I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Suzannah Paul has taught me more about feminism and intersectionality than anyone else I know. She’s passionate, intelligent, and a kind friend. The voice she brings to the #YesAllWomen conversation is one of thoughtful analysis and a bold call to repentance:
(Content note: violent, misogynistic, and racist ideation. Heavy/dark themes.)
“Sheriff Brown said it was ‘very apparent’ that the gunman was ‘severely mentally disturbed’, adding: ‘It’s obviously the work of a madman.'” – BBC
Was Elliot Rodger a madman? Is that obvious—or even true?
He was a socially isolated and lonely man who saw a psychiatrist and social skills counselors, but his only disclosed diagnosis was high-functioning autism, which has no indication of tendencies toward violence.
“Mental disorders are neither necessary nor sufficient causes of violence. Major determinants of violence continue to be socio-demographic and economic factors,” and “research supports the view the mentally ill are more often victims than perpetrators of violence.” – World Psychiatry
Two factors that do indicate violence, however, inter-personally, historically, and systemically, are misogyny and white supremacy, which Elliot Rodger’s manifesto and online presence reveal in spades.
Elliot Rodger hated women, but he also hated blackness and other non-whiteness, which like most hatreds, express themselves in violence everyday. There’s no reason (or excuse) to further stigmatize mental illness in this country, but we’d do well to interrogate and eradicate misogyny and racism in our midst.
Violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and those with disabilities and diagnoses are among the most frequent targets of violence. A commonality among mass shooters, on the other hand, is often white male aggrieved entitlement, and if we fail to see misogyny or white supremacy additionally at work in intimate partner violence, domestic violence, hate crime, rape culture, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policing, and the targeting of queer and transgender people for violence, we aren’t paying attention, and we, too, are indicted.
Writing off what happened in Isla Vista as the work of a madman so unlike ourselves serves only to obscure the misogyny and white supremacy that undergirded Rodger’s crimes, conveniently letting us off the hook for the ways those violences are rooted, too, in our own hearts and communities, on our watch.
Unless we see and name the misogyny and white supremacy in our midst, we baptize a status quo that is inherently violent, hierarchical, and unjust.
Hold it up to the light. Make it visible. Make it change.
Rodger’s manifesto is the narcissistic biography of an entitled man with a penchant for material pleasure, revenge fantasy, and striking out at blonde women and the men they chose over him:
“I was stopped at a stoplight in Isla Vista when I saw two hot blonde girls waiting at the bus stop. I was dressed in one of my nice shirts, so I looked at them and smiled. They looked at me, but they didn’t even deign to smile back. They just looked away as if I was a fool. As I drove away I became very infuriated. It was such an insult. This was the way all girls treated me, and I was sick and tired of it. In a rage, I made a U-turn, pulled up to their bus stop and splashed my Starbucks latte all over them. I felt a feeling a spiteful satisfaction as I saw it stain their jeans… How dare those girls snub me in such a fashion! How dare they insult me so! …They deserved the punishment I gave them. It was such a pity that my latte wasn’t hot enough to burn them. Those girls deserved to be dumped in boiling water for the crime of not giving me the attention and adoration I so rightfully deserve!”
Rodger believed he was owed female attention by virtue of his dress, smile, and being male. It is a prominent theme in his writing, and as many women can attest, that particular attitude is not uncommon or isolated to Rodger’s extreme, from strangers on the street imploring women to smile or self-proclaimed nice guys pouting about having been “friend-zoned.” Through a misogynistic, patriarchal lens, women exist for men’s enjoyment and use, so a woman’s disinterest isn’t respected as agency or autonomy: it’s an affront to the men she ought to be pleasing. Women must be agreeable and reciprocate male affections. If they fail to, they are bitchy at best and at worst, they must be punished.
Rodger also detailed extensive disdain for popular men and in particular, the men of color—Black, Hispanic, Asian, and mixed race, like Rodger himself—who managed to achieve the affection of the blonde women he was so desperate to possess, and failing that, to destroy. He described them in animalistic terms: they are “brutes”, “low-class, pig-faced thugs”, and “obnoxious little animals”, while he is “the image of beauty and supremacy”:
“How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more. … If this ugly black filth was able to have sex with a blonde white girl at the age of thirteen while I’ve had to suffer virginity all my life, then this just proves how ridiculous the female gender is. They would give themselves to this filthy scum, but they reject ME? The injustice!”
He hated these men whom he saw as possessing what he could not—women as interchangeable trophies to be earned—but Rodger is emphatic that he “hated the girls even more” for choosing those men over him:
“My hatred and rage towards all women festered inside me like a plague…Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with…My hatred of the female gender could grow no stronger.”
Rodger exhibited a particular animosity toward women in summer attire not altogether unfamiliar to those following Christian modesty debates:
“Flocks of hot, young girls go out in their shorts and bikini’s [sic], further tantalizing my sex-starved body every time I look at them. Knowing that they gleefully show off their desirable forms, yet they would never give me a chance to be their boyfriend only increased my already boiling hatred towards all women.”
He was unable to recognize women except as things to be possessed, and when their favor eluded him, Rodger’s seething hatred grew more and more violent. Jealously throwing hot drinks on couples led to attempting to push girls off a ledge at a party for the sin of being beautiful without also being his. When an altercation ended with him falling and breaking his leg, he was indignant that none offered him sex to make him feel better. In Rodger’s not altogether unfamiliar world, sex and female attention are commodities, owed to men (particularly those of wealth, class, intelligence, and whiteness), traded by women, and withheld by bitches.
“Women must be punished for their crimes of rejecting such a magnificent gentleman as myself…The Day of Retribution is mainly my war against women for rejecting me and depriving my of sex…Women’s rejection of me is a declaration of war, and if it’s war they want, then war they shall have…I will be a god, punishing women…
“The ultimate evil behind sexuality is the human female…There is something very twisted and wrong with the way their brains are wired. They think like beasts, and in truth, they are beasts. Women are incapable of having morals or thinking rationally. They are completely controlled by their depraved emotions and vile sexual impulses….Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained…
“The Day of Retribution is my attempt to do everything, in my power, to destroy everything I cannot have…All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy…I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. I didn’t start this war…I wasn’t the one who struck first, but I will finish it by striking back. I will punish everyone. And it will be beautiful. Finally, at long last, I can show the world my true worth.”
He had fantasies of imprisoning women in concentration camps and watching them starve to death, and his manifesto spells out other imagined violences in lurid detail. There’s little doubt that Elliot Rodger was a sick bastard, but if we armchair diagnose him as a strangely ill madman without acknowledging the actual—and contagious—misogyny and white supremacy he articulated in his own words, we reveal our own compromised immunity.
Misogyny is deeply ingrained, woven into the very fabric of our patriarchal institutions and mores alongside an insidious, overlapping history (and present) of white supremacy and racism. Our shadows may hide for a time (particularly from those who benefit most from what’s dark), and we may actively attempt to conceal them by declaring any evidence a monstrous aberration, but misogyny and white supremacy won’t truly flee until we do the work of holding them up to the light.
If we desire to move forward, we’ll need to repent: turning around, actively and practically seeking the way of Christ, without violence or hierarchy.
If we’re going to repent, we’ll have to actually understand, plumbing the depths of systemic sin, injustice, and pain (including the ways we may benefit from and perpetuate them, without even meaning to).
And if we’re going to understand, first we’ll need to really listen.
[ image: c. verdier ]
published May 30, 2014
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