Across the world, great lengths have been gone to this weekend to separate the particular brand of gender politics popularly known as ‘Mens Rights Activism’ from the fatal shooting in California committed last Friday evening, allegedly carried out by Elliot Rodger.
It has been hotly debated whether Rodger’s self identification as a Men’s Rights Activist had played a role in the events which unfolded; where Rodger shot and killed 7 women as well as wounding others. I personally believe that this is diversionary and only serves to distract from the issue at hand. Whatever your stance on the responsibility of MRAs in this situation, the fact remains that Rodger can be seen on video, saying “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it”; which reeks of entitlement, misogyny and the acceptable conduct of men which is habitually institutionalised and normalised; and never called into question until a crisis point such as this is reached.
Debating whether he was an MRA or not is missing the point and manipulating the conversation that is required – what we should be debating are the kinds of expectations of women that our sons, fathers and husbands are being taught to have, and the levels of entitlement they are permitted to assign themselves; and indeed are assigned by the world at large.
This tragedy has and will continue to play itself out in lesser and greater ways across our world – from the unequal treatment of boys and girls in schools, to unsolicited attention in nightclubs and on the streets, to sexual comments being catcalled from cars or said with a smirk in the office, to the murder of innocent women – until everyone learns to take it seriously. Misogyny is alive and well, and this weekend, it has killed. Elliot Rodger hated women because they wouldn’t give him the sex he thought he deserved and he killed them because he thought that warranted “punishment”.
The rhetoric of Rodger’s videos (the little of them that I have watched, at least) isn’t new – he complains that girl’s don’t pay attention, that they instead “give themselves” to other men and he calls them slurs such as “sluts” for both being involved with other men, and for not paying him attention. The language at use here is the most basic element of analysis available and it is the language of misogyny. The judgement of the women he speaks about for expressing their sexuality, his demands of them, the entitlement he feels – are all symptomatic of men who actively or covertly oppress and subjugate women.
This language and the associated behaviour is normalised to a point where the videos made by Rodger which today are uncomfortable at best, stomach turning at worst; failed to get a response from the police. Rodger’s parents approached the authorities for help upon seeing their son’s videos several weeks ago; but after seeing the videos and interviewing him, police reported back to his parents that he was a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human”. To have watched the videos that Rodger filmed and uploaded and to still refer to him as “kind and wonderful” must call into question the acceptability of misogyny in 2014.
The argument that it’s simplistic to suggest that misogyny was the basis and sole motivation for this and other gendered hate crimes has been raised time and time again and my response remains the same – yes there are many factors at play in Rodger’s life which lead to the point of his attack but misogyny alone pinned it all together and gave him the motivation to gun down innocent women. His class, his age and his alienation from his parents are all aspects of his life which may have altered his perceptions of the world, or his methods of dealing with it. His sense of entitlement could very well be heightened by being a young adult, as well as a wealthy upper class member of society. Nothing happens in a vacuum as we are always well advised to remember but I still persist in pointing a finger most determinedly at the continued normalisation and acceptance of misogyny as the underlying cause of this act of violence.
This brings me to the loudest and seemingly most influential argument currying support for Rodger; that he had Asperger’s syndrome. Once again, this variable added to the melting pot was undoubtedly of some influence in his approach to life, the ways in which he interacted with others and his outlook on the world. However it still doesn’t account for a hatred of women that was so fuelled by personal offence and so ultimate that Rodger felt fully within his rights to kill those he felt had wronged him. Asperger’s may present a lack of cognitive empathy – yes. It commonly leads to difficulty in forming and maintaining friendships and relationship, but this still doesn’t explain nor excuse the cold blooded murder of women because they didn’t express desire toward you. He didn’t shoot at random because he lacked an understanding of social cues, or because he was distant from his family. Rodger planned and shot, in cold blood. To suggest a lack of comprehension of social norms or empathy to that great an extent is absurd and quite frankly offensive to those living with Asperger’s, and to use Rodger’s mental health as a scapegoat for what was blatantly a gendered hate crime is to alienate every member of the community who has lived with or continues to live with any kind of a mental illness; to mark them as ‘abnormal’ and to suggest that they too could “turn”.
(it also bears note that people living with mental illness are more likely to fall victim to violence themselves (self inflicted or otherwise) than to hurt others.)
I would like to signpost the particular treatment that crimes such as this one are given by the media at large. A white, heterosexual, upper class, university student is given the scapegoat of mental illness and a poor relationship with his parents – while a man of color could just as easily be relegated to the realms of gang violence or terrorism. While this is a trend that may be changing, change is slow and painful. Why is this man being excused? The media should be interrogated just as thoroughly as we know how, and every piece of information that we consume requires a critical approach and the endless asking of “why?” Nothing created through or by the media is wholly without bias and to get as close as we can to the truth requires constant vigilance.
We could discuss endlessly the different factors which have all been at play in the trainwreck that led to the tragedy seen on Friday evening, but that isn’t the crux of it. The fundamental fact remains that this was a crime committed deliberately against women – a hate crime of gender and whatever his mental state at the time of committing it, it cannot go without notice that Elliot Rodgers hated women because he had been born in a world that told him he had an inalienable right to the bodies of women. Not his mental health, nor his relationship, nor his parents, nor the behaviour of the women in his life or any woman anywhere is the cause of Elliot Rodger’s attack on the women of his community. All that is relevant is the fact that this man thought he was so entitled to women that he had the right to deny them life.
I don’t view it a stretch of the imagination to suggest that targeted violence against women is underpinned by hatred for women, and when this violence is seen enacted again and again across the globe this is more than a freak accident. Men who hate women are not an isolated phenomenon, nor a small threat.
**please excuse what a mess this post is right now, it’s almost 11.30pm and i’m incredibly tired and just needed to get my thoughts down on this horrible tragedy. my thoughts are with families and community of the deceased, as well as Elliot Rodger’s parents**