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:
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
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.
#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.
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.