I have spent the last few days shedding tears and ringing my hands over the Isla Vista Campus Killings. I am horrified and angry, but I am not surprised by it. One of my earliest memories is of a man touching me without my permission because he thought he had ownership over my body; he thought I owed him something. I was only 3. Sadly there has been more occasions in my life when I was not quick enough to avoid the hands and fingers of men.
Elliot Rodger, the 22 year old male responsible for the Isla Vista Massacre at a Californian college campus, believed that women owed him something too. He believed women owed him sex and love, and when Elliot Rodger did not get what he wanted he killed 6 people: he stabbed his three flatmates before moving on to a shooting rampage in which he killed two women and one other man. Rodger reserved special hate for two groups: the women he says denied him sex and kept him a virgin, and the men they picked over him.
There is a trail of evidence left by Rodger that paints a picture of a truly disturbed young man struggling to fit into the narrow confines of western masculinity. Before Rodger committed his massacre he published online his 140 page manifesto which begins like a memoir. This quickly dissolves into a misogynistic diatribe and ends with a final solution he called, The Day of Retribution. Rodger declared he was going to purify the world and believed women should be herded up and imprisoned in concentration camps, to be ‘eventually starved to death’. In his Manifesto he also stated ‘Women are like a plague that need to be quarantined’. Rodger’s final solution was the obliteration and erasure of women everywhere.
The Youtube video Rodger uploaded hours before he went on his rampage is titled Retribution. In it he claimed he was going to prove himself the ultimate “alpha male” and take revenge on all the “blonde sluts” and “popular kids” who had socially or sexually rejected him:
“Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge . . . you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one, the true alpha male.”
Elliot Rodger’s murderous thoughts and actions didn’t happen in a vacuum. As my friend John pointed out to me, “Massacres like the Isla Vista killing happen because the social and cultural environment around those men give them permission to hate.” Although mass shootings like these are rare, the rape and beating of women happens every day. As Eve Ensler’s human rights organisation V-Day has reported; 1 billion women have survived violence globally. The views and ideology that Rodger held in relation to women are widespread; Rodger just took his deep hate of women to an extreme and violent conclusion.
The misogyny that is prevalent within Rodger’s manifesto, his alignment with the Man’s Rights Movement, and the Youtube videos he posted leading up to his attack, can tell us much more about why Rodger massacred 6 people than any arguments over gun control or mental health ever will. These two factors are, simply, not enough.
Boys are taught to dehumanise and devalue women from a young age. One of the biggest insults a boy or a man can receive is to be told that he is a girl. We shame men when they behave in a way that is perceived to be feminine. When boys or men cry, or show emotion, they are often called “girly”, “pussies” or “fags”; all words using femininity as an insult with the underlying belief that being feminine is bad. These are words that are meant to injure and humiliate. They teach men and boys that the last thing you ever want to be is a girl. Boys are taught that being female is lesser than being male. Tony Porter, the founder of A Call to Men said in his Ted talk,
‘Growing up as boys we were taught men had to be tough, we had to be strong, we had to be courageous, dominating. No pain; no emotions with the exception of anger and definitely no fear. That men are in charge, which means women are not, that men lead and you should just follow and do what we say. That men are superior, women are inferior. That men are strong, women are weak. Women are of less value; property of men and objects, particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know this is the collective socialisation of men.’
The hegemonic masculinity Porter speaks of is a reflection of a society in which a toxic masculinity is deeply engrained, and where misogyny like Rodger’s is normalised, a society that encourages social and binary gender-types and stereotypes, in which men are taught to dominate other males and subordinate women. Rodger constantly referred to women as “animals” of lesser intelligence than himself, throughout his manifesto. He did not see women as human; he viewed them as a disease that needed to be eradicated.
Many boys are being raised to believe they are entitled to a woman’s body. Women’s bodies are treated as a form of sexual currency on which men can calculate part of their worth by a large majority of men. Rodger felt worthless because women denied him this currency, so they had to pay. In his manifesto, Rodger often talked of ‘punishing women’ for denying him sex and the love he felt he deserved and was entitled to.
An individual owes no other individual anything based on the sex they happened to be born as. No women owes any man anything. What is owed to women and all people is a safe world to live in, one where you don’t get murdered or raped because of the sex you were born as or become.
Since the massacre, men and women took to twitter and it has exploded with the powerful hashtag #YesAllWomen. It paints a grim but powerful picture of the everyday sexism and violence women face. Many of the tweets spoke to the misogyny women are confronted with daily, but which is often invisible to many men.
The hashtag has now got its own twitter profile, and in under two days has over 10,000 followers. There is something going on in our society and it goes far beyond Elliot Rodger massacring 6 people.
The world rightly claims horror and shock at the actions of Elliot Rodger, however if the #YesAllWomen hashtag is anything to go by then it becomes evident that his ideology and misogynistic views are widespread. A powerful example is the epidemic rape crisis on college campuses; the college town of Missoula, Montana, recorded at least 80 reported rapes over three years as Time Magazine recently reported. Colleges and Universities have become a place where young women are being systematically targeted by men in “horrible and violent attacks”. Campus rape does not end in the mass killing of people, but it is mass violence against women – perpetuated by a sense of ownership over women’s bodies, and often a deep hatred of women. As Isha Aran reported for Jezebel,
“…his rhetoric and general view of entitlement to women is engendered by the same anti-women notions that houses the men’s rights movement. We are told not to give attention to the ideology of a deranged killer, but what are we supposed to do when that ideology is as widespread as misogyny?”
The method in which Rodger carried out his violence may be an anomaly, but he is not an aberration. As Elizabeth Plank argued on Policymic, most school shooters are white men, most victims of school shootings are women, many school shooters target females that have rejected them in the past, and most school shooters exhibit a large sense of entitlement. If news sites such as Fox and other corporate media are the only sources of news you read, you would come to the conclusion that most school shooters are ‘lone madmen’ with “serious mental health issues’ – ignoring the historical pattern which Plank points to in her article. Plank concludes school shootings are often hate crimes against women.
The everyday sexism Rodger has left as part of his digital legacy on social forums and in his Manifesto, speaks also to a much wider culture of normalised hate speech against women. Jeff Perera – who works for White Ribbon, said when interviewed in relation to the massacre; “Most men do not go to the extreme of violence, but it is important to take a look at some young men who are fluent in the language of violence, where this is the way they resolve conflict… we deny young men emotional literacy.”
We raise boys to comply with a system that works against them. Toxic masculinity teaches boys to deny and subjugate some of the most powerful emotions they have; vulnerability, compassion and empathy. Men are taught not to have emotions – with the exception of anger, but I believe that compassion and vulnerability are our greatest strengths; they are our connection to other people. All people, not just men, are taught to distrust our emotions, when emotions have inherit logic and can as Eve Ensler said, “lead to radical saving action”. The most defiant act we can perform in a world that tells us to disconnect our hearts from our heads, is to stay connected.
This impact is clear in Rodger, who often wrote about feeling isolated, lonely, frustrated and disconnected from the world. Tony Porter went on to say;
“Stay stoic and quiet, it is part of the unspoken male code: ‘toughen up son’, ‘suck it up’, ‘Man up’ – this is how we learn to process emotion. This is the cause of our emotional illiteracy. No wonder so many men bury their wounds and insecurities in alcohol, drugs and violence.”
There is a code for men and it promises if you acquire certain things – wealth, a six pack, a nice car, expensive clothes – you will obtain women, and status. This code failed for Rodger and in turn he felt the world had failed him. He didn’t get the girl, despite the fact he came from wealth, drove a BMW, spoke of wearing Armani suits and considered himself “the perfect gentlemen”. Rodger was a white male from a background of privilege and he was promised the world, but as he perceived it, the world had turned on him. As Jeff Perera asserts in his interview “the quickest way to ascend this [failure] is to use violence.” Perera had previously posted on his facebook;
“Young men are sold an idea that the ‘World Is Yours’, and use women as the rungs to climb that ladder towards being ‘The Man’. When some realize they are not allowed to the highest level of the ladder (an elite level of privilege), their rage is placed towards women.”
Sexism and misogyny is not an individual choice. In reality misogyny and gendered violence is largely structural, cultural and systematic. It’s an arrangement of power. A curious thing happened when women started speaking out about the massacre: men, not all, but enough, pulled out the old “not all men…” and “men were killed too” chestnuts. Saying men died in this tragedy does not magically prove it was not a misogynistic act; it means misogyny hurts men too. The cries of defense are just a way of refusing to acknowledge that the violence is structural, cultural and systematic. It is just a way of denying that a problem exists. A denial that sadly serves the purposes of the brutal system perfectly.
I know there are good men everywhere, and we need more of these good men to take responsibility for the global issue of violence against women. We desperately need more men to join women’s voices in the fight to end violence, not drown them out. It can be as simple as calling bullshit on the dude telling a sexist joke at work that belittles or demeans women. It can start with not accepting sexual harassment of women; a women should be able to walk down the street without being whistled or yelled at. It can begin with refusing to adhere to the suffocating construct of toxic western masculinity.
These hegemonic systems of patriarchy that normalise violence and oppression need to be disrupted. What we are seeing is a resurgence of the assumption that somehow patriarchy is positive and empowering for boys – they are being sold an epic lie. As Bell Hooks said, “
“Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love. Patriarchy will not heal them. If that were so they would all be well.”