Yes – Elliot Rodger had very little respect for women – but pinning his actions on a culture of misogyny neglects the underlining reasons why mentally ill, isolated young men turn to mass murder.
The Californian stabbing-shooting appears to be a familiar pattern: a socially off the beaten track male, with severe mental health and anger issues, hits out against those who he thinks has wronged him. Both a 140 page manifesto, and a rehearsed, psychotic youtube clip, spell out a young man devoured by anger over his inability to successfully connect with women. Reports claim that Rodger’s family attempted to reach out and warn authorities prior to the attack, but not unlike other similar cases, attempts to warn authorities did not prevent this gruesome crime.
Shortly after the crime took place, reports noted that the attack appeared to be specifically directed at women. This has sparked the speculation that cultural misogyny contributed to the event. Jessica Valenti, writing for the Guardian, noted that “Rodger, like most young American men, was taught that he was entitled to sex and female attention.” Valenti isn’t the only commentator who saw cultural misogyny at the heart of the shooting. Numerous reports have commented on‘men’s rights’ groups that Rodger may have associated with as a contributing factor.
Misogyny, in all its glory, remains a huge issue for society. Gender-based wage gaps still exist, and women remain largely under represented in high levels of business and government. Violence against women, while steadily on the decline, remains of many people’s lives. The 2013 American election saw comments about ‘legitimate rape’ and debates over women’s access to not only abortion but birth control. It’s not hard to understand why women feel that the cultural deck is stacked against them. Misogyny can, and does, spill over into violent crimes.
However connecting cultural misogyny to this specific mass killing is dubious at best. I certainly see Valenti’s argument, although I suspect that cultural cues on the interaction between men and women is slightly more complex than merely stating that men are trained to feel ‘entitled’ to female attention. Although Rodger appeared to be targeting women (and the men who were successful with women), there is little evidence linking killers to specifically target women. Killers in this category often target groups who they feel have wronged them, whether their own families, colleagues or peers.
By definition, the isolation felt by mass-homicidal maniacs mean they are less inclined to respond and act because of societal trends. Rodger comes across as a misogynist, but this appears to have begun from within, a by product of anger and sexual frustration, not something that was ‘taught’ to him by society. Had he not been fixated on his sexual frustrations, he might have targeted sports goers rather than young women and the men they chose to spend time with.
There seems to be a troubling trend that links mass shootings to idiosyncratic factors as potential causes. We have a need to look for unique reasons behind why someone did what they did. Jared Loughner, perpetrator of the Tucson shooting in January 2011, was initially (and falsely) accused of acting on behalf of some right-wing political agenda. Amy Bishop, responsible for a mass shooting in 2010 was thought to be acting due to tenure denial. Video games are blamed for creating young shooters (but conveniently ignored when the shooter is older).
All this does is blind us from the commonalities that mass shooters share. With little exception, most are just resentful, angry, mentally ill disturbed individuals. This should in no way contribute to the stigmatisation of the mentally sick, who most of the time are non violent. But acting as if there is no link between mental health and these kinds of crimes perhaps inhibits us from providing the mental health system needed to serve these kinds of individuals, whether at risk of violent behaviour of not.
Rodger is now dead, his work is done, and it fits so much of this ugly profile. He now joins the dark corridor of killers who have gone before him. Each one less important than the last, as their actions become more and more familiar. If there is any sense of warped satisfaction to take from this it is that Rodger’s very attempt to be exceptional in any way will instead leave him with the same status as his predecessors. In the end, mass shooters receive a kind of homicidal banality – the anonymity that they so feared follow them to the grave.