Elliot Rodger. Image: Still from Rodger’s YouTube video
This post from NCPR’s returning student employee Claire Woodcock, who attends SUNY Fredonia during the school year. Claire will be a regular contributor to The Inbox; in this piece, she explores a news story that has particular resonance for her as a college-age woman. –Nora Flaherty, NCPR digital content editor
The bullets that echoed through the streets Isla Vista, California on Friday night left seven dead, 13 wounded and a community in tatters. At the heart of the crime was Elliot Rodger, a disturbed 22 year old with a rancor towards women and the men who were fortunate enough to spend time with them.
It’s still a bitter pill that’s hard to swallow: The malevolent manifesto, the grisly photos, the chilling ‘Retribution’ video piled on top of disturbing interviews with the victim’s families, and the constant updates from competing news organizations.
What happened at the University of California, Santa Barbara, isn’t an isolated incident. There have been several mass shootings over the years, some more destructive than others (Reddit has compiled a list of 103 mass shootings in the United States thus far in 2014.) But Rodger was different. He was roughly my age, and he hated me.
Not because I was one of the girls he would have lusted after — I don’t think I was his type — But because I’m part of the larger group he hated. I’m a woman.
“You girls have never been attracted to me. 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,” said Rodger in his ‘Retribution’ video.
“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, animal-like men. They are beasts themselves. Beasts should not be able to have rights in a civilized society.”
Perhaps the most disturbing mention in his declaration was his sense of entitlement towards women and sex: “It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy, and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentleman.”
Rodger saw himself as executing justice for the isolation he experienced, the loneliness he endured and the sexual tension that swelled up inside of him: “Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order [to] prevent future generations from falling into degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such,” Rodger wrote in his manifesto.
Many have emphasized the role that mental illness and gun control laws played in Friday night’s tragedy, and how it could have been avoided. But many women also believe that Rodger’s actions spoke for many other men who hold similar ideas about women and sex.
That belief was evident in the rush of women who were quick to express their personal grievances over Rodger’s actions, his comments and a larger culture in which they frequently feel sexually threatened; they flooded Twitter by the hundreds of thousands with their often-powerful responses, using the hashtag #YesAllWomen (very much worth reading).
Jennifer Medina of The New York Times wrote that for many women at UCSB, “the attacks were like a nightmare caricature of the safety concerns they deal with regularly on a campus where a high-profile gang rape recently prompted widespread concerns about safety and where an outsize reputation for alcohol-fueled parties led some to wonder if the beachside campus culture in any way played into the violence.”
The 2008 National Crime Victimization Survey says that more than 75 percent of the women who reported a rape were less than 25 years old at the time of their assault; more than 25 percent of the victims of reported rapes are between 18 and 24 years old. The White House has acknowledged the problem and issued guidelines for universities to more aggressively combat campus sex assault; but that doesn’t solve the problem. While premeditated mass murder and domestic violence against women are not the same offense, women continue to feel concerned about their safety.
Much of what’s appearing on Twitter says this: We are all products of a culture that has demeaned and sexualized women to the point where Rodger’s sense of entitlement, and the threat of violence against women, is seen as normal. Maybe UCSB’s culture played a role in the killings; but, they say, sexual violence can happen anywhere.
On NPR’s Morning Edition today, writer Laurie Penny talked about the sense of entitlement Rodger felt to love, sex, respect and even adoration, and the sense that if he didn’t get that he was “entitled to rape, beat and even kill.” With respect to the #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign and the larger conversation about the violence, she said,
“One of the most horrifying pushbacks is that ‘not all men do this, not all men think like this.’ Well of course, not all men are killers, not all men are violent misogynists. But the idea that before we speak about misogynistic extremism we should take men’s feelings into account and make sure that no man listening to this conversation feels threatened or has his ego bruised. That’s really, really dangerous. That’s the language of silencing and that’s what the #YesAllWomen tweet was reacting to.”
Elliot Rodger’s ideology is by no means an accurate representation of all men’s views on women. Not all men share the same views as Rodger, and not all women think that they do. But there are men who want to hurt women.
This weekend, I watched as CNN and The Washington Post told the story of the killings, and watched updates and comments splatter all over my News Feed–fear was the theme of the day.
But the conversation about Elliot Rodger and his victims has the potential to bring about change. The #YesAllWoman movement has brought many women’s fears, fears that have long been hidden, out into the open. If this violence could happen anywhere, maybe change will start on Twitter.