By now most of you have probably read or heard about the Isla Vista shooting on Friday night. For anyone who hasn’t, here are the salient points: at around 9:30pm on Friday night, a shooter in a black BMW drove through the suburb of Isla Vista near the University of California in Santa Barbara, firing randomly at passers-by. He killed six people and wounded seven more, one critically, before crashing his car and being found dead with a single gunshot wound to the head (it’s still undeclared whether he shot himself or was hit by police fire). Though it’s not been officially confirmed, it’s basically common knowledge by now that the shooter was Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old son of Hollywood director Peter Rodger and a student UCSB. Prior to the shootings, Elliot Rodger had uploaded several videos to Youtube, in which he talks about the pain of still being a virgin, how girls always reject him and how they and their boyfriends “ruin his life”. He even uploaded one final video shortly before the mass shooting, in which he specifically states that he plans to commit the drive-by murders of random people in Isla Vista to punish humanity (especially women) for the life of loneliness they have apparently inflicted upon him.
After hearing about this shooting – yet another mass shooting at a place of learning – I hit up Youtube and watched every last one of Rodger’s videos to try and glean some understanding of the thought process that might have led to this tragedy. I found the videos scary and disgusting, but also incredibly interesting in a sick sort of way. Because the more I watched the more I found myself drawing parallels between Rodger’s own words, and some of the things I read all too often on websites like ROK, MGTOW or SSM. It seems to me that Rodger’s videos, and the tragedy itself, highlight some of the most dangerous and destructive aspects of contemporary gender relations and modern masculinity.
As always, I’ll make this disclaimer before I start so everybody keeps their hair on: I’m not in any way saying that Elliot Rodger or his actions represent the dominant attitudes present in modern masculinity. I don’t even think he’s representative of most MRAs, PUAs, manospherians, red pill guys or any other subset of men the Men’s Rights Movement you care to name. In some ways he wasn’t even an ‘average’ guy; his father was famous and wealthy, he lived a life of considerable privilege, and he had reportedly been treated for Asperger’s Syndrome by a number of therapists. Watching his videos, he frequently refers to himself as “beautiful” and “magnificent” – speech patterns hardly representative of the average modern male. So before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, no I am not trying to say that all men or most MRAs contribute to the problems that I’m about to discuss. All I wish to point out is that there are some aspects of modern masculinity which can be extremely damaging, and that some men believe in and manifest these behaviours and attitudes with negative consequences. And I believe that in spite (or perhaps because) of his unusual personality and extreme behaviour, Elliot Rodger embodies many of the most corrosive aspects of contemporary masculinity.
The Invisible Men – Straight, White and Angry
Of all the mass shootings that have occurred in the last 30 years, 61 out of 62 were perpetrated by men. What’s more, 90% of the mass murders in that time committed in schools and universities were the actions of young, white men. Michael Moore posted on his own Facebook page today a statement, including the comment that, “Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males.” The correlation between race, gender and these acts of mass slaughter is such a rich and disturbing topic that Michael Kimmel devotes an entire chapter to it in his book Angry White Men. He highlights not only the overwhelming presence of straight white males amongst the ranks of America’s mass murderers, but also the fact that such incidents are never discussed in terms of race or gender – precisely because the perpetrators are white males. I didn’t buy this idea at first, until Kimmel raised an interesting hypothetical in which all these shootings had been committed by women of colour from poor families. To quote:
“Can you picture the national debate, the headlines, the hand-wringing? There is no double we’d be having a national debate about inner-city poor black girls. The entire focus would be on race, class, and gender…We’d hear some pundits proclaim some putative natural tendency among blacks toward violence. Someone would likely even blame feminism for causing girls to become violent in a vain imitation of boys. Yet the obvious fact that virtually all the rampage shooters were middle-class white boys barely broke a ripple in the torrent of public discussion.”
And now, once again, we have a mass shooting at a place of education committed by a young, angry white man. And once again public discussion, although in its early stages, has failed to address the overwhelming links of race and gender which unite nearly every mass shooter in recent U.S. history. As so often before, attention has been focused on the personal circumstances of the shooter; conditions such as family history, mental instability, their status within the school environment, all draw far more coverage. In Rodger’s case, the Youtube videos he posted prior to the atrocity are such a media goldmine that his attitude to sex and women has been given far more coverage than it otherwise would have. Yet still, little to no link has been made in the mainstream media between Rodger’s actions – and even his extreme Youtube rants – and his race or gender. And that link should be made, because his ravings echo not only the sentiment expressed by other young, white, male mass shooters in the lead-up to their own murder-suicides; but also the some of the feelings that crop up all too frequently in the particularly anti-feminist and anti-women realms of the manosphere, which in my experience are overwhelmingly dominated by white males. Of course Rodger’s personal life and mental health are influential factors in this scenario; but when the media continues to focus on these shooters as individuals, they neglect what could arguably be called their duty – to identify a dangerous trend in society and thereby open up new avenues for society to address that negative pattern. Until we acknowledge that the perpetrators of mass shootings are almost exclusively young, angry white men, we will continue to miss the opportunity to tackle the issues of race and gender that contribute to such tragedies.
Legitimising Male Violence
Why are these atrocities almost solely the purview of angry white men? Whilst there are many plausible explanations, Kimmel advances his own theory of “aggrieved entitlement” to explain the phenomenon. Essentially, aggrieved entitlement means that you have a right to something, and that right is being denied, and that this is a fundamental injustice. In the context of school shootings, Kimmel states that perpetrators are usually “deeply aggrieved by a system that they may feel is cruel or demeaning…”. The concept of systematically demeaning treatment certainly unifies the shooters in question: almost all of them were tormented as ‘nerds’, ‘loners’, ‘geeks’, ‘fags’ or ‘rejects’. All reported feeling or genuinely being humiliated on an almost daily basis by their peers, and many stated that when they reported this abuse to the school system, nothing was done to protect them. But extreme bullying is not limited solely to young white men – so why is it that only people of this demographic commit mass shootings? Once again, Kimmel has a very plausible theory, suggesting that for many young men, humiliation is synonymous with a loss of masculinity.
“Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone, and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man…From a very early age, boys learn that violence is not only an acceptable form of conflict resolution, but one that is admired….[there is] a sense that using violence against others, making others hurt as you hurt, is fully justified.”
Like his predecessors, Elliot Rodger clearly felt that he was being denied his rights by being rejected by women and the “popular kids” at his college. And like them, he too decided that it was his right to use violence to assert himself as “the true alpha male” and punish his peers for the “injustice” they had inflicted upon him. Now obviously, not every boy who is bullied or socially awkward is a mass murderer waiting to crack; Kimmel takes pains to point out that a certain level of mental and/or neurological instability is also required for the perpetrator to reach the point where they literally go out and murder innocent people and think that’s OK. But having read this particular work, it’s impossible not to be struck by the links between Rodger’s own words and the concept of “aggrieved entitlement” and the right that some men feel to combat humiliation with violence. It’s chilling to watch his final video entitled ‘Retribution’, to hear him talk calmly about how he’s going to pump bullets into his classmates and how they’ve brought it on themselves by rejecting him.
Perhaps the saddest thing about this particular aspect of the tragedy is the fact that the legitimacy of male violence is so often enacted in private, rather than public, arenas. I in no way wish to diminish the sadness of what happened on Friday night; six innocent people were randomly slaughtered and that is an absolute tragedy. The fact remains, however, that more than 10 times as many women die every year in Australia as a result of intimate partner violence. Statistics for how many men die every year as a result of male-on-male violence are much harder to come by. But the unifying factor, whether the victim is male or female, is that men who are faced with conflict or humiliation, real or perceived, legitimately feel they are entitled – indeed, obliged – to use violence to restore their manhood and sense of self. Whilst this behaviour is reinforced in many ways across our society, sections of the manosphere can be particularly bad about encouraging men to use violence to settle disputes, either with women or with other men. I truly cannot count the number of comments and articles I’ve read advocating the virtues of physical violence as a means to hone and assert one’s masculinity; or even better, the occasional necessity of using physical violence against a female partner when she “steps out of line” by criticising or emasculating her man. Violence is a natural part of growing up for children of both genders; but to repeatedly reinforce to male children alone that the use of violence is their right and their duty, their first course of action when faced with humiliation, creates a disturbing imbalance which manifests itself in both mass murders and everyday tragedies.
The Dark Side of Game
In the less-than-48 hours since this shooting took place, PUAs and advocates of game have already come to the fore to offer a predictable lament: “If only he’d learned game, this never would have happened!” One particularly noxious ‘dating coach’ agency actually posted an advert on Rodger’s Youtube videos claiming that the reason game exists is to prevent such tragedies from happening. Leaving aside the extraordinary oversimplification of ‘This young man with a diagnosed neurological condition and clear social anxiety/awkwardness would totally never have killed everyone if he got his dick wet’, the fact is that Rodger’s actually did seem to know about game. He reportedly subscribed to a number of PUA websites, but also to an anti-PUA website called PUAHate, where he posted comments about how game was a lie because it clearly wasn’t working for him.
Now I mostly think game is a load of misogynistic rubbish, but there is one aspect of it which I genuinely admire: it recognises that traditional notions about how men should attract women are outdated and often unsuccessful. The qualities and resources which men have traditionally been taught to cultivate in order to attract a long-term female partner (or even a one-night-stand) have become somewhat irrelevant, largely because young women in particular have little need of them. Teaching young men that being having a steady income and being ‘nice’ will win them the affection of a worthy woman is silly; most young women are reasonably financially independent, and will normally eschew ‘niceness’ over a partner whom they feel meets their emotional, intellectual or sexual needs at the time. Although PUAs usually address this issue in sphincter-clenchingly sexist terms, they do at least offer a bit of useful advice to young men looking to have more success with women; dress well, get in shape, make yourself interesting to talk to, and you’ll probably have more success than if you’re a pudgy accounting student who opens car doors. I’m putting in the most callous terms for the sake of brevity, so any advocates of game, please accept my apologies for the simplistic summary.
The issue in this case is that, in his own mind at least, Rodger actually embodied many of the qualities which PUAs encourage men to cultivate in order to increase their success with women. He actually lists these qualities himself in one of his videos: he has a BMW, wears $300 sunglasses, dresses well, is “the ultimate gentleman”, describes himself as “magnificent” and “sophisticated”, has travelled a lot and believes this makes him “interesting”. He says that he puts a lot of effort into cultivating his attractiveness, and that he therefore “deserves girls”. However, anyone with two brain cells to rub together who watches Rodger’s videos will quite clearly see that he was extremely socially awkward and would probably struggle to talk to women in a ‘normal’ manner, let alone appeal to them sexually.
But here’s the problem – Rodger genuinely believed that he was successfully doing all the things he needed to do to attract women. This is what I mean by the ‘dark side’ of game; ultimately, unless you’re having your behaviour regularly monitored by sources you trust, you have no impartial way of judging whether or not you’re applying its concepts successfully. Advocates of game might argue that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so to speak – that a man’s success with women is the standard by which he judges the effectiveness of his own game. But what happens when we get men like Elliot Rodger? Men who believe that they’re doing all the right things and still being rejected, and therefore develop an overwhelming sense of injustice and depravation? The dark side of game is that so much of it is based upon a man’s perception of himself; if he sees himself as ticking all the right boxes yet still has no success, what is he to think? Where is he to turn, when PUAs so insistently tell him that applying these concepts will absolutely increase his chances with women, because after all they are really just animals governed by emotional and sexual impulses. No doubt many more people will say “If only Elliot Rodger had learned game” – but the fact is, he did learn game and it didn’t fucking work, because no amount of game can get you past the fact of having Asperger’s Syndrome and a deeply unrealistic, unsubstantiated perception of your own attractiveness. Game can be dangerous in cases like this when it’s subscribed to by people who don’t listen to anyone’s opinion but their own. They think they’re doing all the right things and still being rejected, and this can give rise to the embittering idea that the fault lies not with you, but with the world for not seeing you as you truly deserve to be seen. Elliot Rodger was, unfortunately, a living embodiment of that sense of embittered injustice.
Male Entitlement to Women’s Lives
For me, this is the most important aspect of the whole thing because it is the one I see most clearly manifested in Rodger’s pre-rampage videos. In every single one of them, he talks about girls; how he desires them, is rejected by them, how they walk around with their beautiful blonde hair, how they don’t see how “magnificent” and “beautiful” he is, how he “deserves” affection from girls and just wants them to see how “worthy” he is. This is indicative of a seriously dangerous idea which sadly pervades innumerable aspects of our society, not just the manosphere; the idea that men have a right to be surrounded by women who behave in the way that those men want them to.
This comes back to the “aggrieved entitlement” concept discussed in Kimmel’s book. Rodger’s rantings express not only the desire to be seen as attractive by women, but a conviction that the fact this wasn’t happening was an “injustice” and a “crime”. Such language clearly suggests that he not only wanted the attention of women, he felt he had an absolute right to it and that the absence of female attention violated that right. Whether or not he was genuinely attractive to those women doesn’t seem to be in question; he thinks he’s ticked all the boxes for what the perfect boyfriend should look like, and women are therefore obligated to desire him. It’s not his fault for failing to attract them, it’s their fault for not feeling that desire for him. To be fair, his hatred is not only directed at women – he expresses astonishing vitriol for the “obnoxious” and “worthless” men around him, who he claims have “ruined his life” by having success with women and “enjoying life more than him.” But still the theme continues – he is entitled to female affection, and the fact that their affection is being directed towards other men and not him is just another blow of injustice.
Such a perspective is toxic for two reasons. Firstly, because it represents an incredibly flawed understanding of relationships, one which is unfortunately still sold to many young men today. It basically implies that relationships are about fulfilling criteria; if you do all the right things that men are meant to do, then you are entitled to a woman who does all the things that women are meant to do. Which may have been fine back in the day, but in our modern climate of relative luxury we have a lot more leeway for tricky things like personal preferences and genuine attraction. All the box-ticking in the world won’t mean diddly-squat if your prospective mate meets someone with whom they feel a genuine connection (even that connection is mostly genital-related). Yet still we teach young people, especially boys, that female affection is essentially a right that they earn by fulfilling the criteria of what it means to be a man. So when they feel they’ve done all the right things but their efforts remain unrewarded by womanly caresses, they don’t see it as an unfortunate twist of fate that they haven’t made a connection with anyone yet. They see it as a fundamental injustice, a slight on their masculinity and their rights – and it’s almost hard to blame them when society teaches them little else.
But the other and more disturbing reason is that this concept of male entitlement to women is applied not only in a sexual context, but throughout almost every aspects of women’s lives. By no means is it applied by all men – personally, I’ve seen it most commonly crop up in manosphere articles. Sometimes it is explicit; the writer will lament how there are no good virgins to marry anymore, how all women are sluts, how Americunts are so fat, how feminism is making women tyrants in the workplace, how older unmarried women need to stop harassing men with their unattractive existence. In other instances it is more subtle – nothing more than a pervasive sense that the author views that current state of affairs not only as undesirable, but as a fundamental perversion of how things ought to be. But the overwhelming theme is this; that men (read: straight white men) have a right to live in a world in which women look and behave in ways which are pleasing to them, and that when real life fails to live up to this dream it is an injustice and a crime.
Of course, just about everyone thinks the world would be a better place if it conformed more to their personal ideas of what is right and good. But there is a very important difference between saying “Things should be different because it would probably be better”, and “Things should be different because it is my right to live in a world that conforms to my idea of what is good.” It’s that sense of personal entitlement that’s the kicker – and honestly, it’s something I’ve seen expressed almost exclusively by (predominantly white) manospherians. Some of them (not all, but some) seem to feel that they are entitled to arbitrate not only women’s sexuality, but every aspect of their behaviour, in order to make it more pleasing to them personally. Elliot Rodger embodied this – he did not just want sex, or he could have gone to a prostitute. He wanted every aspect of these girls’ behaviour to conform to his ideal; they had to “adore” him, to see him for how he truly was, to willingly shower him with love and sex and affection and validate him as “worthy”. And, crucially, Rodger perceived that behaviour not merely as something he desire, but as something to which he was fundamentally entitled.
In case I’ve offended anyone, I’d like to apologise again if my writing about this particular subject has seemed callous or insensitive. It’s been an unusually long article and in trying to minimise words I might have expressed things more bluntly than usual – and since this might be a sensitive issue, I’m sorry if that’s upset anybody. It would be wonderful if society could actually learn something from yet another tragedy like this, but sadly I doubt it. Crucial factors in this case such as gun control and treatment of mental illness will probably remain relatively unreformed. Tenuous links are already being made between Rodger’s actions and the views of some MRAs, resulting in the demonisation of the entire MRM – a judgement that I think is unfair. Yes, this entire article is dedicated to drawing lines between Rodger’s beliefs and the behaviours and ideas of some manospherians – but as I stated before, I honestly think these views do not represent the entirety of the MRM. Just like feminism, this movement has some factions which are more extreme than others, and includes supporters whose beliefs may be the result of personal bitterness or a genuine hatred for the opposite sex. But like feminism, the Men’s Rights Movement also contains many people who desire genuine equality between all sexes, and to tar them all with the same brush would be a mistake. In fact, MRM initiatives such as increasing mental health awareness for men and boys directly tackle some of the key issues at play in this atrocity. I cannot pretend to have any pity for Elliot Rodger despite his unhappiness, and though it’s a cliche my heart honestly goes out to the families of those people he murdered. Rodger’s actions seem to embody some of the very worst aspects of masculinity and gender relations, but it can only be hoped that we can learn from what he did and try to shape masculinity into a more positive and supportive force for other men and boys.