Mere hours after Elliot Rodger’s violent crimes hit the media, a heated debate began spiraling across internet: Did he kill under the influence of a society who oppresses and degrades women, or did he kill under the influence of a mental illness?
I am not a mental health professional. I have no ability to determine whether these shootings were the consequence of a severely disturbed individual who had in some part detached from reality. But here’s what I do know: Elliot did not embrace his ideologies in a vacuum. He maintained an active presence on web forums, youtube channels and social media outlets. His misogynistic ideologies were fed and encouraged every step of the way. His thoughts did not exist in a vacuum. His mind did not exist in a vacuum. And if he were indeed suffering from a severe mental illness, that illness didn’t exist in a vacuum either. Whether or not Rodger had partially detached from reality, reality had no in no way detached from Rodger.
Elliot Rodger was a dangerous, possibly ill man growing up in a dangerous, definitely ill society. This takes no blame off his shoulders but it does place some of it on ours. We ourselves have detached in so many places from the struggles and prejudices that all women face. We accept the way that women are portrayed in television, movies, song lyrics, web forums and pornography. We encourage women to embrace these values. We suggest they be empowered by them. We tell them to behave a certain way, speak a certain way, act a certain way, and look a certain way — all before they are old enough to question it. We detach from the harmful nature of encouraging such values because we ourselves learned them before we were young enough to know any better.
Men are taught these values too. All men. Behave a certain way to attract a woman. Look a certain way, talk a certain way, and perform a careful series of actions that ensures you’ll receive something in return. It’s a business transaction without any formal contract. In the hands of a black-and-white thinker, broken contracts must be avenged.
But we are not all black and white thinkers. Could we therefore place all the blame in the hands of the avenger? Could we plea that he misunderstood the contract, violated unwritten rules and took revenge where revenge was not due? We could. We could write Elliot off as a madman and clear our own consciences with ease. He was taught that women owe him something, but so were most men. After all, we are all victims of the crushing ideals we have been raised with since birth. Be a complacent female. Be an alpha male. We were all raised with a skewed understanding of what it means to be a human being and what rules we must follow. Still, are most of us out shooting strangers and blaming the system? No. But enough of us are that it’s a problem. And too many of us are facing that problem on smaller, yet terrifying, scale.
The misogynistic values we inherited came with consequences. Consequences like widespread prejudice, systematic barriers, shocking rape statistics, insurmountable suicide counts and brutal, increasingly frequent murders. We can excuse ourselves from the blame when it comes to these issues, or we can choose to make a change. We are all victims of a twisted society but we’re also the product of it. We are the next generation of it. We cannot change the mental state of every ill individual but the crippling expectations we place on women and men to behave a certain way are things we are both aware of and able to change.
And it starts with questioning. Questioning the things you have been raised to believe in. Questioning why feminists make you angry. Why degrading pornography makes you horny. Why your first response to a prejudiced system is to deny that you’ve had any part in it. Why news reports about murder in the name of misogyny fills you with sadness but not shock. Why you think that we can’t make a difference. Why you think that we don’t need to.
My plea to each and every one of us in the wake of the recent tragedy is not to examine the ways in which Elliot Rodger’s thinking was impaired, but to examine the ways in which your own thoughts have been compromised. Examine the ideals you have accepted without asking why. Examine the social contracts you follow and expect to be rewarded for. Examine the ways in which you could make a change, and whether or not you are brave enough to make it. Brave enough to stand up for the right ideals instead of explaining away the wrong ones.
In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Let’s start waking up to the ways in which we are feeding into a society of warped, misogynistic attitudes. And then let’s work towards forming a new understanding of it — the way Elliot Rodger didn’t.