As you probably already know, Elliot Rodger went on a rampage to fulfill his misogynist manifesto on May 23, killing 6 people and wounding more than 12 others. I’m a little late in writing about this, but it has taken me a bit to fully collect my thoughts.
The unique circumstances of this shooting surround Rodger’s clearly identified target and purpose for the attack–his hatred of women. According to Rodger’s journal,
“I was desperate to have the life I know I deserve; a life of being wanted by attractive girls, a life of sex and love. Other men are able to have such a life … so why not me? I deserve it!…How dare those girls snub me in such a fashion! How dare they insult me so!…They deserved the punishment I gave them.”
I don’t want to focus too much on Rodger and his words except to show undoubtedly the inherent misogyny and hatred in them. The media and others have already spent too much time on this.
There are several important issues worth discussing in this shooting, many of which are beyond the scope of this blog. All I will say about the obvious mental health stigmatization and lack of appropriate care in our country is that mental illness and misogyny are not mutually exclusive and that they exist for a reason.
First and foremost, the fact that we are framing the conversation in terms of “latest school shootings” is disturbing. As a society, we have become so numb to the fact that shootings are inevitable, we are barely surprised when the latest tragedy strikes. I know when I saw it on the news, it barely registered to me at first that people died.
Because of this, Richard Martinez, father of Isla Vista victim Christopher Martinez, has taken action to reform gun control, refusing to let his son’s death be meaningless. In the mere days since the shooting, Martinez has given interviews to MSNBC and held press conferences clamoring for change and accountability. For the NRA, the scariest thing about Martinez is that he refuses to go away. He has also pointed out the obvious link between the growing acts of senseless violence in our country: “Typically, all of these incidents involved […] mental health issues, gun violence and violence against women. These three problems are almost always combined.”
People more knowledgeable than I have covered this topic extensively, but there is undoubtedly something wrong with a world that allows men, women, and children to die routinely for the selfish reason of wanting to “keep our guns.” I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to own hunting rifles and whatnot, but there’s something wrong with the fact that mentally ill people can legally purchase semi-automatic rifles and load up for a mass murder.
There has to be a middle ground between the NRA’s gun-loving open carry insanity and the laws that have allowed the tragedies of Sandy Hook and Aurora to happen. Simply put, when is enough enough? I think Richard Martinez put it best: “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live?”
Furthermore, when news broke showing Rodger’s YouTube videos citing revenge upon all women, it wasn’t too surprising to see feminists and women standing up for themselves. The hashtag #YesAllWomen took off in response to the typical rhetoric of “Not all men are violent to women.”
Late Saturday night, or really, early May 25, I noticed Amy Schumer tweeted the hashtag and searched it to see what it was all about. Soon enough, I found myself joining the conversation.
As a feminist, it was pretty amazing to suddenly find myself a part of a larger communal experience. I was reading about women’s experiences from all over that were like my own–part of the shared women’s experience that is known to women and yet largely ignored by society. That’s the simple power of #YesAllWomen.
As a communication scholar, I am constantly thinking about the way we use words and interact with each other, as well as the way our society’s power structures effect communication. Cheris Kramarae’s muted group theory essentially argues that because men have always been in power, they have controlled the construction of language and the way language is used. Thus, women and other minorities don’t properly have ways to express themselves through mainstream dominant language.
However, #YesAllWomen turned up the volume.
It’s also important to note that many wonderful men joined the hashtag, opened their minds, and listened.
When I checked Twitter the next day, I saw that #YesAllWhiteWomen was trending, a rhetorical outcry to the narrow scope of the original hashtag that didn’t tell the story of all women’s experiences.
Unfortunately, some feminists saw the new hashtag as “segregating” the movement. I’m not sure why these people didn’t see them as places that could coexist and should coexist except for the very reason the #YesAllWhiteWomen hashtag exists in the first place.
From what I’ve seen, this has largely extended to discussions of the hashtag in the media in general. While there were several thinkpieces about the original #YesAllWomen, none of the ones I read mentioned its offspring #YesAllWhiteWomen, which is precisely the point, isn’t it?
A lot has already been written about Elliot Rodger, and I’m not adding anything particularly new to the conversation at this point. While the mainstream media has largely been ignoring the finer critical points of this (at least that I’ve seen–please correct me if I’m wrong), the Internet has been having a very important discussion about misogyny and hegemonic masculinity in light of the shooting and feminist Twitter storm.
Amanda Hess wrote a great column in Slate where she said,
“Women’s issues are often dismissed as a niche concern, but we constitute half of the human population. Once that’s recognized, it’s not hard to see how hating us can inflict significant collateral damage among all people—including the men who are our partners, our relatives, and our colleagues. Misogyny kills men, too.”
Hess’s column is definitely worth a read and helps to dismiss those “Not All Men” preachers in one fell swoop while also encouraging us to further look at the way our society has structured gender in order to hurt both men and women. Film critic Ann Hornaday argued that Hollywood contributes to this misogynistic power structure as well citing Judd Apatow movies and Seth Rogen’s Neighbors in particular as an example among others. Rogen responded with a surprising amount of vitriol.
I was a little disappointed to see that Rogen reacted the way he did. This was an opportunity for him to think more critically about the films he makes and stars in and the privileged position he holds as a result of them, and he didn’t take it. I have been a fan of Rogen’s since Freaks & Geeks and I don’t think he’s a misogynist or a bad guy. Neighbors was actually a pretty feminist film in a lot of ways (especially Rose Byrne’s character), showing an egalitarian marriage that challenged the “nagging wife trope” and even the “overgrown frat boy trope” that Hornaday mentioned. Because of this, I expected so much more from him.
No one wants to be to blame for the deaths of the Isla Vista victims, but we all are because we live in the current power structure and allow it to exist (and many of us profit from it). Yes, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, you played a part in this. Not explicitly, of course. While Neighbors did have a brief bit where Rogen riffed on buying a gun and killing the annoying frat boys, I obviously don’t think the writers of the film intentionally sought harm with the gag. Regardless, this is a moment for critical self-reflexivity on all our parts, especially those who have power.
While there is seemingly no connection between Elliot Rodger, the NRA’s stance on gun control, #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen (and #NotAllMen), and Rogen’s reaction to Hornaday’s column, there is. All of these are indicative of the larger patriarchal society that hurts both men and women as Hess said. By imposing hegemonic masculinity upon men, an ideal that can never be lived up to, men are increasingly violent toward themselves and their partners.
The important thing now is to look at what we can do moving forward to prevent future tragedies and change our world for the better.