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How White, Male Privilege Made A Mass Murderer Of Elliot Rodger

Ashley Yang |
May 27, 2014 | 1:12 p.m. PDT


"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." (Jaclyn Wu, Neon Tommy)
"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." (Jaclyn Wu, Neon Tommy)
On the evening of Friday, May 23rd, a lone gunman opened fire in Isla Vista, CA, near the University of California at Santa Barbara campus. His shooting spree resulted in the death of 6 UCSB students, as well as his own suicide. 

The assailant has since been identified as Elliot Rodger, a student at Santa Barbara City College. His identity was revealed when his YouTube channel, which features several emotionally charged and highly misogynistic rants on his frustration with “loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires,” was released to the media. 

Hours before the massacre, Rodger uploaded a video entitled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” in which he expresses that he will “take pleasure in slaughtering” all the women that have rejected him (YouTube has since removed the video). Combined with a 141-page manifesto, where Rodger details the “cruel injustice” he has suffered at the hands of the “females of the human species [who] were incapable of seeing the value in [him]” over the course of his life, authorities have determined that the tragedy was a pre-meditated mass murder.

SEE ALSO: Elliot Rodger Planned Mass Murder Since January

In the aftermath of senseless violence, our first coping mechanism is to attempt to explain it, to account for the factors that could have acted as a trigger - because, as we know, not all sexually frustrated or disturbed young men go on mass killing sprees. We are quick to jump to the most common conclusions - the availability of firearms, untreated mental illness, even being a victim of bullying - for what drove Elliot Rodger to the edge. What has been observed  only by feminist critics, however, is the integral role played by white, male privilege and entitlement in creating the mentality that produced a mass murderer.

I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime… I'll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. (Elliot Rodger, in “Retribution.”)

The overarching theme of Rodger’s last diatribe, as well as that of his manifesto, is unbridled rage. The kind of rage one feels when one is consistently denied something he believes he is owed, in this case “sex, love, affection, adoration” from women. But rather than self-evaluating to consider whether he is projecting qualities that women might find unattractive (I’m sure that even before he perpetrated a mass killing, he wasn’t the most socially functional of young men), he simply lashes out at them with denigrating language and threats of violence. 

Such behaviors are most overtly and comprehensively perpetuated by Men's Rights Activists (MRAs), many of whom blame women and feminism for the discrimination they suffer in child custody, domestic violence law and, most recently, rape and sexual assault cases. Their rhetoric is usually charged with misogyny, calling women who supposedly deprive them of their "equal rights" sluts, manipulators and liars. In the pickup artist subculture, men who are consistently unsuccessful in their efforts to attract and have sex with women are taught a formula to acquire the women who are (in Rodger's words) "too stuck-up" to acknowledge all the positive qualities that "nice guys" like him have to offer.

SEE ALSO: Elliot Rodger's Parents Tried Stopping Him

Rodger’s outrage is a classic expression of male entitlement, fueled by norms in which the physical, economic and social dominance over women by men are enshrined. These ideas only reinforce his notion that it is both natural and right for him to receive sexual attention and access to women by virtue of his maleness; they form the source of his disgruntlement. When denied these things, he feels it is his right to lash out at them because, in his mind, women cannot see him for the “supreme gentleman” he is.

The same messages, overt and subliminal, that cause women to fear rejecting others, and to self-criticize upon facing rejection, gave Rodger the justification for his anger. His supposed right of access to women, and by extension women themselves, is a direct corollary to the privileges he enjoys as a middle-class, white male: namely, a comfortable, well-provisioned lifestyle, advantages in the job market, freedom from confining social expectations and a lack of exposure to the harms of gender-based violence. Rodger considered his inability to attract women an indomitable, unbearable injustice because he never had to combat the myriad of challenges that women and minorities must combat every day just to survive. 

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them. (Margaret Atwood)

Elliot Rodger enacted that chilling prophecy on Friday, but neither his sentiments nor his actions are unique. In 2006, Charles Carl Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, isolated the female students from the males, and executed them. In 2006, George Sodini opened fire on an aerobics class at a gym outside Pittsburgh, killing three women and wounding nine. Only last month, a male high school student stabbed his female classmate to death because she rejected his invitation to the prom. 

These attacks did not occur simply because the perpetrators were mentally ill or because they had ready access to firearms (any properly motivated gunman can easily acquire black market guns). They occurred because in the context of the attackers’ lives, they were dispossessed of one of the defining features of hegemonic masculinity: access to and domination of women. Our society has deemed the subordination of women so critical to the expression of manhood that Rodger, Roberts and the unnamed teen are willing to commit the ultimate, most dehumanizing act of violence in order to “restore order” by demonstrating that they can still be “real men,” the “true alpha male,” sans the sexual component. 

Rodger’s entrenched sense of entitlement and self-perpetuated powerlessness were by far the most influential instigators of his rage (the Pickup Artist and Men’s Rights communities that he was a member of only propelled it). But we must also interrogate the damage being inflicted on our men by their societal upbringing, when they are are socialized to believe that “celibacy is walking death,” and that dispossession of their manhood according to hegemonic standards is the ultimate form of humiliation. Too many women have died for us to not accept the obvious truth: that violent misogyny, in its normalized form, is the most deadly and versatile weapon of all.

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