Lessons from Isla Vista

A week has passed since Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured thirteen more at Isla Vista in California, before turning the gun on himself. It’s since emerged that the police were alerted to his disturbing Youtube videos, where he professes the extreme jealousy and violent thoughts he feels towards women and the men they have sex with. In the culminating video,  he pledges to ‘slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see’. Too, authorities were made aware of his 140 page manifesto as soon as he emailed it to family members. In this, he outlines his plans to ‘abolish’ women out of extreme resentment for choosing not to have sex with him. Still, after visiting him, the police left with the impression that Rodger was a ‘perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human.’ Is misogyny really so entrenched that such brutal hatred could be so easily dismissed? That the author of a plan to deliberately starve women to death in concentration camps can still be deemed a nice guy?

It would seem so. The sheer pervasiveness of misogyny is proving ever clearer through some of the disturbing media narratives that have arisen out of the tragedy. The Daily Mail, for example, used the shooting to run a story about the woman who apparently sparked his hatred of women when she ‘teased’ him in seventh grade. And of course, the piece was completed with photos of her in a bikini, just in case anyone were in danger of forgetting that women are no more than sexual objects. This, in the wake of a mass murder that was instigated because a man felt sexually entitled to women’s bodies.


The Isla Vista tragedy also raises questions about how we conceptualize race and terrorism, which I can’t sum up better than a Constitutive Outsider blog post did:

White men make up approximately 36% of the population, but commit 75% of mass shootings. What would be called terrorism by any other skin tone is suddenly a mysterious unnamed disease. We as a society are perfectly happy to further stigmatise mentally ill people… in the service of protecting white supremacy and male entitlement.”

Yes, there is a conversation to be had about mental illness, particularly regarding the ease with which Rodger was able to purchase firearms. However, the rhetoric of Rodger as a ‘madman’ on a rampage has been propagated extensively and it is a dangerous one. It more than just further stigmatises the mentally ill – who as Jessica Valenti noted, ‘are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. It also denies the extent to which Rodger was motivated by simple, brutal misogyny. It forces us to face uncomfortable truths about our culture and the extent to which we perpetuate the idea that men are owed sex from women. You can see it in films, in music and TV shows, with the tired old trope of the ‘nice guy’ who eventually ‘wins’ the girl through his persistence. Rodger is a product of this culture. Ignoring his stated motives of hating women by writing him off as nothing more than a ‘psycho’ is to hide our heads in the sand to a culture that endangers women every day. We’ve become so accustomed to using socially ingrained misogyny to sell products and newspapers. Misogyny is pervasive, it is everywhere you look. It’s time for us to admit that it is not only damaging, but deadly. 

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