Love, Inc

The intersections of emotion and capitalism.

Elliot Rodger and the problem with manhood

Violence against women is the result of masculinity, not madness

Here we go again. A mass shooting at the UC Santa Barbara campus this weekend and the immediate cause is mental illness. Or maybe guns. But can we actually discuss what is going on with this shooting and most of the other mass shootings that happen? Can we actually talk about masculinity? It is not an accident that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings are committed by men, but not just men, white men,* and not just white men, but white men who feel entitled and because of that entitlement feel as if they have been cheated and robbed of their rights.

This sort of "angry masculinity" stems from what sociologist Michael Kimmel describes as "aggrieved entitlement."  Historically, the US created conditions that favored both whites and men. Now, with those traditional privileges more regularly challenged and yet sexism and racism hanging on as ways of understanding the world, these men feel the right to dominate others and when that doesn't happen, they feel the right to beat them, rape them, and even kill them. This violence isn't the result of mental illness, but occurs with depressing regularity as part of angry manhood.  According to Kimmel and others who study this aggrieved masculinity, violence and the rhetoric that supports it is embedded in American manhood from rape and domestic violence statistics to men's movement rhetoric to fraternity parties on campuses like UCSB. 

In this video that Rodger posted the day before his killing spree, he talks about his "unfulfilled desires" because "girls have never been attracted to me" and so "I'm 22 years old and still a virgin." This is "not fair" and so he promises to "punish all you girls for it." Then he promises to enter the "hottest sorority" and "slaughter every single spoiled, stuck up blonde slut" there. He finishes with "If I can't have you, I will destroy you."

According to a post on Rodger over at the Bell Jar, his sense of aggrieved entitlement could have been spurred on by the misogynistic company he kept. Rodger was apparently an active member of an online forum, PUAhate, that is for men who had tried the "tricks" taught to them by pick up artists but they still hadn't been able to successfully bed women. In case you don't follow misogynistic culture, these "pick up artists" claim to have the power to seduce any woman and then offer to train other men how to do the same. The sort of hatred of women that is embedded in pick-up artistry is not considered mentally ill, but a normal part of masculinity and even entertaining given that VH1 had a reality TV show called "The Pick-Up Artist" in which a man named Mystery shares his tricks with viewers while men compete to see who can pick up the most women and "win" the competition

And that's the point. Mainstream masculinity is often embedded in such a deep and abiding hatred for women, a sense of entitlement to women's bodies, and a seriously sick way of keeping women scared and in their place through violence and violent rhetoric that to name Rodger "mentally ill" is to create a smokescreen through which it's difficult to see that there is something seriously sick in our culture. Until we admit this, until men reject this woman-hating and embrace feminism, until women only embrace feminist men, we will be stuck in a cycle of violence where the discussion is not about the thing that is happening- that thing called patriarchy- but instead about mental illness, guns, and a few "bad apples" in an otherwise healthy culture of masculinity.

 

*It's worth noting that Rodger is both white and Asian, but as the son of a successful Hollywood producer, he grew up with many of the trappings of whiteness and wealth and often posted extremely racist rants against non-white men.

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

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