The Isla Vista Killings and the Absent Misogyny Narrative

The mental health issue in this shooting is important and should be looked into in serious detail, but to focus on this case as being a symptom solely of an individual mental health problem is to ignore the culturally-created misogynistic impetus that drove these shootings.

The perpetrator of the Isla Vista killings, Elliot Rodger, is everywhere in the media at the moment. This is unsurprising given that it's a complex and multi-faceted case concerning some extremely topical and important issues such as gun crime and mental health. But there's one startlingly glaring omission from the general media narrative: that this shooting spree was a product of misogyny.

In his final video entitled 'Retribution' (the link has now been removed from YouTube), Rodger talks about being rejected by women who chose to go for 'obnoxious' guys rather than nice ones like himself. After complaints that he was still a virgin, he goes on to say that he will seek his revenge on all the women who have denied him and all the men that have stolen 'his' women. As a direct quote from Rodger: "If I can't have you, girls, I will destroy you."

Rodger's anger, and later his violence, is bred from a culture of male entitlement. He states he wants to be adored by women, he wants to be loved, he wants to have sex, and he feels anger that any woman dare deny him that right as a man. His hatred of women comes from their audacity to take ownership over their own bodies. And yet, this clear expression of outright misogyny is still either absent from reporting altogether, or when it is present, it's chronically argued against and dismissed as a point of opinion rather than fact.

The mental health issue in this shooting is important and should be looked into in serious detail, but to focus on this case as being a symptom solely of an individual mental health problem is to ignore the culturally-created misogynistic impetus that drove these shootings.

In this article from the BBC, the mental health aspect is insisted upon with quotes such as Rodger being 'severely mentally disturbed' and that this was 'obviously the work of a madman,' with not one mention of misogyny in the entire piece. Mental health problems may have pushed Rodger to actually pull the trigger, but can we really say we don't recognize this sort of angry narrative in clinically sane men? In the 'nice guys' who feel furious at women for making them feel rejected? You only have to look to this Tumblr called When Women Refuse to see the overwhelming quantity of stories documenting men being violent to women after they've had their advances rejected. This is not a one off. Violence against women is a recurring systemic problem.

It's also been widely ignored that Rodger was a Men's Rights Activist, part of groups such as 'PUAhate'. When his mental health status has not yet been proven, why are people not looking at evidence such as this - to groups who actively promote male entitlement - as to why these killings took place?

The mental health aspect of the case is used as a tool to absolve Rodger of blame, and sometimes even paint him as the victim. Some reports even manage to sidestep both the mental health and misogyny angles, instead choosing to focus on how the actions of women themselves have prompted the shootings. The Daily Mail posted the below of a woman who was supposedly responsible for igniting these feelings of desire in Rodger.

The girl - in swimwear, as humans often choose to be in when around a pool - is posited as flaunting her body, and it's offered that 'debauched' women are the real problem in our society. It's the kind of obscene victim-blaming that I've come to find synonymous with the Daily Mail. The overriding tone of this piece is that we need to examine women's behaviour in inciting these feelings in men, rather than looking at why men shouldn't attack women.

The other niggling speculation that I can't shift is how this case would be presented if a woman did the same thing. Let's imagine that a woman desired lots of men who wouldn't sleep with her, despite thinking herself really nice. She then made videos telling all these men how they were going to pay for rejecting her. She then killed them, and the women that stole her men. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this woman would, instead of being viewed even remotely sympathetically, be labeled as something along the lines of a 'psychobitch'. The blame would be with her for being crazy. Not with the men that spurned her, and not with a potential mental illness. If the killer was a woman, would the Daily Mail be examining the 'debauched' men which led to the killing?

There is one fundamental and problematic ideology that forms the backbone of this entire event, and that is the system of patriarchy. In a culture that teaches men that in order to be successful they need to be hyper masculine and measure their worth in their sexual prowess, guess what? Men suffer too. Women feel the wrath of this system more as they are raped, and in this case murdered, because of this ideology that they are objects to possess and own. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: patriarchy is damaging to everyone.

This is a complex case with a lot of different pressing topics to discuss. Misogyny is just one element in this shit-storm of a news story, but it's a huge one which raises much bigger questions about men's sense of entitlement to women in our culture; where does it comes from and how is it perpetuated? These are important questions that need to be addressed, but if we can't even get this topic onto mainstream news channels' agendas in a case where misogyny has an undeniable presence, then the fight to find these answers is going to be a tough one.