(This story first appeared in Secular Nation magazine.)
On the night of 23 May 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a massacre in Santa Barbara that left six people dead and seven injured.
The question is, why did he do it? If you make a habit of reading news from other countries and followed the story from there, you’ll have been given the answer almost as soon as it happened. If you only follow the US news, you’ll have to have sorted through the facts, including some that you simply won’t find in almost all of the traditional US news media, or for that matter most of the online sources that have begun to supplant them.
Elliot Rodger killed and injured those people because he was virulently misogynistic. He hated all women with a bone-deep seething hatred, especially but not limited to the women he found most sexually attractive. There are naturally all kinds of factors in the case, as in any human situation, but there is absolutely no question that that was his primary motive; it is staggeringly, stunningly obvious from the facts.
The problem is, the US media almost universally ignored that obvious fact, and in many cases still are. They went through incredible contortions to try and find some other explanation, to find some skewed psychology that would allow the possibility of his motivation being primarily racism (he was in fact a racist as well, but that was not his primary motivation), or a disease of the brain, or even (by Fox News, always first to the bottom) repressed homosexuality. It’s all nonsense; we know why he did it because the killer himself told us, with heated passion and in great detail, in a variety of media, exactly why.
Shortly before starting his killing spree Rodger had uploaded a video to YouTube entitled “Retribution”. In this video Rodger said he was going to prove himself the ultimate “alpha male” and take revenge on all the “sluts” who had sexually rejected him:
“Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge. […] On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB [University of California, Santa Barbara], and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut I see inside of there. All of 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.”
Prior to that Rodgers mailed a 140-page autobiography/manifesto to various media outlets, including the New York Times. Here is a sample:
“I concluded that women are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. They are incapable of reason or thinking rationally. They are like animals, completely controlled by their primal, depraved emotions and impulses. That is why they are attracted to barbaric, wild, beast-like men. They are beasts themselves. Beasts should not be able to have any rights in a civilized society. If their wickedness is not contained, the whole of humanity will be held back from advancement to a more civilized state. Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilized men of intelligence. If women had the freedom to choose which men to mate with, like they do today, they would breed with stupid, degenerate men, which would only produce stupid, degenerate offspring. This in turn would hinder the advancement of humanity. Not only hinder it, but devolve humanity completely. Women are like a plague that must be quarantined.”
Prior to *that* he was an active participant on various misogynistic Internet forums, primarily one called PUAHate. There he said things like this:
“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.”
“Every male should read the posts here so that they can be awakened. There are too many delusional males worshipping women who would only spit in their faces.”
A quick primer: MRA stands for Men’s Rights Advocate, a misogynistic anti-feminist online community. PUA is Pick-Up Artist, a somewhat overlapping group who claim to know many psychological tricks for hoodwinking women into having sex with them. Incel means involuntary celibate, a man who can’t get women to have sex with him. PUAHate is a collection of MRA incels who resent PUAs for supposedly ‘stealing’ the women who otherwise would have slept with them. The overall attitude is that women are not regarded as individual human beings but as faulty sex dispensing devices that put out for the wrong men, i.e. not the incels.
Now, is it so that Rodgers had other issues? Certainly. He was narcissistic, racist, deeply unrealistic, and may have had a mild form of autistic spectrum disorder. All that fed into his malignant personality, no doubt; his narcissism (his autobiography/manifesto is full of bragging about his high IQ), magical thinking (he felt cheated every time he failed to win a large lottery prize), and lack of social skills (which may or may not have been Asperger’s syndrome) were contributing factors to his frustrated rage against women, and his racism partially directed it (he was obsessed with blond hair, and became particularly enraged when he saw women he desired dating “nonwhite” males – though partly Asian himself he identified as white).
Nevertheless the overwhelming cause of his actions, so overwhelming that I’d argue you would not be missing anything significant by considering it the sole cause, was his misogyny, and despite the peculiar and infuriating reluctance of the US media to acknowledge it that is the plain truth.
As that truth has become increasingly unavoidable, the predictable and to an extent understandable reaction by many men has been summed up in the Twitter hashtag #NotAllMen. Not all men are like that, not all men hate women, not all men see women as sex-dispensing objects. That is true, and I doubt that you can find a single woman who will deny it. The *defensiveness* of that hashtag is the key to understanding the larger issue beyond the specific tragedy of Elliot Rodger though, and the reason for that defensiveness is the very reason why the US media didn’t want to acknowledge misogyny as the ovious cause of that tragedy.
That defensiveness arises because, as the responding hashtag #YesAllWomen demonstrates with heartbreaking thoroughness, those attitudes are ingrained into our culture to an appalling extent. The MRA subculture is an extreme fringe, Elliot Rodger was an extreme member even there… but those attitudes aren’t nearly as extreme as we’d like to pretend, and some level of them pervade just about everywhere, to such an extent we’ve largely blinded ourselves to their ubiquity. Women are constantly treated as mere sexual playthings, constantly considered less worthy of attention and respect than men, constantly made to feel vulnerable in both physical and social ways, constantly dismissed and belittled and ignored.
I can’t express the extent of the problem here. Go on Twitter and search the hashtag #YesAllWomen. If you do, then even if you are relatively aware of the problem the chances are you will be astonished by how many ways that pervasive set of attitudes is expressed, and by how many of them you have seen again and again and never made the connection, simply because the problem is so ubiquitous it fades into background noise.
If you are a man, especially one who considers himself a good man who doesn’t think that way, resist the temptation to simply block with a reflexive #NotAllMen. Of course not all of us are like Rodger, or even like the resentful self-involved MRA subculture he came out of… but his deadly hatred did grow out of that culture, which does exist, and that culture survives and thrives because of the general background of outdated attitudes that it concentrates and intensified. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Catching violent extremists like Rodger won’t eliminate it, even disrupting the cesspools of the MRA and PUA cultures won’t do the whole job. The culture of patriarchy is pervasive, and it’ll take standing up against stereotypes, not tolerating dismissive and insulting jokes, being consciously fair, and a trillion other small actions.
Paying attention to a problem is the first step in fixing it. These attitudes have largely grown out of a cultural heritage dominated by religions that aggrandize men and diminish women at every level; they are not rational attitudes that enlightened people should want to tolerate in their culture.
#YesAllWomen share a problem. #NotAllMen are willing to make it their problem too, but men who are rationalists and humanists should. Let’s do it, #AllGoodHumans.