(Rightly) Politicizing Elliot Rodger

Here’s a great piece by Laurie Penny at The New Statesman about the Elliot Rodger shooting spree: Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism. She writes:

We have allowed ourselves to believe, for a long time, that the misogynist subcultures flourishing on- and offline in the past half-decade, the vengeful sexism seeding in resentment in a time of rage and austerity, is best ignored. We have allowed ourselves to believe that those fetid currents aren’t really real, that they don’t matter, that they have no relation to “real-world” violence. But if the Isla Vista massacre is the first confirmed incident of an incident of gross and bloody violence directly linked to the culture of ‘Men’s Rights’ activism and Pickup Artist (PUA) ideology, an ideology that preys on lost, angry men, then it cannot be ignored or dismissed any more.

We like to think that violent misogyny – not sexism, but misogyny, woman-hatred as ideology and practice, weaponised contempt for one half of the human race – isn’t something that really happens in the so-called West. No matter how many wives and girlfriends are murdered by their husbands, no matter how many rapists are let off because of their “promising careers”, violence against women is something that happens elsewhere, somewhere foreign, or historical, or both. So anxious are we to retain this convenient delusion that any person, particularly any female person, who attempts to raise a counter argument can expect to be harassed and shouted down.

As soon as women began to speak about the massacre, a curious thing happened. Men all over the world – not all men, but enough men – began to push back, to demand that we qualify our anger and mitigate our fear. Not all men are violent misogynists.

This kind of dismissal of someone carrying out the logical conclusion of an ideology as one who’s deranged, twisted, or ill reminds me a lot of what religious apologists say when people take the literal word of their chosen holy book and commit acts of unspeakable cruelty. “But not all religious people are like that!” they cry, when its the cultural cover provided by the ideology—and the idea that it’s sacred and thus beyond earthly scrutiny—that breeds and shelters those who simply take the ideas one step further.

Of course, I think all religious thought stems from a hatred of life, and all organized religion comes from a desire to use that self-hatred to control people and centralize power and wealth. You can say that “moderate” religious people are doing no harm, but they prop up a system that does do harm—real, constant, and atrocious harm—and therefore criticizing the ideology is of utmost urgency.

I think Penny is similarly correct about “moderate” misogynist ideology: it breeds the occasional shooting spree (between the constant and widespread domestic violence). No, not all men want to shoot women who don’t want to have sex with them, but thinking that a woman owes a man sex didn’t just come out of thin air, it’s ingrained in the larger cultural landscape. So Rodger’s actions weren’t so much an anomaly as exactly what you’d expect given the perpetual messaging that the patriarchy provides.

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2 thoughts on “(Rightly) Politicizing Elliot Rodger

  1. To me calling Rodger’s acts “misogynist extremism” is like calling Hitler’s psychotic behavior “racist extremism”. It’s a seriously inadequate explanation. A sane person who is depressed and lonely gets rejected and considers changing themselves, their tactics, and/or their goals. They don’t conclude that the proper response is to murder people. Psychosis causes social isolation. It doesn’t work the other way round.

    • Agreed that most people would not conclude that the proper response is to murder people—but the point is that our culture teaches that some response is warranted and justified, in this case because women had the audacity not to want to have sex with this guy. In another culture, an unstable person with these kinds of thoughts would not have the backing of a majority. Indeed, in another culture, an unstable person would not even have these ideas as starting points for the validation of frustration or rage.

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