Right. Elliot Rodger and the Isla Vista shootings. Within hours of the story breaking, a number of friends and readers got in touch asking if I was going to write a reaction piece. After five minutes on my newsfeed and on Twitter, I was overwhelmed by exhaustion. That was my dominant emotion. Not anger, not frustration, not sorrow. Just numbing here-we-go-again exhaustion. After half an hour, I did not want to write about this. And watching the conversations pick up speed and the comments roll in – the justifications, the derails, the rationalizations, the outright defenses – made it all feel even more hopeless.
But then I spoke to my sister, who reminded me why it’s important to keep writing and that even if it feels repetitive, these things can’t be said too many times. So thanks, Lars. Also, many of these points are hers or riffing on hers.
And now, in no particular order, my thoughts:
1. There exists a sub-section of men who literally cannot sit through a discussion of structural misogyny without receiving constant and emphatic reassurance that no one is accusing them personally of being a misogynist. This is a derail and an attempt to shut down debate. Because, to quote Sometimes, it’s just a cigar:
“Suppose you disagree with women about whether rape is part of the structure of our society, used to reinforce patriarchy. Do you make that debate possible by standing on your wounded pride, and just insisting that the debate must start with a disclaimer that says you’re not a rapist? Forgive me, but that’s nothing more than narcissism.”
The conviction that you have never participated or been complicit in structural misogyny is dubious to say the least, no matter what your gender. But even if you are resolute that you, personally, have managed to transcend the system you were born and raised in and now stand as a shining beacon of gender equity outside the mire of patriarchy? Good for you, but structural misogyny still exists and we still need to have a conversation about it. If you think you have nothing to learn, go play elsewhere on the internet.
2. What Elliott Rodger did was extreme in its scale, but not in its nature. Men attack and kill women for rejecting them all the time. Two women are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner every week. Last month, a 16 year-old boy stabbed a 16 year-old girl to death because she turned down his invitation to junior prom.
3. Sex is not a magic cure for all that ails you. Love and companionship are, at best, a band-aid for your existing emotional issues. Yet a disturbing amount of men cling to the premise that if Rodger had only gotten laid by one of those hot blonde sluts he both coveted and despised, he would not have been such a deeply damaged and damaging individual. Sure, the majority of these men don’t have a mainstream platform and are instead anonymously raging in comment threads across the internet, so it feels easy to dismiss them. But sometimes I think we forget that it takes a real live person to sit down and write a comment.
4. In any case, the tabloids have already found a woman to blame and bikini-clad picture of her to go with it.
5. I said it on Twitter, and I’ll say it again: how many pages of misogynistic vitriol does a killer have to write before we can call him a misogynist? This killer wrote a substantial dissertation on the topic “All women are evil sluts who should be exterminated” and yet the mainstream media is still shying away from attributing the motive to misogyny. The Sunday Times ran the story alongside an article about another shooting, near a Jewish Museum in Brussels. At least a third of that article was focused on antisemitism. The Isla Vista piece, though significantly longer, contained one line mentioning “misogyny” and no discussion of the wider problem of gender-based violence.
Internet, if we cannot have a conversation about the large and well-documented intersection between violence and misogyny after this, then WHEN?
6. If I had written this as a movie script last year, it would be dismissed as ludicrously over-the-top feminist propaganda.
7. Rodger was a fucked up individual. I do not know if he had any underlying mental conditions. I do not know what went on in his sessions with his therapists. I’m not a psychologist, and I think if I was, I would know that an armchair diagnosis via the internet is bad practice. I do not have access to his medical records. What I do have is access to a 140-page manifesto which includes a fantasy about watching women starve to death in a concentration camp, plus a video where he explains that he is going on a killing spree to punish women for not sleeping with him. There is no need for extrapolation or reading between the lines. The killer states his motive, plain and simple.
And this is the thing. There are certain mental illnesses and personality disorders that can exacerbate an individual’s capacity for rage and their tendency to act on violent impulses. But even if Rodger was suffering from such an illness, this does not explain why his anger was directed at women with laser-like focus and intensity. That focus was not guided by his own pathology, but by external influences. Sealing a “madman” off in a vacuum away from the rest of the world is a convenient way of pretending that he is an aberration, a freak swimming against the tide of our cultural norms and values. But there is no known mental illness that makes you hate women.
8. On that note, Asperger’s syndrome and autism are not commonly associated with violent rage or murderous tendencies.
9. I do not know the extent to which Rodger was involved in the Men’s Rights/Pick-Up Artists movements (loosely known as the Manosphere). I do know he regurgitates many of their main talking points in his manifesto and his grandiose rhetoric would not be out of place on many of the forums and blogs that comprise these movements. I also know that these movements are scary. Sure, I spend a lot of time reading We Hunted The Mammoth (an excellent blog that does the hard job of tracking and mocking Manosphere denizens), boggling at their convoluted logic, laughing at their purple prose. But ultimately, it’s scary to think that there are huge communities of men out there dedicated to hating you and encouraging others to hate you. Movements that convince already awkward and alienated teenage boys that pain and loneliness are things women inflict on them, deliberately and gleefully. While they hate you, they also want to use your body for their pleasure. It’s scary to live in the same world as these men.
10. You know it’s bad when people are are trying to steer the conversation towards gun control.
11. #YesAllWomen have met Elliot Rodger. We have met him in bars, on our way home, in work, on buses and trains, at weddings, on holidays, in our own bedrooms. We may not have met a mass murderer, but I can guarantee you we have all met the “perfect gentleman” who turned nasty when he did not get his way, who became enraged or even violent when we refused to abide by his internal script of how our interaction should play out.
I met him here. More recently, I met him in a bar where I was having drinks with six female friends. He approached our table and started loudly trying to insert himself into the conversation. I said, politely but firmly, “Actually, our friend is leaving the country tomorrow and we’re here to spend time with her.” His face darkened and he told me in acid tones that girls like me should keep their mouths shut. My friend intervened, and he called her an ugly bitch. He stormed off, but then stormed back to show us his expensive watch and, by implication, what we were missing. Later, we saw him harassing a different table of women. When we left, no one said anything, but by silent consensus we did not go our separate ways until we were well shot of the bar and sure that we had not been followed. Because it’s difficult to tell the difference between the drunk who is going to stumble home to bed with a bruised ego and the drunk who wants to make you pay for rejecting his company.
The way that man’s face twisted up into a snarl of hatred as I told him we did not want his conversation stayed with me as I fell asleep that night.
12. Rodger is scary because he is familiar.
13. Anecdotes are not evidence, but they are reassuring when it feels like you spend half of your life trying to convince people that this is a real thing. They are comforting when you feel like you spend most conversations about sexual harassment, rape, domestic abuse, ad nauseam, stroking the hand of your well-meaning perplexed male friend, saying, “No, no, I don’t mean you! Of course not! I mean, it’s complicated, but on a structural level… and yes, it’s awful that a girl was once rude to you, and rejection is awful… but it’s just that rape culture… ok, no sorry, I know you don’t like that term, I won’t use it… and yes, some feminists are extreme, but that’s not really the point… what I mean is…never mind, I don’t want to ruin the evening…”
14. #YesAllWomen gave me some hope.
15. The Isla Vista shootings were a logical conclusion of the idea that sex is something women owe men; a toll we should pay in exchange for walking around the world unmolested and unharmed. The reaction to the shooting is the logical conclusion of a society that will twist itself into knots to avoid talking about misogyny as anything other than a “tendency” in a few unstable individuals, or a Very Bad Thing that happens in Foreign Countries. This is the logical conclusion of misogyny and the refusal to acknowledge that it is a structural problem. And it kills.
16. Have some reading:
- The Belle Jar – Elliot Rodger And Men Who Hate Women
- Laurie Penney – Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism
- Laurie Penney – Speaking on NPR
- Dr. Nerdlove – Elliot Rodger and the Price of Toxic Masculinity
- Ari Laurel – Elliot Rodger and Masculinity as a Culture of Violence
- Sometimes, it’s just a cigar – Principle, practice and ‘not all men’
- Stephanie Lord – #YesAllWomen: What difference does it make?
- Zoe Stavri – An open letter to all men
- Arthur Chu – Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds