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“Life is not fair. One can either accept that fact, keeling over in defeat; or one can harness the strength to fight against it. My destiny was to fight against the unfairness of the world.” - Elliot Rodger
On Friday night a man stabbed and killed three men in his apartment, got into his car, drove through the postcard-pretty college town of Isla Vista, California, and killed three more people while injuring 13 others.
He was Not All Men, of course, just a deeply disturbed, homicidal 22-year old who has been identified as Elliot Rodger.
Before I write anything, I first need to pause and offer my sincerest condolences to the loved ones of those who were killed. Like the rest of the world, I am also heartsick for those who were injured and traumatized by this attack. Nothing anyone can do or say will ever bring them back and that is a tragedy no words will ever rectify.
I never like to bring more publicity to a murderer in the cases of mass killings, but instead focus on memorializing and paying tribute to the victims, but in the case of Rodger, I believe that there are hard and tragic lessons to be learned from the ravings of his dark mind.
What he left by video and by written manifesto offers an undeniable window into the sick mutation of one man's misogyny into a full blown craven psychopathy -- with a very real body count.
The quote at the top of this piece is from his 140-page autobiography/manifesto, in which he describes his entire life almost right until the point at which it seems he ended it with a gunshot to the head on Friday night.
By enacting his long-planned mass killing, he was doing what he thought of as “fighting back” against an unfair world in which he was still a virgin at 22 and was ignored by women. It is another senseless attack that many will try to make sense of nonetheless, but this particular grim ending had many signposts leading here along the way.
Of course the manifesto was meant to only be discovered after the fact, but Rodger had been posting YouTube videos displaying his dire mental state for a while before his rampage, as well as commenting on web forums for bodybuilders and PUAs, or Pick-Up Artists, whom he felt cheated by because he couldn’t play their Game (their term for the pick-up).
In a statement to the press, family attorney Alan Shifman spoke on behalf of Elliot Rodger’s father and said of Elliot, “This CHILD was being treated by MULTIPLE professionals. The CHILD was diagnosed at an earlier age of being a highly functional Asperger’s syndrome child.”
Mr. Shifman emphasized the words I’ve put in caps, not doing a very good job of concealing his desire to infantilize and stigmatize Mr. Rodger, because a “crazy Asperger’s kid” is easier translated to “senseless killing” than a 22-year old with a deep-seated hatred of women. The problem is that when you look at the larger issues at hand, unfortunately the senselessness begins to make a little more sense.
At one point, concern from Rodger's family did lead to a visit from the police, who interviewed him at his apartment and left satisfied that he was not a threat.
Writing about this encounter, Rodger horrifyingly expresses relief that they didn’t attempt to search his home, but if they would have, they would have found his (legally purchased) guns and could have found out about the plan he had been hatching for two years for what he called the Day of Retribution.
Rodger writes of formulating his plan, purchasing his weapons, and going to the shooting range with entitlement, self-righteousness and the occasional intrusion of disgust at his own thoughts, describing crying fits and deep depressions that came over him with regularity.
“I have to suffer this miserable loneliness.” - Elliot Rodger
I am not a mental health professional and while there are mentions of seeing therapists, social workers, social counselors and celebrity psychiatrist (I groan at putting those two words together but I believe that is his preferred title) and daytime talk show regular Dr. Charles Sophy, there has not been a clear, concise mental health diagnosis.
Much digital ink is spilling over the overlap between Rodger’s narcissism and possible sociopathy, schizophrenia, and outright depression and anxiety. On the Fox News Network, another celebrity psychotherapist and reality TV regular, Dr. Robi Ludwig, even went so far as to suggest that “homosexual impulses” led Rodger to murder, over-pronouncing the O in the second syllable of homosexuality as she did, unwittingly helping herself sound even more absurd. Good ol’ Fox. They’re nothing if not consistent.
While I was indeed disgusted at reading Mr. Rodger’s words, I, like almost everyone, am obviously not qualified to offer a definitive psychiatric diagnosis. Nor would I want to.
Because I believe the more Elliot Rodger is described as a mentally ill glitch in the Matrix, the less we will all look at the elements of his pathos that we deal with every single day.
“I wish I were a kid again.” - Elliot Rodger
I struggle with depression and anxiety.
Hell, I sometimes “wish I were a kid again,” and I definitely have suffered what I would call “miserable loneliness.”
I am not trying to diminish the horror of what Rodger did by making him an Everyman, but I am not ashamed to say that as I read his 140-page window into his mind, I felt terrified that I could actually relate to parts of it.
I was a virgin until I was 21. I have felt rage and despair -- but thankfully, not violence. This is in no way a plea for sympathy for him, but I am not without empathy.
And I would like to stop shoving this off to the side as though he was an alien from an alternate universe and not a product of our own, where many men feel entitled to affection from women, and have horribly negative reactions if it is not granted to them.
NOT ALL MEN.
I would like to be generous and say not even MOST men.
But yes, many.
Make no mistake, Elliot Rodger did a despicable thing that he had planned out for years and I feel some guilt at typing these next four words on a basic respecting-humanity level, but after researching him, watching every video, and reading all of his words that I could access: I’m glad he’s dead.
Still. Some of the thoughts that steeped in the recesses of his mind resonate with me. And one of the primary reasons I make this admission is with the sincere hope that SOME men can stop playing defense for just a moment and admit that Elliot Rodger’s shocking misogyny is actually quite ordinary, too.
We are outraged in hindsight -- since he followed through and murdered people.
“If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you. You denied me a happy life and in turn, I will deny all of you life. It’s only fair. I hate all of you.” - Elliot Rodger
Some of Elliot Rodger’s victims were men. Yes. But that doesn’t erase the hatred of women that he expressed repeatedly. And he hated the men for “having” women.
After he took down most of his YouTube videos to appease his concerned mother, he began re-posting them in the days leading up to his crimes, saving the despicable “Day of Retribution” video for a few hours before he followed through with his plan.
I tried to imagine watching these videos, wondering how I -- or anyone -- would view them, had the killings not occurred. With the exception of the last video with its detailed planning, would they even stand out?
Or would they just seem like another young man railing away at women for ignoring him?
I find it interesting that his family found the videos disconcerting, having personal experience of him to fill out the picture of what they were seeing online -- but they were not flagged by YouTube, and except for that final video (which many people continue to repost on other channels), his own personal YouTube channel remains intact, with people watching in droves and pushing those video views well into six digits.
I am obviously not trying to implicate YouTube in his crimes. Still, YouTube catches so much. I will plead ignorance to the mechanism or algorithm they use, but I have a YouTube channel and they will flag use of a song or third-party material with impressive swiftness. Is there no algorithm set to dangerous words?
Or to threats?
I’ve had people say horrible things about me in their YouTube videos; those don’t get flagged nearly as much as use of a particular song. I know they don’t because they’re still up.
What if one of those people is serious?
I don’t want to paint myself as a victim here because I still have air in my lungs and Elliot Rodger’s six victims don’t. But it’s a legitimate question. In fact, “What if he’s serious?” is a question many women have to ask themselves daily, when faced with threats, both online and in person. This is what some men refuse to admit. One of my earlier pieces for xoJane was about my significant troubles with street harassment and so many of us have had a threat hurled at us when we failed to reply with sufficient enthusiasm to a stranger on the street saying, “Hey baby!” or telling us to smile.
Two years ago Elliot Rodger drove by two girls at a bus stop. When they didn’t smile at him, he turned his car around and threw his coffee on them and sped away. He also threw coffee on a couple who were kissing outside a Starbucks, and threw iced tea on a couple being affectionate near a pizza shop.
He once drove to a store and bought a super-soaker to fire at a happy-looking group with orange juice.
Rodger’s family did seem to be attempting to take action.
But he lived an extremely privileged lifestyle, walking the red carpet at a movie openings, and often starting a new school year weeks late due to international travel and posting superficial envy-inducing pictures to his Facebook page.
It seems that he kept most of his alarming ranting to YouTube.
And I can’t help but wonder: if those videos had come from a different package, say a browner one or a less privileged one, would they have been taken more seriously beforehand?
Would the police have left his apartment without searching it?
Even in the aftermath, with darker skin he would likely be described as a terrorist or a thug.
Rodger’s mother is Asian and his father is white, and he took pride in referring to himself as “Eurasian” or “half-white.” Racial and ethnic hatred intensified his disdain for men with girlfriends, with Rodger expressing particular incredulity when he witnessed a man who was not white “get” a girl, calling two Hispanic guys “low-class scum,” and also writing of an “inferior, ugly black boy…descended from slaves” and an “ugly Asian.” But these insults were all applied because these men were with women, and not just any women, but white, blonde women, the only type of women he said he liked.
And then there’s the gun issue.
Elliot Rodger bought his semiautomatic rifles legally. Would some sort of background check or mental health screening protocol have kept deadly weapons out of his hands? I am not trying to take away the Constitutional right to bear arms but how many more bullets have to take innocent lives before we will admit we have a problem with access to guns in this country? I need only point to the initial BBC coverage of the killings: “Shootings in America are alarmingly frequent and often involve disillusioned or mentally ill young men in a country where there’s easy access to guns.”
That says it all, doesn't it?
“Girls, all I’ve ever wanted was to love you and to be loved by you.” - Elliot Rodger
On its own, taken out of the context of this weekend’s horror, that is nothing more than longing.
But a sense of entitlement to women’s affection leads to incredulity at its absence and far too often, that can lead to violence.
When I was 23 I got a dream job for an actor, doing a Very Serious Play with The Most Prestigious Theater Company Ever (in my estimation). I traveled to the location and there was a gathering for cast and crew relatively early on in the rehearsal process, held at a private residence. A Very Prestigious Director followed me into the bathroom and slammed the door shut behind us before I even noticed he was behind me. He tried to kiss me and when I pushed him away, he grabbed me by the back of my neck and mashed my face into the mirror, saying, “Look at yourself. You don’t know what you do to me. You’re gorgeous and you don’t even know it and that makes you pathetic.”
He spat that last word at me and on very bad days I can still feel his grip on my neck and his saliva on my face.
I am a rape survivor two times over, and Prestigious Director eventually only let go of me, pushed me aside and left me to cry by myself in the bathroom, but the memory ranks as one of my most violent nonetheless.
So quickly can a man turn violent if his advances are spurned.
Not all men, of course.
But too many, since so many women have stories like this, and that’s not even taking domestic violence into account.
BTW, I was fired from that play a few days later. The Director couldn’t look me in the eye as the company manager told me that they had already gotten me a plane ticket and I’d be leaving in the morning. I didn’t accuse the director. I never said anything. I was young. I was afraid.
I blamed myself.
“This world is so twisted. It’s so cruel. And you girls make it cruel.” - Elliot Rodger
Some men, in battening down the proverbial hatches against their perceived attacks from feminists, are insisting that Rodger’s misogyny has no correlation at all to a larger societal slant toward male privilege. But the anonymity of the Internet paints an uglier picture:
So which is it, fellas?
Did he make it all up or can you admit that there are actually some of you who feel this way, too?
Yes, Rodger’s ultimate final acts are odious and most thankfully VERY out of the ordinary, but his brand of hostile misogyny is too commonplace to be ignored. People with mental illness can get help. People who won’t admit that they are part of a misogynist machine cannot. It is abhorrent that those lives were lost. Just maybe we can somehow honor their memory by admitting the ugliest parts of ourselves and getting help before it is too late.
Not all men.
But far, far, far too many.
If we honestly look at the societal climate in which we gave birth to and raised an Elliott Rodger, perhaps we can see that it is the climate in which we all exist, even when some of us refuse to call it out as such. This anomaly has an undercurrent of commonality that we have to break through, together.
All of us.