On Friday 23rd May, yet another tragedy occurred in the USA, as Elliot Rodger was thought to have gone on a shooting spree in California, killing six people and injuring seven more before dying of bullet wounds himself. Tragically, this incident is not isolated, as much of the media would have us believe that shooting sprees are verging on common place in USA, but one of the most disturbing things about this case, is Rodger’s blatant agenda to seek revenge on a society that had denied him sex, as he discusses in his Youtube videos.
The uncomfortable links the tragedy draws between individual psychopathy and cultural misogyny has forged a huge debate about the source of ‘blame’ for hate crimes against women such as this: was this a lone madman, an incarnation of misogynist society, or are we simply looking at it in the wrong way?
I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it.Elliot Rodger
The elements of misogyny in Rodger’s ‘retribution’ killing spree are clear to see, as he discusses how he will punish those who had sexually rejected him, giving them “exactly what you deserve”. It is undeniably terrifying and abhorrent to consider that Rodger may have committed these murders with the belief that he was owed sexual activity from women, and equally disturbing to observe cultural elements of misogynist culture appearing in his vengeful manifesto. But, I just can’t agree that a wider social misogyny is to blame for this hate crime, as others have suggested. I believe it is reductionist and deterministic to attribute Rodger’s killings to a misogynist teaching that women owe men sex- after all, Rodger murdered men too.
It has emerged that Rodger was seeking psychiatric treatment, and that he had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that can make social imagination, communication, and interaction difficult. I’m in no way advocating that Aspergers, or even mental health difficulties are excuses or explanations for the shooting spree, but I can’t help but feel that these aspects overshadow cultural misogyny in the reasons behind the incident.
After all, your stereotypical misogynist may crack a few sexist jokes and read Nuts, but he won’t seek murderous revenge because he feels he has been unfairly rebuked by women. Now it may seem that I am trivialising aspects of misogyny, but I am in no way trying to downplay the fact that it breeds extremely damaging and unfair attitudes and behaviours. Misogyny continues to be a huge and dangerous issue, I just don’t think it can be ‘blamed’ for this hate crime. On the flip side, it is also true that not every sufferer of mental health issues or Asperger syndrome will become a mass murderer, but I do feel that these elements are more instrumental in the make up of a killer than cultural gender injustice. Someone who is in the mindset of committing premeditated ‘retributional’ killings may delusionally take any aspect of society in which they believe they have been wronged as justification. If we lived in a misogyny-free society these killings may just have easily been fed by racism, or bullying, or any other reasoning that may lead a delusionally murderous individual to believe they require revenge.
For example, a key part of Rodger’s video often missed by those who point the finger at a women-hating culture, is the fact that he has grandiose illusions of being ‘superior’ to other men, and that he would take ‘great pleasure’ in exacting his ‘revenge against humanity’ which he calls a ‘disgusting, wretched, depraved’ species. It is clear then, that Rodger has more issues then simply hating just women for sexually rejecting him.
Obviously, this debate is just one example in the age old discussion surrounding mass muders and killing sprees: are they lone madmen or culturally fed extremists? Indeed it seems fair to argue that both misogyny and an individual mental sickness played a part in Rodger’s killings. But then I came across this video, and I realised that maybe even the way we look at and discuss crimes such as these is a huge part of the problem:
In the video, Charlie Brooker casts an enlightening and critical eye onto the way that we present horrific news stories such as this, exulting the killer into some kind of ‘nihilistic pin up boy’ whilst we fruitlessly question about Why Did This Happen. In placing focus on this, we miss the point that unfortunately there will always be killers, and what’s more, by blaming society for these murders, we give future murderers a reason for triggering their maniacal sprees. Focusing on stories like this in this way not only transforms sick tragedies into romantic legends, but also implies that murderers like this are inevitable products of an unjust or sick society, thus giving others fuel for their own interpretations of ‘justified’ revenge sprees.
Yes misogyny is a problem, and yes it obviously played some part in the California shooting, but more important was Rodgers’ unnatural delusions and perverse satisfaction in murderous revenge. Every time we look at a news story in this way, we miss more important factors such as how the individual was not highlighted as a risk before, or how they were allowed weapons.
There will always be mass murders in this world, but blaming them as victims of cultural sicknesses like misogyny simply reaffirms a way of thinking that almost justifies killers, reductively attributing their shootings to an anti-heroic channelling of social injustice.