A lot of people have been insisting that we must be incensed by Elliot Rodger's killing spree not only because of the death toll, but because he was a misogynist.  I got to thinking about this and read his manifesto (my highlighted version is here).  Here goes--my thoughts about why he did it, and the role played by misogyny.

Starting at puberty Rodger begins to worry that other boys/men get to have sex with beautiful girls/women, and he doesn't.  Life is horribly, horribly unfair, he thinks. The manifesto contains endless passages expressing anger against men, and endless passages experessing longing for women.  Even when he expresses hatred for women, throughout most of the manifesto it's not hatred because they're women, or because they're inferior. He hates women for not giving him sex, just as he hates men for not giving him friendship. These hatreds are parallel, one no more driven by gender bias than the other. 

The turning point in the manifesto is pg. 88.  This is when he starts to become violent and realizes he could become very violent.  Twice he witnesses couples making out, and then furiously throws his coffee at them. He doesn't feel furious because women are crap or expendable or "just things," but because life feels unfair. He is furious that women are unattainable for him, but attainable for others.    He cannot do anything or go anywhere without noticing couples and resenting his inability to attain the pleasures of sex and love.  He even has to drop classes he's taking because he's so disturbed by couples and attractive women.  He is totally obsessed.

For a while he gets the idea he can solve the problem by dressing well or winning the lottery and thereby attracting a woman, but of course that doesn't work.  After additional minor attacks on couples and groups of women he decides it's time to start preparing for the Day of Retribution, when he will punish everyone for his sufferings.  He buys a gun.  The planning and the gun purchase are not preceded by sexist or misogynistic ravings, but by the very same obsessions that fill the manifesto--it's not fair, I long for girls, but other, less worthy guys always get the girls.  He seeks retribution because that's the only way he can think of to rectify this terrible unfairness.

Rodger shows little sign of being particularly sexist for most of the manifesto, but he does have a very warped idea about male-female relationships. He thinks getting sex is some kind of a reward for being an impressive man. Having a woman at your side tells everyone "This guy is great!"  Not having a woman says "This guy is a loser!" He fails to understand the connection between friendship and sex, and thus cannot start down a path that could lead to sex. 

Starting on p. 117 things change and he starts fixating on his hatred of women. Prior to this, I think expressions of hatred for men are far more numerous.  He is desperate to explain why women don't feel attracted to him.  He can't bear to think it's because of something about him, so he finds fault with women.  Now he writes a paragraph of extreme misogyny.  But it is very late in the day.  This comes after the plan for retribution has been made and the first gun has been purchased, and after hundreds of expressions of anger toward men as well as women, and after hundreds of complaints about life's unfairness.

After the misogynistic paragraph, he quickly comes back to his standard theme: "Women must be punished for their crimes of rejecting such a magnificent gentleman as myself.  All of those popular boys must be punished for enjoying heavenly lives and having sex with all the girls while I had to suffer in lonely virginity."  (p. 118) And: "I wanted to kill as many attractive young couples as I possibly could."  Which is not to say there is never any gender-directed hatred: "My hatred of the female gender could grow no stronger."  But he is angry at women because they haven't chosen him for sex, and that is all.

Here's what he says about the roommates he murdered: "These two new ones were utterly repulsive, and one of them had a very rebellious demeanor about him....I knew that when the Day of Retribution came, I would have to kill my housemates to get them out of the way. If they were pleasant to live with, I would regret having to kill them, but due to their behavior I now had no regrets about such a prospect. In fact, I'd even enjoy stabbing them both to death while they slept." (p. 128) Yes, he hates these guys too, not only the sorority women he plans to kill.

Here's a sentence about his sister's boyfriend, toward the end. It sums thing up pretty well:  "It is such an injustice. The slob doesn't even have a car, and he is able to get girlfriends, while I drive a BMW and get no attention from any girls whatsoever." (p. 129)  But then, there is this misogynistic statement about his mother:  "But then again, my mother is a woman, and women are all mentally ill."  (p. 130) So his anger does occasionally well up into misogyny.

The final passages include fantasies of sadistically killing "everyone" and fantasies of killing women in particular.  "I will punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex." (p. 132)  There's nothing in here about how all women are for sex. He's not saying everyone should get to have sex with any women they want. The complaint is that women wanted to have sex with other men, not with him. It was unfair.   He does want to kill others, not just attractive women:  "I can only imagine how sweet it will be to ram the SUV into all those groups of popular young people..." (p. 142) 

But then (yes) there are also misogynistic tirades. On p. 136 he writes about abolishing women, putting them in concentration camps.  This is around where he also calls himself a god. He's days away from committing mass murder. To my mind the anger and sense of injustice that's filled his head for years and years have now generated both an extreme misogynistic fantasy about women and a plan for mass murder and a lot of other lunacy.  The anger came first and had multiple effects--the misogynistic tirade and other strange thoughts, and the rampage.  The misogyny at the end isn't what made him plan to commit murder or carry out the plan.

What you can learn from this manifesto is that one source of murderous anger is the sexual angst of unsuccessful men.  If that is right, then the feminist response we've seen (see here and here) invites us to focus on  the wrong thing: the widespread problem of overly aggressive boys and men who hit on women, grab at them, commit date rape -- the usual excesses of aggression. Elliot Rodger was a very passive boy/man until his "day of retribution."  Yes, yes, of course, he killed a lot of people, which is very aggressive.  But the state of mind that led up to this was one of totally passive dysfunctionality.  This is a guy who didn't harass girls, didn't grab butts, didn't impose himself on anyone. To get women's attention he tried to win the lottery over and over again, and bought himself fancy clothes. He wanted the flattery of receiving a woman's attention. 

Of course the misogynistic passages of this manifesto are revolting.  In fact, they're so revolting there's no way it can be true that Rodger got these ideas from the culture, as some commentators have said.  Right beside the misogynistic passages about putting women in concentration camps (p. 136, close to the end of the manifesto) there are passages about flaying people, cutting their heads off, slaughtering them by the hundreds.  Rodgers has completely fallen apart by this point. He's exploding in rage.  By reading the manifesto, you can see what brings him to this point, and it's not immersion in a sexist culture.

Moral of the manifesto: beware the shy, passive guy on the sidelines. I think that's been the moral after many of these mass killings.  The question is: what to do about it?


Josh Rosenau said...

You say he didn't get these ideas from "immersion in a sexist culture," but surely his twisted ideas about sex (its transactional nature, the idea of girlfriend-as-status-symbol, etc.) are all products of a sexist culture. And the link between sex and violence isn't hard to link to sexist culture and rape culture. The helpless heroine being rescued by the vigorous knight and rewarding him with sex is a staple of culture back to Arthurian legend at least.

For a deeper look at the subculture he immersed himself in, which definitely supplied a lot of that inspiration, this piece makes for some disturbing reading: http://jezebel.com/lessons-from-a-day-spent-with-the-ucsb-shooters-awful-f-1582884301

s. wallerstein said...

I haven't read his manifesto, but he must have been insanely competitive and envious and maybe the culture he lived in was also insanely competitive and envious.

First of all, it's hard to believe that no woman was interested in him. Maybe none of the popular or conventionally sexually desireable women showed much interest in him, but just as there are always male misfits and low-status males (from the mating point of view), there are female misfits and low-status females (from the mating point of view), who generally end up mating with male misfits or lower status males. I might also mention, having been a male misfit myself, that slightly older women often take an interest in very young sexually inexperienced male misfits.

Let me add that low-status females (from the mating point of view) are often extremely intelligent and far more worthwhile company than the higher status ones.

So it would seem that this fellow chased after, but had no success with high status females (from the mating point of view), and instead of learning to form relationship with non-high status females, he continued to compete for success with in a "league" where he had no chances of success.

I put "league" in quotation marks because it is not a ranking of human quality or virtue or merit, but merely of what an often superficial (and competitive and envious) culture values.

I can imagine the culture of sexual competitiveness which surrounded him as well as his desire to be a winner and it all seems so insane.

Jean Kazez said...

Josh, Fair enough, the twisted ideas about sex might be internalized from the cultural, but why are they sexist? Isn't the cultural idea that both men and women can impress by having an impressive partner? It's ugly to think of a partner as a status symbol, but it goes both ways.

Amos, Yeah, that's a mystery. He is only interested in "hot girls," "tall blonds" and the like. He doesn't pursue realistic potential partners. He never seems to have friendly relationships with girls that could blossom into something else. He doesn't "get" the mating game, as it's normally played. I have no idea why not.

Anonymous said...

There is so much that is shocking about this event, it is hard to even discuss. So, thank you, Jean for diving in to make some sense of something so senseless. Those of us who studied sociology will remember the term "anomie," and this child seems to fit into that frame. He belongs nowhere. He can make no connections. Was this something underlying his biology, his mental chemistry? Or, do we know so little about the inner world of those who find distraction from social situations in gaming, and our techno-television driven culture whose "gaming world" is very simple, and for those unable or unwilling, these things don't lead to more social connection. The things that create and reinforce healthy behaviors and brain chemistry appear to be absent, and he seems, like many of the sociopathic leaning, to have put on a good show. His ideas are part of the freedom young people have to find themselves; many may feel tormented. But at the point where he purchased a gun, after these other incidents, he became deadly. It is so sad. So sad.Somewhere along the way he believed in violence as a solution, rather than developing himself in a more positive way. What kept him from seeing that? Maybe no one really understood the depth of his mental state or his rage.

Jean Kazez said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Before he moves to Santa Barbara he is really lost--seems to have no sense of being good at anything or moving in any direction. He is totally focused on feeling rejected and inadequate. The bullying in high school makes things much worse. His parents do intervene with therapists and "life coaches" so it's not as if nobody tries to intervene, but for some reason he cannot find his way out his misery. I would like to know more from an outside perspective. The manifesto is very revealing but presumably not the whole story.

s. wallerstein said...


From what you say, I'm more and more convinced that his rage was due to lack of status recognition, not sex.

Someone who was sex-crazed would have raped, I imagine.

He seems to have thought, not entirely incorrectly, that having sex with high status women would "earn" him that status recognition he lacked (you say he had "no sense of being good at anything").

It's tragic that none of the therapists was able to channel him into some activity that would win him recognition from others and some kind of status.

Jean Kazez said...

Maybe so. He had a whole lot of status preoccupations, and maybe this was just one of them (though he didn't realize it). He was someone who was almost a part of glamorous, rich, high status LA culture, but not quite. He really didn't seem to get recognition for anything at all. Part way through his mother tells him he's a good writer (he is!) and he has the idea he should write a screenplay and get rich. A serious lack of common sense there. It would be good to hear from his psychiatrist and find out if there really was some sort of pathology.

s. wallerstein said...

I guess there's something pathological about it. Sane people (in Erich Fromm's sense of the word "sense" at least) don't go on killing sprees.

Still, there's a fearsome rationality to this: he didn't imagine that his victims were Martians or even that the Vatican and Mossad were involved in a conspiracy to destroy him. His world vision is more rational, less deluded than that of the Nazis or of Al Qaeda. It's easier to put oneself in his place, without drawing his conclusions, than it is to put oneself in that of a Nazi or a Taliban: maybe that's because a shared culture.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as rape culture. That's an unsubstantiated feminist invention.