By Anna B. Roach
About two months ago, a friend of mine linked me to a parody. It was a prototypical fedora-wearing Men’s Rights Activist-type entitled 22-year-old whining about how little success he had had with women. As a parody, I found it good – he put into unsettling words the tacit assumptions behind men who cat-call, commit sexual harassment, and otherwise assume women’s responsibility to please them. Without restraint, he voiced absurdly extreme beliefs about the women he deserved. He spent money on clothes, he reasoned, and was half-white – thus, he deserved a girlfriend. In fact, he didn’t understand why he didn’t have a blue-eyed, blonde, white girlfriend, a type that he unashamedly held above all others. His speech was evidently rehearsed and not dissimilar to that of a movie villain – slow, chilling, bitter, and carefully thought-out.
It was only when he declared a gruesome plan to take revenge upon cruel womankind that I glanced at the date the video had been posted – mere hours earlier. Panicked, I checked the news. As it turned out, it was not a parody. It was Elliot Rodgers announcing the plan that would, on the night of May 23rd, kill six and injure seven others.
The #YesAllWomen hashtag trended on twitter, and then #NotAllMen trended on twitter. The event brought about a discussion about misogyny which kept up for about a week or two, and then promptly died again and was forgotten. Today, I mention the Isla Vista shooting to people and they say, “what shooting?” What’s worse, mainstream media barely reported on the rampant misogyny within his crime, despite the fact that he publicly admitted he was only going through with his plan because no woman had ever had sex with him. After having explicitly stated that he was taking revenge upon the women that he felt he deserved to have sex with, popular news sources like CNN instead focused on his jealousy of other men and painted him as a sad virgin – simultaneously reinforcing the stigma attached to male virginity and providing an excuse for a mass murder. Popular psychology websites diagnosed him with a serious case of spoiled childhood and overbearing parenting. TIME Magazine wrote: “Misogyny didn’t turn Elliot Rodger into a killer” – an article that briefly admitted that gender equality has not yet been achieved, but pushes this crime aside: “there’s little common thread against mass-homicide perpetrators to target women.”
Let’s be clear – the point here isn’t that Elliot Rodgers was, in fact, a perfectly healthy, well-adjusted individual. No person who goes on a killing spree is that. Rather, popular media developed an obsession with forming a diagnosis – was he autistic? Did he have narcissistic personality disorder? Schizotypal personality disorder? Diagnoses – amateur and professional alike – flooded reporting about him, and allowed for the easy excuse: he did this because he was crazy. It’s a convenient, one-size-fits-all solution that makes this an individualized problem. The problem is that it isn’t an individualized problem – though Rodgers’ violent streak is uncommon, it isn’t unique, and the ideas that led him are painted all over our society.
At the core of Rodgers’ violence was the idea that he wasn’t given his due, that women somehow owed him their time, affection and bodies to reward him for being well-dressed, rich, and half-white. Toned-down versions of that belief are faced my most women every day. The ever-pervasive notion that women dress and wear make-up for men, visible in any number of “men don’t like it when you…” articles. Catcalling embodies the idea that men’s opinions on women’s appearance are due and welcome. And then there’s rape culture – victim-blaming, “she led me on,” “she was asking for it,” and other such ways to excuse rape. Most shocking to me is the belief that men somehow can’t control themselves, that sex is some vital, unstoppable force in men’s lives – again, that women owe men their time and sex.
Even the most extreme cases, though, were, like Rodgers, men so profoundly believe they deserve women that they go so far as killing them, are far more common than we would like to admit. Pittsburgh: August 5th, 2009: George Sodini kills 3 women, and then himself, at a gym. His diary indicates he did this because he hadn’t had any emotionally satisfying romantic experiences, and few sexual ones. Connecticut, April 25th, 2014: Chris Plaskon asks a girl to prom, knowing she had a boyfriend. When she turns him down, he stabs her to death. Long Island, July 12th, 2014: Dante Taylor, an ex-marine, murders 21-year-old Sarah Goode when she turns down his advances. Kingdom of Tonga, 1976: Dennis Priven murders fellow Peace Corps volunteer Deborah Gardner when she turns him down after a dinner with him. September 21st, 2012, Texas: Ryland Shane Absalon, at 45 years old, stabs 18-year-old Ginger Hayden over 50 times when she rejects his advances. November 12th, 2010, California: Mario Francisco Hernandez, 22, tries to run over his girlfriend when she turns down his wedding proposal. March 14th, 2011, Texas: Jeffrey Allan Maxwell abducts and then tortures a woman for turning him down. These stories are only a handful of those that happen within our borders – many are like them, and there are countless situations in which entitlement to women’s bodies has resulted in rape and injuries.
Here we are, two months later – the death of six people at the hands of a misogynist with a gun have been mourned and then placed aside, the event recorded by public opinion as one more unfortunate tragedy created by a madman. He’s gone now, though, and it’s over. But it isn’t: this event, and all of the others that bear resemblance to it, are the fruit of a society that portrays sex as absolutely necessary, vital almost, to men, and something that they deserve. They are the result of equating sex with success and women as trophies and rewards.
Further reading: Elliot Rodger Didn’t Have Autism? Well, He Had Anger (Forbes), Elliot Rodgers: More Than a Madman (Laci Greene, YouTube), Lessons from a Day Spent with the UCSB Shooter’s Awful Friends (Jezebel)