On May 23rd, Elliot Rodger, a 22 year old man, went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, killing 6 and wounding 13 before ultimately killing himself. He also posted a number of Youtube videos and wrote a manifesto, in which he blamed the spree, which he called his Day of Retribution, primarily on his lack of success with women. In the aftermath of the shooting, the world learned that Elliot Rodger was a long-time member of the ‘manosphere’, a collection of websites and internet fora devoted to men’s issues. He was active on body-building, men’s rights, and PUA (pick-up artist) sites, particularly PUAhate, a website devoted to the failings of PUA technique.
Our attention is drawn to this particular corner of the internet from time to time, and there has been the predictable rash of articles dissecting and protesting it. Many have questioned whether Rodger’s misogyny was a symptom or cause of his deep rage, and there has been debate about whether his anti-woman feelings were exceptional or merely an extreme version of bias that women experience regularly.
Members of the manosphere have spoken up, many condemning Rodger’s actions, but a distressing number either applauding or excusing him.
Elliot Rodger was a violent, angry, and unbalanced young man. Individuals like him crop up with regularity around the world, and they find diverse reasons to kill people. It is impossible to say with any certainty whether or not Rodger would have killed anyone if he had been more successful with women, or if he had not stumbled on the organized anti-woman rage available on the internet.
We cannot say, and so we should not. Spree killers are complicated and unusual, and we should be careful about laying blame for them in any one place. Unless evidence emerges that Rodger was encouraged or helped in his murderous plans by his misogynist brothers, we shouldn’t be blaming them simply because they share certain of his repulsive beliefs.
But the beliefs are repulsive, and primitive, and we should call them so. And they are not so rare that we can safely ignore them. A quick spin around sites like the subreddit, r/TheRedPill, or the Return Of Kings reveals thinking which, while less explicitly violent than Rodger’s, sounds very much like it.
Most of this material contains the same sulky strain which characterized Rodger’s communications. The manosphere is populated largely (though not perhaps exclusively) by men who feel that the sexual playing field is not level, and that they are unfairly disadvantaged. Their lack of success doesn’t lie in their own deficiencies, they are sure, but rather in the callousness and hypocrisy of women and in the power which feminism has given them.
These men feel that feminism is, among other things, a strategy women have developed and deployed to take power from men and to maximize their own reproductive fitness.
(Note, all quotes sic, despite the nearly over-powering urge to correct them.)
Feminism is a sexual strategy. It puts women into the best position they can find, to select mates, to determine when they want to switch mates, to locate the best dna possible, and to garner the most resources they can individually achieve. (r/TheRedPill)
They do not see feminism as virtuous, but instead as a tool women use to compensate for their biological deficiencies, which the manosphere believes are both mental and physical.
Women are irrational and inconsistent, they have a capacity for logic but it is not their modus operandi, that is to say that they must exert effort to be logical as it is not their factory setting. (r/TheRedPill)
You have to be better than her, which means to be stronger than she is. This is why women get to be emotional and we have to be unreactive, we are strong and ignore our emotions so they can indulge in their emotions and enjoy the ride. They find it far more difficult to be logical than we do and thus it is our burden to be the reasonable ones. (r/TheRedPill)
Apparently, these congenital flaws historically limited the power women could exercise over men; as one website helpfully reminds us, “her capacity for brilliance is lower than yours“. Feminism, we are told, muzzles men and gives women total control over their own mate choice, and has therefore robbed men of their status and due place in society. Now male hierarchy is set by female choice, and women, according to the manosphere, have screwy priorities.
“They [women] are enabled by the culture to seek out bad boys while rejecting the nice guy who is “boring”. This behavior continues until they find that they are past their physical prime, whereby the nice guy is plucked from a Spartan sexual existence and expected to keep his mouth shut when a trickle flow of informational torture reveals that his bride-to-be has experienced more than a dozen different penises in her vagina, anus, and mouth – the same mouth that is supposed to kiss his future children good night. (Return Of Kings)
The focus on the sexual looseness of women runs through the manosphere, and there is a great deal of disdain for women who are sexually active with more than one partner. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that women who are willing to have sex with men in general are probably more likely to have sex with them as well. Quite the contrary: they want a woman with no prior sexual experience who nevertheless finds them sexually irresistible.
The anger towards “promiscuous” women is inextricable from the anger at the men that such women are presumed to prefer. In fact, Elliot Rodger himself expressed this point of view:
I’m the perfect guy, and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentleman…All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them. While they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes. 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.” (transcribed from here)
According to their mythology, this preference of women for alpha males, which the men of the manosphere imagine is universal, stands in sharp contrast to the claims by many women that they want “a nice guy”. These men, who seem universally to feel, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they are nice guys, are bewildered and angered by their lack of sexual success.
There are many men who do not find themselves terribly lucky with women; only a small minority (let us hope) participate in the manosphere. What seems to define that small minority is that their essential sense of fairness has been violated.
The manosphere feels that women have not held up their end of the deal. They’re nice guys, and what do women claim that they want? Nice guys! But do the nice men of the manosphere get laid? No.
There is a faulty assumption which underlies this kind of thinking: that sex with women is transactional in nature. You merely meet their minimum requirements (“being nice”), and they will have sex with you. If they don’t, the rejection constitutes a form of discrimination, and the manospherites’ rage is righteous, like the minority customer whose legal tender is not accepted by a racist shop owner.
That delusion is the particularly toxic heart of this kind of thinking. Women, like men, are entitled to sexual preference, stated or otherwise, to sexual agency, even to sexual arbitrariness, if it suits them. If a woman says that she wants to find a nice man, she means that she values kindness in potential mates; it doesn’t mean that the next not-mean man that she bumps into automatically gets sexual access to her.
It seems unlikely that these men feel obligated to have sex with any woman that wants them, no matter how nice she is. Their outrage is predicated on the belief that men and women have fundamentally distinct sexual rights.
Despite their particular pride in their own logic, the arguments expressed are riddled with holes. For the saner reader, the effect is one of funhouse mirrors: distortions everywhere. Which makes it all the more tempting to dismiss them as a small group of vocal fruitcakes.
The internet amplifies craziness, and the mere presence of a wacked-out minority is not novel, nor it is necessarily dire. However, the spate of articles and the success of the #yesallwomen hashtag suggest that many women have encountered the same sort of entitlement and anger that Elliot Rodger expressed in such an extreme way.
We might safely ignore several angry men on the internet. However, we should not let the looniness of this most extreme manifestation distract us from its lesser cousins. Even more watered-down chauvinism, on display in the men who think women should sleep with them if they bought dinner, or the man at a bar who won’t leave a girl alone until she lies about a husband in the bathroom, encroaches on the safety and comfort of women.
It is sad that, in this day and age, anyone need be told that women don’t owe them, or anyone, sex. It’s sad that there are men who are unwilling to accept that women have the same rights that they do. But, demonstrably, there are.