Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old student at Santa Barbara City College, has been identified as the attacker behind a murderous rampage, in which he killed six people before turning the gun on himself. Rodger stabbed three people to death at his apartment before shooting to death three more and ramming several others with his BMW.
Because Rodger is now dead, those interested in figuring the motives for his campaign of terror have looked into the extensive digital trail he left behind. He was particularly plugged into the Internet’s misogynistic “manosphere,” which Jaclyn Friedman defines as blogs, websites, and forums “where participants rant, bond, and spew ideas so misogynist they make Silvio Berlusconi look like Gloria Steinem. There are three main constituencies. There are the Pick Up Artists (PUAs), who'll try to sleep with all the women they can, by any means necessary, and Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), who claim to have sworn off women altogether. Then there are the Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), who are animated by many of the same misogynist beliefs as their manosphere brethren, but draw different conclusions about what men should do in relation to the scourge that is womankind.” This manosphere is a digital manifestation of anti-woman rhetoric that is centuries old and, like its predecessor, aspects of this newer iteration of misogyny can be directly linked to eruptions of violence against women.
“Today I drove through the area near my college and saw some things that were extremely rage-inducing. I passed by this restaurant and I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls. He didn’t even look good. Then later on in the day I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and saw an Indian guy with 2 above average White Girls!!! What rage-inducing sights did you guys see today? Don’t you just hate seeing these things when you go out? It just makes you want to quit life.”
Rodger was even more explicitly racist and self-loathing (especially considering the fact that he was biracial) in his 141-page manifesto. Jeff Yang notes that, “based on the memoir-cum-confession that he left behind, Rodger’s murderous rage was rooted in an obsessive self-hatred, born from his belief that he was entitled to, and thwarted from obtaining, a trifecta of privileges: Race, class, and gender. He saw himself as not quite white enough. Not quite rich enough. Not quite ‘masculine’ enough, in the toxic, testosterone-saturated way that that term is defined in our society. Throughout his manifesto, Rodger repeatedly chafes at seeing men of color dating and sleeping with white women, yearning to be a “normal fully-white person,” apparently to no avail. And, as Yang notes, the identities of the people he killed—two white women and five men of color—are probably not coincidences.
The connection between seemingly disparate forms of hatred, such racism and sexism, as evidenced in Rodger’s online rant show that, in fact, racism and sexism are not only connected but are, in fact, symbiotic. Rodger’s sense of entitlement as an affluent, heterosexual man who was rejected by women he felt he deserved manifested itself not only as anti-woman hate speech, but also as racist rhetoric as well.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors hate groups and hate speech, notes that Rodgers identified himself as an “incel,” or someone who is involuntary celibate. This was something that Rodgers apparently felt great anger about. He wrote about his desire for an “incel revolution,” writing, “One day incels will realize their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system. Start envisioning a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU.”
Understandably, many PUAs are distancing themselves from Rodger the man, while also attempting to shape the narrative around their connection to his actions. Slate reports that, “PUAs who were not immediately connected to Rodger were quick to capitalize on the news, suggesting that if Rodger had been a more devoted PUA protégé, they could have gotten him laid and prevented violence against women.” Such logic is not only flawed but also dangerous, in that it dismisses the horrible violence that Rodger perpetrated and also continues to treat women as pawns for men’s enjoyment, rather than as individuals with the right to accept or reject the advances of the people they encounter.
Rodger’s violent spree reflects the dangers of racism misogyny in our society. We are neither post-race nor post-racism. Misogyny is not a myth or exaggeration made up by sensitive women. Racism and misogyny are both worldview and actions that often have dire consequences.
And this is not an isolated event.
Laurie Penny writes in New Statesman, “This is not the first time that women and unlucky male bystanders have been massacred by men claiming sexual frustration as justification for their violence. In 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lépine shot 28 people at the École Polytechnique in Quebec, Canada, claiming he was ‘fighting feminism.’ Fourteen women died. In 2009, a 48-year-old man called George Sodini walked into a gym in the Pittsburgh area and shot 13 women, three of whom died. His digital manifesto was a lengthier version of Rodger’s, vowing vengeance against the female sex for refusing to provide him with pleasure and comfort... The ideology behind these attacks - and there is ideology - is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, ‘adoration,’ in Rodger’s words. We owe them respect and obedience, and our refusal to give it to them is to blame for their anger, their violence - stupid sluts get what they deserve. Most of all, there is an overpowering sense of rage and entitlement: the conviction that men have been denied a birthright of easy power.”
Although mass shootings may not be the norm, violence against women is. And this mass shooting, apparently triggered by Elliot Rodgers’ skewed perceptions of entitlement, among other issues, is connected to the larger culture of violence against women that permeates our society. Jessica Valenti writes in The Guardian that, “to dismiss this as a case of a lone ‘madman’ would be a mistake. It not only stigmatizes the mentally ill – who are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it – but glosses over the role that misogyny and gun culture play (and just how foreseeable violence like this is) in a sexist society. After all, while it is unclear what role Rodger's reportedly poor mental health played in the alleged crime, the role of misogyny is obvious.”
Women have taken to Twitter in the aftermath of this recent spate of violence to voice their concern over the entitlement and harassment that is often so endemic to women’s experience. Time.com argues that the hashtag #YesAllWomen “criticize[s] the way society teaches men to feel entitled to women at the expense of their health, safety and, in Rodger’s case, lives.” The tweets range from musings on street harassment to candid admissions regarding sexual assault and reflect the unfortunate pervasiveness of violence against women.
Furthermore, the role of race in this circumstance is not to be ignored. Although Rodger described himself as “Eurasian,” with a white father and an Asian mother, he has been described and understood as white in the public imaginary. Rodger’s race may seem like a moot point to some; however, as Chauncey DeVega suggests, the ways in which we speak of violence is intimately connected to stereotypes of race: “When an ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ American kills people in mass they are a ‘terrorist’. When a black person shoots someone they are ‘thugs’. When a white man commits a mass shooting he is ‘mentally ill’ or ‘sick.’” One of the advantages of white privilege is to be treated as an individual, and as a representative of a larger group. While Rodger certainly needs to be understood as an individual, he also needs to be understood within the larger context of his desire for the power of whiteness, misogyny, and the manosphere.
The murders at Isla Vista are an opportunity to have frank discussions about racism, misogyny, and the prevalence of violence, both online and “in real life.” Doing so not only honors of the lives of those were killed, but also takes a proactive stance in challenging the violent rhetoric that helped to stoke Elliot Rodger’s killing spree.