to my (and other) essays about Adam Lanza, white masculinity, and gun violence, there is a tone of real hurt.
White Masculinity, like Whiteness, imagines itself as normal, innocent, and benign. The very premise that the intersection of those identities could result in socially maladaptive and violent behavior which is evil, and yes I use that term intentionally, is rejected by those deeply invested in a particularly conservative and reactionary type of White Masculinity, as something impossible. To even introduce such an idea is anathema to their universe. The language is verboten. The Other is suspect until proven otherwise; “real Americans” as “good people” are to be judged by precisely the opposite premise.
I don’t particularly want some new DSM diagnosis for individuals. Aggrieved Entitlement, while it makes good sense on paper, as a label doesn’t necessarily solve the underlying issues which are racial, gender based, spiritually inculcated of how our culture operates.
This is about so so much, so much that it’s nearly unbearable to take in, to understand, to heal. So much easier to just pick a camp of blame. Right now there is so much pain. I wish truly we’d all collectively do the work of healing. I admit I don’t truly even know where to begin.