Yesterday, I explained the motives of Elliot Roger, the student who went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara that left six people dead. Today, I want to discuss how Roger’s thinking is disturbingly wide-spread and how this came to be.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the internet is full of people like Elliot. A depressingly-quick Google search is all you need to be exposed to entire sites dedicated to violent anti-woman rhetoric (ed note: I can not be held responsible for any loss of IQ/faith in humanity caused by doing this). Sadly, it’s not just limited to specific sites. Social media – especially Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook – are the most weapons in the misogynist’s arsenal, using the net’s inbuilt anonymity to launch their attacks and then disappear.
And it’s not just the internet that’s the problem. The #YesAllWomen campaign that sprung up in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara Shooting offers chilling testament to the trials faced by many women just going about their daily lives. Even more disturbing is the Tumblr blog When Women Refuse – also started after Santa Barbara – which cultivates stories about violence against women who refused the advances of men.
The question we need to ask is: Why? What could possibly drive someone to that level of depravity and hate? The answer, it seems, is all around us.
There are many articles online dealing with this topic, but my personal favourite is definitely this one by Cracked.com: 5 Ways Modern Men are Trained to Hate Women. It’s not particularly in-depth, but it does a great job of summarising the main points of the issue. It paints a depressing picture of how society has trained men to think and act just like Elliot Rogers.
The first point, for example, says that men have been trained to think that they are “owed” a hot girl. This message is repeatedly hammered into us by every movie, television show, song and book we’ve ever read. Once the hero has overcome the tasks set in front of him (because it’s nearly always a guy) and defeated the final boss, he is rewarded with the token love interest. Of course, the woman has next to no say in this. No matter what her doubts are in the beginning, we in the audience know that she will end up with the protagonist by the time the credits roll.
Arthur Chu, in his article for The Daily Beast, says it nicely: “instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to ‘earn’, to ‘win’.”
What’s more, we as men are taught from an increasingly young age that our worth as a person is tied to our ability to be attractive to the opposite sex. I’ve touched on this before in my article about double-standards, and it is a serious problem.
When it comes to the “cool” male characters in pop culture, what do they have in common? More often than not, they’re shameless playboys. Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, Tony Stark in the Iron Man films, James Bond in, well, James Bond… the list goes on. These characters tell us that in order to be successful, men must be able to bed as many women as possible.
“The message men get,” says filmmaker Therese Shechter in the Time article The Shame of the Male Virgin, “is that their number of sex partners is equal to their value as a male, is part of the same patriarchal structure that judges, values and punishes women for their sexual choices.”
And so, once again, we come to Elliot Roger. Here we have a socially awkward loner who has been taught from birth to expect the attention and undying affection of every woman he meets. His failure to do so drives him into depression and ultimately leads to him resenting the women who refuse to provide him what he feels he rightly deserves. We all know where it went from there.
What Elliot Roger did was terrible. I’m not trying to justify his actions or create sympathy for him. What I am trying to do, though, is explain what could possibly drive a man like Roger to commit such a horrendous act. We as society need to address the rampant sexism and heteronormativity in our culture that causes men to believe things like this. If we choose to stay silent, then we must be prepared for more men like Roger in the future.
To the friends and family of those killed, I offer my sincerest condolences.
Rebecca Davis, writing for Daily Maverick, discusses why the Santa Barbara Shooting was not a once-off incident.
Laci Green uploaded this video about the shooting, where she explains how society shaped Elliot Roger’s attitudes towards women (and inspired the title for these posts). I also recommend her blog post about the dangers of jumping on the “mentally ill” bandwagon.