Harmful Sexism or Progressive Feminism: Two Paths

As much as we know now, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and himself, injuring more, at UC Santa Barbara on 23 May 2014.

Tragic, confusing, and infuriating as this already is, it has generated an outcry about the origins of Rodger’s motivation to commit such an act of violence. He apparently posted a video of his verbal manifesto [6:56] before he acted, referencing his life until this point, the wrongs he feels he has been given, and the revenge he feels he is justified to enact.

Here are some important quotes, from a transcript I obtained here:

For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires. All because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, but never to me. I’m 22-years-old and still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college, for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous.

I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.

You will finally see that I am in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male.

If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you. [Laughs.] You denied me a happy life. And in turn, I will deny all of you life. [Laughs.]

Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species. If I had it in my power, I would stop at nothing to reduce every single one of you to mountains of skulls and rivers of blood and rightfully so.

This video doesn’t even feel real, which in some ways makes it more haunting. It’s like a bad film script with a shaky motivation for the villain. His stilted laugh, serious gaze, and sinister tone seem exactly lifted from some other fantasy media. Words like “popular kids” and “puberty” seem worlds apart from “annihilation”, “slaughter”, and “retribution”. They don’t belong together, and this shouldn’t have happened.

But while listening to him talk, I began comparing and especially contrasting his and my experiences and our responses to them. See, I was also a virgin through 5 years of college, not just 2.5. I had also never gone on a date, kissed anyone, or had just about any romantic gesture reciprocated, the few times I had the nerve to try.

I can’t speak to his efforts to court women, or how one might feel more devastated while trying earnestly and still failing. But I find a commonality in the the frustration of bachelorism. I would ask myself the question of “am I able to be loved in that way?” Could I be supportive, intimate, or whatever else I frankly didn’t know was involved in a romantic relationship, and would someone give that back to me? Could I be desired? Not knowing the answers to these questions, or believing it’s “no”, is scary or even horrible. It’s coming to the conclusion that a major part of life experience is closed off to you.

I don’t believe he was asking the same questions I was, but I believe we (and many others) had similar frustrations. Yet my sympathy evaporates immediately when someone, like this killer, then blames women or sexually-active men for this problem. This is where he and I process, think, and took diametrically opposite paths, and where I want to prevent others from taking the dangerous, sexist, violent road.


From Wikimedia – A free throw

When you see yourself not obtaining what you want from something that is important to you, you can either self-reflect, or project. In a simple situation, if you’re trying to make a basketball free throw and miss repeatedly, you can either accept that you throw the ball askew, or question wind speed and regulation hoop height. One allows mental space for committing to more practice. The other is denial. And yes, of course there are situations where a failure on your part is due to outside influences, but this is about a longer-term pattern of behavior. What is your tendency?

Rodger projected his issues outward. He believed he was clearly worthy of affection, but women didn’t know. They picked other guys. They were stupid. He deserved their attention.

Nowhere in there is a self-examination of personal flaws or failings. Nowhere in there is an honest exploration into self-improvement. Or any indication of reaching out to others and receiving good advice and constructive criticism. Dangerously, nowhere is there a recognition that women, like all people, are independent agents who should be allowed to make choices, even if they aren’t in his favor.

The blame turns to others, not him. Women and sexually-active men were the enemy. He demonized them, put them down, in order to build his relative self-image up. This is a coping mechanism we’re all familiar with, because it provides a small, short-term comfort. As another example, it’s not winning an award and responding by saying the contest sucks, or that the judges were idiots.

But it’s an entirely different level to wish and cause harm to those one hates. Unfortunately, after that, it only takes a willingness for violence and access to the means to commit it to enact the heinous crime of killing or injuring a dozen other human beings.

I’ve been talking in more generic psychological mindsets here, but I want to ensure I emphasize that the depth of this hatred, this entitlement, this violence against women specifically cannot and will not be ignored. Cultures of sexism more easily breed a mindset like this killer’s and make him feel not shameful, but righteous in his actions. It allows misogyny to flourish in a way that endangers huge parts of our society.

I say “cultures” above to imply a layered interpretation of the issue. Patriarchy exists and is prevalent in the million inequalities big and small that women endure in their lives. But beyond that are those that deny this fact, that don’t see, hear, listen to, or believe the experiences of those different from them. These are often the white, straight, cisgendered men like myself who innaccurately extrapolate our perspective to all others. These people can be associated with the current brand of the men’s rights movement, which outright deny patriarchy and assert than men are the ones marginalized. (Sexism can also come from other sources and in other forms, like religion.)

On top of all that are pick-up artists who view women as “targets” and objects to be gamed into sex. They assert to know “women” as a monolithic group so well as to manipulate them. They are horrible sexists, denying a woman’s personality or interests and replacing it with their sex. The Red Pill subreddit is a place where this mentality festers.

Someone going on a violent rampage is rare. But this mountain of sexism, this disregard for women’s perspectives, and this entitled attitude towards them heightens the chances of someone acting violently. It creates a toxic environment and provides a dangerous jumping-off point to harming others if the rhetoric and mindset are just twisted or extended. These movements and mentalities enable violence and are complicit in the culture they allow to prevail.


From Wikimedia – The Thinker (El Pensador)

I shared that I was in a similar position to this killer in college. …Which is a frightening sentence to read. But so are many: sexless, lonely, without romance, and confused both as to how and if things will change.

What we as a society need to do is to encourage people to look in the right places for answers to these problems. We need individuals to speak out against sexism and misogyny that lure people in with their narratives. We need organizations to continue to raise awareness of the very real issues women face that men can all-too-easily ignore or treat as trivial. We need friends and family who listen.

I chose to self-reflect, not project, and became a better person while becoming a feminist. I cared about issues I had previously ignored, and I learned vast amounts from other people’s experiences. I started to object to casual (and egregious) sexism and became friends with those who appreciated spaces of acceptance. I am more open and honest and close with people now, and it is freeing and wonderful.

In contrast to sexism, feminism provides a positive jumping-off point to meaningful connections and understanding. To empathy, sympathy, and support; and to acceptance, kindness, and consideration. Removing expectations of gender stereotypes also releases the pressures for men to seek sex when they may not want it, for example, and to see women as similarly independent from the societal “obligations” of their sex.

I am not by any stretch saying feminism leads to having sex. Expecting that would be the same harmful entitlement mentality masquerading as progressivism. But becoming a person who seeks to learn, appreciate, and listen to new perspectives absolutely leads to more meaningful connections, including romantic. Being thoughtful and considerate of others builds relationships of all kinds.


From Wikipedia – A positive jumping-off point

In the wake of this news, I’ve been seeing objections to talking about sexism and the culture of entitlement. People instead want to talk about mental illness and concern for the families of those lost.

First of all, my heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed yesterday. I am deeply saddened at the needless loss of life of these innocent people. That deserves reiteration. But discussions of what caused this mass killing is precisely what is needed. It’s an effort to understand what happened in order to prevent it.

There was a lot of discussion concerning how to talk about mental illness during these tragedies in the past. Part of it was simply lamenting that when MI only comes up in these situations, it perpetuates stigma against it concerning violence, when there are in fact millions of peaceful people living with MIs around us. Another part was the question of whether MI actually can instigate violence, and where it is relevant to the situation. I welcome clarifications and comments on this aspect of the issue, where I’m not so certain.

But where I am certain is the undeniable component that enabled this tragedy: the culture of sexism. I described above in detail the ways in which men (or anyone) can slip into its narrative. It needs to be addressed, alongside any other preventable factors at play. By talking about sexism, we’re not ignoring MI or gun laws or campus safety, if they are relevant. We’re addressing one prong of a complicated problem. All need to be considered, but the killer’s video clearly points to the primary motivator of misogyny.

Some final notes:

Apologies if I used “him” and “his” heavily, but I wanted to use the killer’s name minimally.

I wrote this during the day as information was coming out about his activities online. I’m sure we’ll learn more over time, but these were my thoughts from just the video and some early findings.

2 thoughts on “Harmful Sexism or Progressive Feminism: Two Paths

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