I’ve been following the news for the last few days about the Elliot Rodger attack.
I watched his video. I skimmed through his manifesto as much as I could before I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and despair. I spent my Sunday reading the #YesAllWomen social media response and wondered if there is a word to describe the feeling of being overwhelmed by the fact that we, as women, are not alone in our experiences of harassment and abuse, while simultaneously feeling a complete hopelessness at the distinct possibility that things may never change.
The media has blamed the NRA, politicians and have quickly dismissed this young man as just another mentally ill person who finally snapped. Nothing could have been done to prevent this heinous act. His family had sent him to therapists throughout his youth and called the police and asked them to check up on him after seeing his YouTube videos, which the police didn’t look into before visiting him. He was polite and convincing that he was perfectly fine.
Yes, Rodger was mentally unstable. His family was aware of this and attempted to force him into therapy and he did everything he could to refuse that treatment, much in the same way a drug addict refuses to comply when they are forced into rehab. I believe this young man was addicted to his feelings of entitlement to women and resentment of men, and as a result spiraled out of control.
To label him as mentally ill stigmatizes those who struggle with mental illness.
To dismiss him as just a murderer negates his motive and dismisses his victims as nothing more than collateral damage of another crazed gunman, rather than targets of his internalized misogynistic rage.
It’s possible that this was a perfect storm of affluenza, narcissism and misogyny. Our culture perpetuates certain myths of what it means to be rich, what it means to go to college and what it means to be a man.
If you are a rich, male, college student, beautiful women should be flocking to you and showering you with affection and adoration because college is a place where everyone explores their hedonistic side before settling into adulthood; having money in this situation means women and power, and power means maleness.
Elliot Rodger came from an affluent family. That affluence led him to believe that he was deserving of power and female affection—the very specific female affection of gorgeous, blonde sorority girls.
College is portrayed less as an experience to further education and more as a right of passage of alcohol-fueled sexual exploration. Media outlets spend weeks idolizing the experience of our youth’s first foray into unsupervised debauchery. News outlets simultaneously glorify boys’ right to sex and partying, while castigating parents who allow their girls to attend such hedonism.
A guest on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program said, “My daughter, there’s no way in hell she’s going there … But with my sons, I hope they have a good time.” Another said, “If I had a college son, I’d say ‘here’s a hundred bucks, have fun.'”
I would like to say this is only something that happens in the Fox News bubble, but this is a pervasive mindset in our culture.
Boys, go and drink and have sex with all the women you can, it’s what’s expected of you to become men! It’s your birth right! The girls that go to spring break are there only for your pleasure because no suitable family would ever let their daughter partake in such depravity, and no decent girl would want to! Party girls aren’t real people, they’re just there for a man to add notches to his belt and prove he’s a real man before settling down with a nice virgin girl and having lots of babies and making lots of money in his high powered, post-college career.
After a man has sowed his oats and settles into a career that amplifies his masculinity, he is led to believe he is imbued with a special power to attract a perfect wife—a diminutive woman who will shower him with affection and adoration, bear his children and continue his male legacy. On the off chance a time comes when his wife no longer prioritizes him over herself or their children, it is his right as a man to find another woman who will satisfy his male needs. Of course there will be, because our culture tells him that as long as he has proven his virility, money and power are his, and these are the only things he needs to have to the women that society tells him he deserves.
These are the unrealistic expectations of life that we have given our young men through movies, music and popular culture.
This is the male power fantasy.
The ultimate “Alpha.”
This is what our culture —male and female—tell our young men they should be.
This is what Elliot Rodger aspired to be.
This is the gender role we, as an entire culture, have perpetuated and we have failed to give our young men the proper tools to deal with life when these expectations are not fulfilled. We have not taught them to use intellectual or emotional tools to understand complexities beyond anger and rage, and if by chance they do attempt to use those tools, they are immediately classified as weak or inferior; told to “Man up! Walk it off! Stop being such a <female expletive>!”
Feminism has worked hard to dismantle the cultural expectation of women and our gender roles. It’s still working to ensure that femininity is equally as strong and tough as masculinity. It has expanded our ability to navigate a man’s world, and it has produced tools to help begin to fix the problems rooted in a patriarchal society. Tools that we have shared with our sons, brothers and fathers.
We have and are redefining what it means to be women, but the definition of what it means to be a man has stagnated in a pool of pride and ego.
Many men have realized this and while some have struggled with the fact that female empowerment does not mean a theft of power for men, most know that the only way out of stagnation is to move. Men that have moved forward with the waves of feminism and added new tools to their box have grown because of it. Those who remain blame not themselves for their stasis, but those that have flourished in a constantly evolving culture.
This blame bubbles up in Men’s Rights Activist culture. Women, and the men who stand with them, are villainized because of the delusion that somehow a woman having freedom and autonomy are destroying the male birthright of access to women. Men’s Rights Activists and their Pick-up artist counterparts think by succeeding in obtaining the superficial and materialistic aspects of maleness, they are deserving of affection and adoration.
Elliot Rodger and those that share a less extreme, but similar view, measure themselves only in two dimensional world of money, sex and power because this is what our culture and our media have told them is important—this is the only path to masculinity and male self worth.
This is our cultural deficiency and it has been blamed on women and feminism. Maybe because feminism recognized and acted on the revelation that self-worth goes beyond the superficial and materialistic and has fought to teach women they are more than their looks, who they marry, how much wealth they acquire, or how many kids they have. Maybe because there is some truth to the idea that behind every successful man is a woman, and now that women are claiming their independence and taking credit for their own success, some men feel a vacuum has been formed.
It’s easier to blame feminism for their own inability to fill the primary nurturer space because we’ve told them that any nurturing emotion is a sign of femininity and therefore a sign of weakness.
I have no sympathy for Elliot Rodger or those who blame women for their inability to find meaningful relationships, but I do recognize that he and his ilk will continue to become more extreme and violent in their words and actions if we as a culture don’t reevaluate what we teach boys about being a man.
We need to teach our sons that empathy is as valued in men as it is women, that it is okay to express hurt in ways other than rage, and that even though they feel damaged, they are not broken. Real men are not measured by the money they make, the cars they drive, or in Rodger’s view, the sex they are or not having. Real men are measured by their compassion and love for their fellow human beings.
Camicia Bennett: Founder of The Well Written Woman, Florida Native and cerebral creature, she loves her husband, yoga, red wine, potty humor, swearing superfluously and putting hats on her dog. If given her druthers she’d be surfing the web and writing randomness from someplace sunny and tropical whilst sipping her favorite vino. Oh wait, that’s exactly what she does.You can find her randomly sharing her own brand of slightly pretentious propaganda at her personal blog.