The Isla Vista Shootings Were a Result of Misogyny, Why Don't We Say So?

The media is not squeamish about calling out racist violence, or Islamophobia, or in fact any other form of bigotry which targets a specific group of human beings, even if the violence only takes the form of words, in which case it is labelled 'hate speech.'

When 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara, leaving six people dead and seven injured, his motivation was revenge on women. His deep misogyny was explicit in his manifesto, and yet the world news media seems to be shy of mentioning the word. In contrast, the subsequent shootings near the Jewish Museum in Brussels were instantly headlined as possibly 'Anti-Semitic.'

The media is not squeamish about calling out racist violence, or Islamophobia, or in fact any other form of bigotry which targets a specific group of human beings, even if the violence only takes the form of words, in which case it is labelled 'hate speech.'

There was a lot of hate speech against women in Elliot Rodger's last recorded video and even more in his 'Twisted World' manifesto published online. He says:

'There is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female.'

And he plans his revenge:

'On the day of retribution, I will enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled stuck up blonde slut I see inside there.'

And yet Saturday evening's BBC News still managed to pick a quote of Rodger's that made his attack appear non-gender specific, and media news reports continue to minimise the outstanding factor in this case. The reason for Rodger's killing spree has to be, it seems, either America's gun culture and political system, or mental illness; anything but misogyny. But gun culture only gave him the means, it did not create his motivation, and Aspergers Syndrome is not an indication of a propensity to kill, nor an explanation of the motive.

The reasons were explicitly detailed in Rodger's manifesto: he saw women as commodities to which he was entitled, but was denied.

He only desired 'hot' women, slim, tall 'perfect' blondes; 'ugly' women were beneath him, not even worth his envy. The most chilling thing about his words is the complete lack of recognition that women are human beings; to him they were highly-desirable commodities whose purpose was to satisfy his needs.

Rodger's beliefs about women did not spring fully-formed from nowhere; such views do not exist in a vacuum. Rodger was a product of his culture who simply took that attitude towards women to its extreme.

America, of course, sorts out the winners and losers in life very early on with its High School cheerleaders and jocks culture, matching the pretty girls with the powerful males as part of its education system.

But we shouldn't feel smug in this country: we share with America a growing porn culture throughout advertising and the media. We too live in a society which casts men as the actors and 'hot' women as the willing prize, fostering entitlement in young men, and conditioning young girls to view themselves as objects. Rodger's words echo that same mixture of desire and contempt for women that we are familiar with here too, encouraged by the public sexual objectification of women in our daily newspapers, giving our young men explicit entitlement to women's bodies.

Porn culture presents the woman/prize as being always available and willing, it objectifies women and entitles men, creating both the desire and the frustration. That is a dangerous combination which manifests in women's daily lives along a continuum of cat-calling, groping, sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape and ultimately murder. Mass shootings are comparatively rare, but the attitude behind this particular one is not, and it manifests itself in a myriad of ways which go unreported.

In Isla Vista itself, there was a similarly-motivated mass murder twelve years ago, when UCSB freshman David Attias plowed his black Saab into a crowded street, killing four, and attributing his action to 'frustration over lack of sexual contact.' There is also concern over the number of sexual assaults on campus, and earlier in this year alone there have been three reported rapes, including two violent gang-rapes. Speaking about the second gang-rape in as many months, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover stated 'Unfortunately, sexual assaults are not uncommon in the Isla Vista area, however, this case is extreme.'

Meanwhile Sheriff Bill Brown described Elliot Rodger as 'A lone madman.'

In any other shocking case, we would be attempting to join up the dots and asking ourselves questions about the kind of culture which produces such hatred, but as long as we refuse to name the problem we need not look at the cultural factors which provide a breeding ground for its growth.

Another thing the UK has in common with America is the structural invisibility of gender-specific crime. In the UK, private initiatives such as Counting Dead Women and For Our Daughters have been set up to raise awareness of the issue, but while there remains no official public means of reviewing or recording specific violence by men towards women and girls we cannot make the links between related crimes.

Misogyny remains an invisible motive and currently the national news media is playing its part in keeping the problem under the radar. If misogyny was recognised and called out publicly, then maybe at least one of Rodger's therapists would have thought to try to teach him respect for women, and not just the social skills to enable him to get one.

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