On Elliot Rodger, and Recent Tragic Events.

When I was fourteen, I started volunteering at the hospital in my small town. I wheeled newspapers around on small carts, rang up purchases at the gift shop, sat at the information desk and directed family members to the correct rooms. It wasn’t altruism: I had been told it would look good on a college application.

My father arrived early one evening to pick me up – he had worked in the hospital my whole life, and I think he enjoyed walking up from his wing of the building to see me sitting at the front desk, dressed in the pink striped smock. He scowled as he watched me wave goodbye to the security guard. “Ray,” he said, nodding his head in acknowledgment. Ray nodded back. He was this paunchy guy in his early forties, with dark hair as slick as his ID badge.

“Does he hang around the desk a lot?” my father asked, as we walked to his car.

“Sometimes,” I said. “He seems nice.”

I didn’t know how to tell him that Ray the security guard did hang around the desk a lot, and that I didn’t like the way he looked at me or laughed too long when I hadn’t said anything funny, but that he made me feel safe after that time a patient in the psych ward tried to grab my breast when I was delivering newspapers. I hadn’t told my father about that guy, either.

My father was quiet for a few minutes until he said, “He’s not.”

“What?” I said.

“That guy Ray.  He’s not nice.”

We were quiet the rest of the ride home.

My father started dropping by my desk “just to visit” more often, and Ray stopped hanging around as much.  I stopped volunteering a few years later, and forgot about him entirely until the morning when I learned that he had spraypainted the word “slut” on the garage of his home and then shot his wife in the head three times with a hunting rifle outside of a Cumberland Farms while their teenaged daughter sat in the car.

*

On average, there are 88 guns per every 100 people in the United States. I looked that number up, after I first heard the name Elliot Rodger on Saturday night.

I would say I’m a fairly social person. I know a lot of people. Vastly more than one hundred. I sat for awhile, trying to think of all the people I know personally who own guns. To my knowledge – and it may simply be that my knowledge is not great, that we’ve never discussed the issue – I can only name three. Two are hunters. The other is the guy who lived next door to me when I lived in deep South Philly, who once drunkenly boasted about his handgun collection and then revealed his concealed weapon before vomiting in a trashcan on my back porch.

So I guess maybe I’m out of touch with what most of America looks like.

*

When unthinkable, senseless tragedies happen, we hear a lot of the same phrases. The one we’ve missed out on, this time, is “We’ll never know why he did it.”

We know why he did it. Elliot Rodger left behind a 140-page document explaining why he did it. He left behind dozens of youtube videos explaining why he did it.

I did the thing I wish I hadn’t: I fell down into the internet for awhile. His manifesto. His youtube videos. Did you know the early media reports published his facebook page? It’s all public and searchable. So easy to click through to his father’s facebook page. His stepmother’s. His younger sister’s. It’s all there. They’re all real people. So were the men he stabbed to death in his apartment, the women gunned down in front of a sorority house, the student inside a nearby deli killed by a bullet.

And everybody has an opinion.

He was mentally ill. He wasn’t mentally ill. He knew exactly what he was doing. This is an act of misogyny. This is a hate crime. This is a logical conclusion of the MRA movement. We don’t know whether he was an MRA or not. We need to talk about gun control. We need to talk about mental illness in this country. We need to talk about violence against women. Not all the victims were women! Besides, he was mentally ill. He had Asperger’s, it’s not the same thing. When it’s a black man you blame the culture, when it’s a middle-eastern man you blame terrorism, when it’s a white man you blame guns and mental illness. This is the fault of his parents. This is the fault of society. This is the fault of the culture. This is the fault of the politicians. This is the fault of America.

I have a hard time with conclusions, whether I agree with them or not, because it presumes that something like this, something as unthinkable and senseless as what happened in Isla Vista on Friday night, can be easily defined or categorized.

Yes, we do have to talk about mental illness. But not just because of Elliot Rodger, whose parents seemed loving and who tried to help him, who sent him to multiple therapists, who contacted the police when they became concerned for his and others’ safety, none of which was enough to prevent him from killing six people. We have to talk about the 9.6 million Americans who were diagnosed with a severe mental illness in 2012, few of whom have access to psychiatrists or doctors or prescription drugs. We have to talk about incarceration rates and homelessness.

We have to talk about gun control. Not just because of Elliot Rodger, who obtained his guns legally, not just because this is just one in a series of mass shootings that have captured the public’s nightmarish interest. We have to talk about gun control because the deaths caused by Elliot Rodger are an insignificant fraction of the avoidable deaths caused by gun violence in the United States. We lose, on average, thirty people a day in this country. Over 12,000 people in 2013. Twelve THOUSAND people.

We have to talk about the Men’s Rights Activists. Not just because of Elliot Rodger, who technically wasn’t an MRA at all – while he subscribed to a few MRA Youtube channels, his online footprint was primarily left at Puahate.com – a community angry at the failure of pickup artist techniques to work on women – and Bodybuilding.com, where his posts varied from overtly racist to self-pityingly narcissist, and were generally received with mockery and derision.

No, we have to talk about the Men’s Rights Activists because of this:

More people will die unless you give men sexual options. No one would have died if Elliot Rodger had learned game.

We have to talk about Men’s Rights Activists because I would like to compare the rhetoric used here:

 In the name of equality and fairness, I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month.

I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women – to beat the living shit out of them. I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.

And then make them clean up the mess.…

-Paul Elam, A Voice For Men

to this:

College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would’ve all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.

-Elliot Rodger, Murderer

We have to talk about the idea that a woman could have prevented this by just “taking one for the team.” Elliot Rodger was angry and disappointed that he didn’t have a girlfriend, that his “rightful claim to sex” was thwarted by an oppressive feminist culture.

He also vehemently believed that he deserved to win the lottery, obsessively spending hundreds of dollars at a time and venting his rage at life’s unfairness every time he didn’t win. He also started using words like “flay” and phrases like “strip the skin off their flesh” around the same time as he became a big fan of Game of Thrones. 

I can’t wait to read the article that argues George R.R. Martin, or the California State MegaMillions, could have prevented this unspeakable tragedy.

For those reasons and so many more, we have to talk about misogyny. We have to talk about a culture that could allow this to happen. I hate to break it to you, but much like the systemic problem of racism didn’t die on Barak Obama’s election night, the systemic problem of hatred towards women didn’t die when Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State. Don’t believe me? Search the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, which is remarkable for both the swiftness and magnitude of responses from women eager to share their own experiences of everyday, institutionalized sexism and violence, as well as the immediate trolling and hate speech that followed.

ImageImageImageImage

 

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#YesAllWomen deal with this bullshit. Routinely.

No, #NotAllMen are rapists. Not all men are violent. Not all men are angry.

Most of the men I know are wonderful people. Most men are kind and trustworthy. Most men are loving. The ones in my world are smart, and sensitive, and funny, and warm. They are dear friends and valued companions. They are attentive and caring fathers, husbands, and brothers. They are incredible.

I still walk home alone with my keys between my fingers, though. Just in case.

What’s that quote again?

“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.”

 

Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.

 -Margaret Atwood

*

Seven people died in Isla Vista, California on Friday night, including Elliot Rodger.

Misogyny alone didn’t kill those seven people. Gun control problems in America alone didn’t kill seven people. And Elliot Rodger’s mental illness didn’t kill seven people. A lethal combination of all of those things did. And we owe it to them and their families to have some hard conversations about all of these issues. We owe it to ourselves to propose some solutions. We owe it to those victims to call our elected officials and lobby for change. We should be mad about this. We should be furious. We owe it to those victims. We owe it to each other. We owe it to ourselves.

Because I hate that I know Elliot Rodger’s name. I hate that I read through his life story. I hate that I watched those videos, searching for an answer. I wish that I knew more about Katherine Cooper, Chen Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang, Christopher Michael-Martinez, or Veronika Weiss. I know nothing about them, other than their names, which will swiftly be forgotten by all except those who knew them. And I hate that this is true.

And I think about Laurie DiLorenzo, who was killed outside a Cumberland Farms in Queensbury, New York in 2005. Whose name I remember because she was sweet, and funny, in a quiet and unassuming way. Who was always nice to me. Who always made my dad smile.

I wonder who remembers her name, except those who knew her.  I wonder what could have been done to keep her alive.

And I wonder what we all will say the next time a sociopath goes on a killing spree. I wonder who we’ll blame. I wonder how many people have died from gun violence in the time it has taken me to type this. I wonder how many women in my own neighborhood are living in fear. I wonder this every time I hear loud popping noises from the streets nearby and have to do the arithmetic, fireworks or gunshots? 

I wonder what we’ll say next time.

I wonder if this will ever change.

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30 thoughts on “On Elliot Rodger, and Recent Tragic Events.

  1. You have a nuanced understanding of causality. I’m dismayed at the ubiquitous snap judgments and oversimplifications, so I’ve mostly avoided reading past anyone’s first paragraph. Personally, I refuse to “diagnose by media”, including the killer’s posts and ramblings. But I’m as likely as the next unqualified opinionator to take a position on the “nature vs nurture” question. To me it’s almost always an “inside” cause (bad brain chemistry, schizophrenia etc.) as opposed to an “outside” one (misogyny, social isolation).
    A sane person gets rejected and thinks they should change themselves, their tactics or their goals, not murder people in response. And Mr. Martinez (one victim’s father) was right. A young man in therapy since age eight (!?) shouldn’t have been able to buy guns.

  2. While I generally like your blog and I know this was written with good intention, I can’t help but feel frustrated by your approach. 10+ times you’ve mentioned him by name, thus helping him to attain the level of notoriety he so desperately wanted. Mentally sane or not, the people who do these unspeakable acts do them because they know they’ll be talked about for years to come. I really believe that if we keep perpetuating these people by sharing their message, we’re only reinforcing the belief that “If I create a horrible tragedy, my name will live on forever”.

  3. A well-written, necessary post Katherine. Still, I am reeling with nausea and frustration – and fear for the women of the world. The Margaret Atwood quote said it all.

  4. Good work! This belongs in every newspaper in the country. You have found your true voice! And I don’t agree with your fan who states we shouldn’t repeat the name of the shooter….I can’t remember the names of all those who went before him. As with the others, I am writing Elliot’s name on a square of toilet tissue. That is all he deserves. My heart does though ache for his family who tried desperately to make “right” with psychobabble. Maybe we need to recognize that maybe some people are not fixable. Screw that “free to be you and me” crap.

  5. Such a well written piece-it disturbs me how society seems to have gone backwards in the way it treats women. The UK is going the a similar way in terms of mysogyny and it scares me. As women we are constantly aware of what could happen so we’re constantly on guard and we shouldn’t have to be.

  6. I just read an article about it 2 minutes before I checked my mails and started reading this blog. By the way was a german newspaper and the story didn’t make it to the frontpage there – so IT FELT LIKE MAGIC. 🙂 🙂
    Thanks for that!
    And for the personal background information, you made his story special to me. Before reading, there were the newspaper facts. Now they are touching…

  7. Beautifully written! I gasped in shock at parts & it turned my stomach to read the posts about violence towards women. I was disappointed to read a quote from the murderer because I don’t want to recall him – I want to know more about the victims. But I appreciate your argument & yes something must be done.

  8. Very thoughtful blog post. You’re right, it’s very unfortunate that we only remember the ones who complete these atrocious acts. You want to know more about the victims, while I didn’t know any of the personally I grew up in the same town as Chris Martinez and my little sister knew him. Chris was English major at UCSB, he was planning to study abroad in London next year, and go to law school – following in his parents footsteps to become a lawyer. Everyone who knew him says he was smart, funny, close with his family and loved by all. Here’s the full article from the local paper: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2014/05/24/3079423/slo-high-grad-was-among-shooting.html
    I wanted to share this because you’re right, Chris, Katherine, Chen, George, Weihan, and Veronika deserve to be the ones we remember, not their murderer.

  9. I want to thank you for such a great post. There is much here for thought. Too bad there may not be any action.

    I am sad that we live in a society and a world that doesn’t respect women. In fact, we put commentators like Rush Limbaugh on the radio and pay them millions of dollars to call a woman a slut. All because she believes women should have access to birth control. I am sad that we have elected officials who believe that not all rape is forceable. (And that is how they write the laws.) Yet rape by its very nature is forceable. I am sad because when a Congressional Committee of all men asked only men to come in and testify on women’s issues.

    I am just sad that we live in a country where we don’t make it a priority to do something about this kind of thing. Instead we live in a country where we value guns over human life. Where we’d rather spend money to send our youth off to foreign lands to fight, than provide them with decent care when they return wounded and in pain. We live in a country where billionaires get tax breaks and we cut off funds to help those who are the mentally ill. We may not know anyone who owns a gun, but I am sure we all know someone who is suffering from mentally ill. I am sad that the NRA will come back and say that all would be well if each of those young people had carried. That is our solution. Little do we realize that violence against violence.leads to more violence.

    I used to get angry when this kind of violence occurred and nothing was done. I would call my elected officials. I would go out and stand in solidarity with the victims. I would contribute financially. And I would get angry because nothing was done. But I could only stay angry for so long. One day I just ran out of steam.

    In the next few days, we are going to hear all sorts of people say that something must be done. But like the tragedy at Sandy Hook, nothing will be done. There’ll come a time when we can’t even remember the name of this terrorist. Yes, he was a terrorist, just like someone who straps on a bomb and walks into a building and blows it up as well as himself or herself. All because they didn’t get their way. All because someone didn’t listen to their complaints. So they’ll just show us. And we will also hear the complaint that the police could have done more. When you ask them what, the commentators don’t really have a solution.

    I could have been Elliot Rodger. When I was in my twenties, I didn’t get dates. I didn’t have intimate relationships with women. And I was just as long as he was. It took me a long time to develop the social skills for dating and romance. But all during that time I did not blame women. I kept asking myself what I needed to do. I kept working on myself until I developed those skills.

    All this is to say that somewhere along the line our society failed those young people who died from this violence. Also our society failed Elliot Rodger. So far we have turned a public health issue into a policing problem. And we give the police neither the resources nor the training to deal with this kind of problem.

    One final note. I am sharing this post on my Facebook page.Thank you again.

  10. This is so well written and thoughtful. You managed to articulated a lot of things that I’ve been feeling this weekend that I didn’t know how to say. Thank you.

  11. Well done. When I try to say these things, it seems like all that comes out is guttural noises of fury. Your words, of course, stand a much better chance of bringing about change. Thank you.

  12. Wow, I am really touched by this post. Very thoughtful and well written. Thank you so much for putting into words what so many of us have felt.

  13. I think this is a well thought out piece and I give you a lot of credit for posting it in an era of reactionary commentary. Thank you.

  14. I love your honest words. The world needs more of that…

    I think that a lot of sadness in this world could be cured with one word;

    RESPECT.

    Seriously. Men don’t get respect from women who are always trying to prove that they’re equal or better than their “stronger” counters. The same goes for women who don’t get the respect that they deserve from men. They say that all you need is “love”, but you can’t love someone if you don’t respect them. Applicable to your husband/ wife/ neighbor/ grocery clerk/ cab driver/ etc….

    People need to learn to respect fellow human beings. To acknowledge that every single person is capable of having feelings and of being hurt. I’m not encouraging Elliot’s behavior or in any way trying to justify his actions; just saying that maybe if he had been shown a little love (respect) that he wouldn’t have been so angry.

      • I can’t speak for Briana, but it is coming out that he was pretty viciously bullied throughout school-food thrown as he walked through the lunchroom, shoved against lockers, his head taped to his desk…and he was already possibly an unstable and/or very sensitive person. I wish he hadn’t retreated into those sicko he-man woman hater websites, and I wish the cops had found the guns. What is saddest is that he wasn’t (in my opinion) a worthless human being-I think this story could have gone very differently, and that is awful.

  15. “while he subscribed to a few MRA Youtube channels”

    No, he was not subscribed to any MRA youtube channels.

    He had no connection to the MRM at all. The forums he’s been found to have posted to, a bodybuilder forum and “PUAhate”, are not connected to the men’s rights movement. Furthermore, none of his beliefs have anything to do with men’s rights views.

    There’s a reason why no source has been able to point to even one specific example of a connection to the men’s rights movement. There is no such connection.

  16. An awesome post. I can’t praise it enough. Really good job.
    No one knows what is going on behind closed doors, or equally behind those eyes, no judgement should ever be passed. But society, society is something that tends to have open eyes, and closed ears.

  17. Really interesting post. Here in Australia we outlawed guns after a mass shooting and it has worked well. Yes there are many factors at play here, but logic says ‘If you can’t get a gun, you can’t shoot anyone!’

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