About a week ago, yet another violently disturbed young man killed a bunch of people for no reason.
Yes, he was a misogynist of the most toxic kind, with a grandiose and visceral hatred directed at both the women who denied him his “rightful” share of their affection, and at the other men who got all the affection he felt entitled to. And yes, shortly before his murder spree, he posted a manifesto of Unabomber proportions, and a video suicide/homicide note. Both of these express a fairly clear purpose to his hatred, through a messed up nice-guy-ism so on point it sounds like parody:
I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.
It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy, and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentlemen.
I will punish all of you for it.
So, he said that he was going to kill people because he wanted to punish the women he thought he deserved, who wouldn’t date him, as well as the “obnoxious men” they dated instead. But is that really why he went on his massacre? Who can say?
Sure, the “Men’s rights” and “Pickup artist” online forums that he frequented are full of men (and sometimes women) expressing very similar ideas about the inherent depravity of the female sex — they’re shallow, vain, stupid, scheming, amoral, good only for one thing, ought to be deprived of their sexual autonomy, etc. I would post specific examples, except I don’t want to make myself vomit. You can find plenty of them chronicled, for purposes of mockery, at manboobz.com (now “We Hunted the Mammoth” but manboobz.com will still get you there).
Anyway, in spite of all their vitriol towards women, and all their dehumanizing and sometimes violent rhetoric, most MRA types aren’t mass murderers. Most of them probably aren’t serial killers either. I suspect that a lot of them are sociopaths, but let’s be clear — the overwhelming majority of sociopaths are not killers of any kind. (Although they are often rapists, and MRA forums are disturbingly full of rape apologetics, so there’s that.)
No, it takes something special to turn an ordinary hate-filled and empathy-free young man with an imaginary list of grievances and a narcissistic sense of entitlement into a spree killer. What that thing is, we still don’t know. But we want to know. In the early days after a massacre, you can always see pop culture struggling to answer the question “why?” and shape a senseless event into a narrative that we think we understand.
Immediately after Columbine, for example, some people tried to make it retribution for bullying — yet, eventually, evidence revealed that the killers were just as likely to be the bullies themselves. Other people tried to make it be about wearing trenchcoats, or listening to Marilyn Manson, or playing video games. But, based on the killers’ own writings about why they did it — they did it to feel important. They did it for the infamy. If any external social force is to blame for the Columbine massacre, that force is the media, which frequently turns spree killers into darkly glamorous antiheroes.
The media, unsurprisingly, thought that “goth culture” was obviously far more culpable, and pushed that narrative pretty hard.
Do all spree killers kill for the same underlying reason? A silicon chip inside their heads that gets switched to overload? Or can we take their manifestos at face value and assume they kill for exactly the reasons they tell us, weird as those reasons might seem?
The world of MRA types, sometimes known as the manosphere, has responded in a predictable fashion to any suggestion that Rodger might have killed people because he took all that normalization of extreme misogyny a little too seriously. They’re blaming feminists.
Feminists are, somehow, not only the cause of the original rampage but are also shamelessly, SHAMELESSLY attempting to hijack this tragic event, which clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with misogyny, for their own nefarious anti-misogyny purposes. [Men’s Rights Activists respond to the Elliot Rodger murders with a hearty “Nothing to see here! Move along!”]
Many voices in pop culture — not only in the dedicated manosphere, but also the mainstream media and social media — don’t want to believe that Rodger killed a bunch of people because he hated women for acting like autonomous human beings. He told us that’s why — but they don’t want to believe him. They do, however, believe him when he tells us that he hated women so much only because he was lonely and sexually frustrated.
Maybe this really is the fault of the crush who rejected him, the women who didn’t want to date him, all the women who “creep shame” guys they find creepy. If he’d just gotten some real affection, some sweet understanding, so the thinking goes, he wouldn’t have felt like he needed to start killing — he would have been happy in a relationship!
Except… that view makes no sense at all when you look at it from the point of view of any of the women he might, potentially, have dated. I realize this might be a little advanced for some of you, or seem suspiciously like feminism, but you really need to try a little empathy here. After all, you’re urging us — women — to empathize with the romantic frustrations of a man who turned out to be a mass murderer. That’s kind of a tall order, really.
You want us to understand how much it hurts. How lonely it can be.
We do. Of course. Because we’re lonely too. We get rejected too. Just like you. We’re awkward at parties and nervous and shy talking to people we find attractive. We dream of mating with somebody we think is better than we are. Sometimes we get downright obsessive about people who simply don’t want us. We cling to false narratives about relationships and how they work, and buy self-help book after self-help book looking for that magic key that will make it all work out.
Just like you, we blame our dating failures on ourselves, and search desperately for something we can fix — wardrobe, makeup, fitness routine, even plastic surgery. Or maybe we focus on the ways our behavior might be putting potential romantic partners off, and get obsessed over “The Rules” or somesuch.
Except, wait a minute. You dudes — you don’t actually do all of that. If you can’t get the relationship you want, you blame women. And when women can’t get the relationship they want, they blame themselves.
But let’s think about Elliot Rodger in particular. Let’s say I meet this guy at a college party and we hit it off in person, so I check out his online activities. What I find there creeps me out, so I try to end the budding relationship right there. I might even try to let him down gently: “You’re a nice guy, but…” I wouldn’t be saying this because I think he’s actually a nice guy. I would be saying this because I’m afraid he might kill me or something if I make him mad.
I’ve met guys like that. They seem mostly normal if you talk to them in person, but they have really disturbing ideas that they post online, put in newsletters, or sometimes allude to in person without quite going into the full gory detail. I back away slowly, feeling a bit grateful that they actually showed me their gross maggot-infested underside before I had to find out the hard way. I don’t want people like that in my life. Seems pretty sensible, right? From my point of view? Why would I want to date a guy who seems creepy and disturbing?
Or, let’s say we meet at a party and he creeps me out right from the start. Maybe he’s handsome and superficially charming, but you know, Ted Bundy was handsome and superficially charming. Maybe I notice the little signals that tell you somebody is a sociopath. Maybe he actually says something misogynist out loud, and I cut him off, because I have a strict no misogynists policy in my dating life.
It might seem weird to you dudes out there — who routinely profess complete bafflement as to what women want in a dating relationship — but I don’t actually want to hang out with people who hate me. And I’m a feminist, so I don’t date patriarchalists either.
Am I being judgmental? You bet. Why shouldn’t I be? Don’t you make judgments about who you want to hang around with? Don’t you usually hang around with people you actually like spending time with, who bring something positive to your life?
Maybe he tries chatting up a friend of mine after he strikes out with me. Maybe we talk about him later. Maybe she is thinking about dating him, and I advise her not to. I tell her he creeps me out. I tell her he strikes me as kinda serial-killer-ish. Am I creep shaming, at that point? Or am I just, you know, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OBJECTIVELY CORRECT, BECAUSE SERIOUSLY, THIS GUY TURNED OUT TO BE A SPREE KILLER.
There’s no way you can reasonably spin this into an argument that women ought to give more time and attention to guys who seem creepy, that we should give them a chance to prove they’re not the creeps they seem at first. Instead, it’s proof positive that we should run away screaming at the first sign of creepiness.
We’ll never know if Rodger would have killed without the manosphere out there egging him on, reflecting his worst impulses back at him, normalizing his violent and dehumanizing thoughts, patting him on the head and telling him “yes, yes, you’re absolutely right, women do owe you their affection and they are lesser beings than you, and if you were a real man you would be able to manipulate them into doing whatever you wanted, so get out there and manipulate!”
But we do know those MRA guys are creepy and disturbing. Am I shaming them? Not hardly. They have no shame. But they ought to be ashamed of themselves.