It’s naïve to assume that misogyny was the only thing guiding Elliot Rodgers.
His actions were the combined effect of mental illness, gun control and white privilege. That’s what fueled the Friday night killing spree, rocking UCSB’s Isla Vista community to its core. Yet the primary conversation being had — in the media and beyond — is about misogyny.
Sexism is very much alive in America. If you think these claims are exaggerations, turn to the next woman you see and ask her if she can relate to the majority, if not entirety, of #YesAllWomen tweet she’s seen. I can almost guarantee the answer is “yes,” and also that she has some sort of sexual harassment or discrimination story to share.
Most people, however, don’t feel the need to go on a killing spree to reaffirm the power of men. The extremity of Rodgers’ views and his loathing not just of women, but also of any men who manage to earn their regard, suggest that mental illness probably played a serious role in contributing to his delusions. Many people have found the fact that it was so easy for Rodgers to legally purchase multiple guns despite his lengthy history of mental treatment to be concerning.
Looking a bit more closely at either Rodgers’ written manifesto, or the YouTube videos he left behind, reveal that racism and a sense of privilege also contributed to Rodgers’s hate-fueled attack.
All of these issues played a role in Friday night’s tragedy, but it was his need to assert his dominance and power over women that ultimately drove his actions. What is most alarming is that Rodgers is by no means alone in this sentiment. On the video in which he explained the reasons behind his killing spree, some people defended his actions, and on the Men’s Rights forums, he found sympathizers who shared his beliefs.
The fact that people continue to think this way shows that the need for feminism is as great as it ever was.
In his manifesto, Rodgers objectifies women to the utmost. He describes the humility he feels in response to his “father’s acquisition of a new girlfriend,” treating women as if they are little more than status symbols. In his personal life, Rodgers talks of women and expensive designer clothes in the same breath, bemoaning his perception that “no one respects a man who is unable to get a woman.”
His lengthy manifesto vowing to “punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex” is horrifying, and while his string of murders ended with his own death, the misogynistic notions guiding Rodgers’ “War on Women” remain.
Few men can identify with Rodgers; he’s arrogant, violent and delusional, a “madman” many have said. Yes, his actions were extreme and ghastly, but what may be even more terrifying is how many people may find some reason in his madness.
Most people would never dream of becoming murderers — never mind enacting elaborate killing schemes — and many men continue to share Rodgers’ belief that they have some degree of entitlement to the hearts and bodies of women.
If a “nice guy” has the courage to approach a woman and ask her on a date, shouldn’t she at least have the courtesy to give him a chance? If a man has been buying a girl drinks and dancing with her all night, shouldn’t she at least be willing to see where the night takes them?
As autonomous, freethinking individuals no one has any right to anyone else. Regard is a privilege that must be earned, not something that men are automatically given an upper hand on simply because they were born with a Y chromosome.
When women grow up being warned not to walk alone at night and to always keep a rape whistle or can of pepper spray nearby, trusting near-strangers becomes a luxury too dangerous to risk.
“I tried to push as many [girls] as I could from the 10-foot ledge,” says Rodgers of his experience at a party in Santa Barbara. “I wanted to punish them for talking to the obnoxious boys instead of me.”
Having sustained serious injuries himself in the thwarted attempt, Rodgers laments that “if girls had been attracted to me, they would have offered to walk me to my room and take care of me. They would have even offered to sleep with me to make me feel better.”
“I will destroy all women because I can never have them,” Rodgers declares in his manifesto.
While such expressions of unfiltered violence may be alarming, they are by no means rare. By contrast, every 15 minutes a woman is beaten by her husband or partner and domestic violence remains the leading cause of injury to women in the United States. As in Rodgers’ outburst, sexual jealousy is often at the root of this violence.
Just this week a California man shot at three women after they refused to have sex with him and his friends. Just this week a pregnant woman was beaten to death by hear family in an “honour killing.” Just this week thousands of women around the world were victims of verbal and physical abuse because as a society we suffer from a misguided belief that men have some entitlement to women’s bodies.
“This cult of masculinity is all too much fed into our popular media,” Kathy Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation told the L.A. Times. “Women and girls are objectified as the ‘other,’ as objects to be conquered. We should not be surprised that a person this mentally ill focused on women as the ‘other’ that had harmed him.”
Now, however, popular media is fighting back.
Over a year ago The Everyday Sexism Project launched a hastag that helped women share their stories and build a sense of community. #EverydaySexism was the predecessor to the now explosive #YesAllWomen.
While women are becoming increasingly vocal about sexism, voices of misogynist extremism are falling silent. The once-thriving PuaHate community where Rodgers found sympathetic voices no longer exists. His “Retribution” YouTube video that once featured supportive comments alongside the criticisms no longer exists.
Six innocent people lie dead — twice as many men as women — but the conversation about the pervasiveness of sexism is ongoing. Rather than attempting to wipe the Friday night tragedy from our collective memories, we must use it as a reminder of the work that needs to be done to prevent such brutality in the future.