We waited a bit to write something on this. Every new detail that comes out of this murder is horrific. It’s upsetting to think that this could have happened on any campus, and in fact, does happen with enough regularity that it’s a confirmed problem. Maybe Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. Maybe he was just a lonely, angry college kid who snapped. But maybe this has little bearing on what happened the other day in Isla Vista.
There is a reason for why mass shooters often fit a profile. Multiple studies have shown masculinity to be a violent identity, where white middle-class men fall back into men’s rights groups, white supremacy, and other reactionary movements. We have seen examples of this as comments on our website, where men believe they are suffering abuse because their sexual “needs” aren’t being met. But they suffer because of entitlement, and because they know they are not getting what they feel they deserve. They suffer because they feel the pain of not meeting the impossible standards of masculinity. The difference, of course, is that when they suffer, they take others with them in the worst way.
The gender binary is as follows: Men are taught to be aggressors and active, women are taught to be submissive and passive. Women are twice as likely to be described as pushy than men are. Men are taught that their ideas have inherent value. Women’s thoughts are systemically undervalued. Women speak 75% less in groups where they are outnumbered by men. Young people think men make history because it is the men who are historically visible. Women have been told they could not be writers, inventors, great thinkers, scientists, artists. Now women are told that they can do these things, but that their writing is provincial, or their thoughts are muddled with histrionics, or that their focus isn’t universal, that their husbands understand politics better, or when are they going to have children already. Women who have been an integral part of history have been erased. Women were and are valued for their relationship to men and male gratification. In short:
Values we draw from masculinity: reason, power, dominance, authority, justice
When standards are not met: men are feminized, and called feminine names like pussy or bitch
Values we draw from femininity: nurturing, grace, purity, kindness, emotion
When standards are not met: women are called names like dyke, slut, whore, crazy, bitch, frigid, prude
This is old news and can be found in less abridged forms in scientific and sociological studies. But it culminates to a dangerous power dynamic, where we teach men that their identities are inherently aggressive, and we teach that women are the subject of their aggression. As Coline Covington notes in her article about the Criado-Perez scare, “As men feel emasculated, they try to regain an illusion of power through violence.”
Rodger frequented an anti-pickup forum that exposed PUA as a scam, rather than one exposing it as harmful to women, suggesting that he may have at once tried these strategies and found them wanting. PUA techniques and strategies embody this binary. They argue that in order for a man to attract women, the man must have it together, himself. Not a bad ideology on the surface. But there is an extreme conflation with confidence and dominance. They advise that men should not “put the pussy on a pedestal,” and yet the measure of success is based on the “accomplishment” of getting laid. The most dangerous pickup tactics tell men to take charge, to not wait for consent, to not wait for a no. They tell men that dominance is attractive. That women don’t like beta males. In the face of rejection from women who exercise autonomy over their own bodies, men perceive women to have the ultimate power.
The ideas Elliot Rodger carried with him are ideas that everyone is bombarded with, and that we all buy into at one point or another. In Rodger’s manifesto, he claimed he needed to do what he did in order to become “the true alpha male.” “It’s not fair” he lamented, that women won’t have sex with him. He is angered by the thought of sorority girls looking down on him and thinking of him as an “inferior man.” Call him crazy if you want, but the truth is, you can find so many other men parroting these exact ideologies in men’s rights groups. In the aftermath, many men argue that selfish women could have saved lives if only they offered this poor boy pity sex.
Even when there aren’t mass shootings, we can see this violence played out in a lot of ways. Men who go to counseling for abusive behavior often believe they have an anger problem. They think they need to get in touch with their emotions, when the truth is that they are all too in touch with their emotions, to the point where their struggles eclipse other peoples’. They, in fact, don’t have an anger problem, they have an empathy problem. In the book, Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft, domestic violence and abuse expert, notes:
“I have almost never worked with an abused woman who overlooked her partner’s humanity. The problem is reverse: He forgets her humanity. […] When a man starts my program, he often says, ‘I am here because I lose control of myself sometimes. I need to get a better grip.’ I always correct him: ‘Your problem is not that you lose control of yourself, it’s that you take control of your partner. In order to change, you don’t need to gain control over yourself, you need to let go of control of her.’”
It is the same with Rodger. His suffering carried more importance than those he murdered. There have been many people asking questions about how we can help people like him. The problem is deep-seated. Framing this as a mental illness is pinning this problem of masculinity on the mentally ill, and letting everyone else off the hook. It’s not a mental illness problem. It’s not a gun problem. These are the side-effects of patriarchy, and we must do everything we can to unlearn it.