California shootings reveal troubled culture

"What I truly wanted...what I truly needed was a girlfriend," Elliot Rodger wrote. "I needed to feel worthy as a male. For so long I have felt worthless, and it's all girls' fault." 

"Seriously, today at my college I saw this short, ugly Indian guy driving a Honda civic, and he had a hot blonde girl in his passenger seat. What on earth is up with that?!?!?! I would climb Mount Everest 10 times just to have a girl like that with me. I drive a BMW Coupe and I've struggled all my life to get a girlfriend. What's wrong with this world?"

-- Elliot Rodger, on a BodyBuilding.com forum, on May 18, 2014.

There are many deeply disturbing elements about the Santa Barbara killings that are hard to understand, but the killer's online rants seem to suggest that the root causes went far beyond the psychological problems of one individual.  His beliefs, in some ways, are only extreme expressions of banal views held by many about women, money and social status. 

Rodger's anguish over not having a girlfriend -- which, as a young, reasonably rich, half-Caucasian man, he clearly felt entitled to -- echoes that of other young male killers who seemed to view women as status symbols. Some of his posts resemble those of a 25-year-old Japanese man, Tomohiro Kato, who drove a vehicle into a busy pedestrian street, before going on a brutal stabbing spree in 2008.

While lacking Rodger's material comfort and good looks, Kato also pinned his entire self-worth on having a girlfriend. More than his precarious auto parts factory job or his low salary, he obsessed over his lack of a steady girlfriend. Like Rodger, he expressed vehement hatred toward young couples, and fell into deep despair after his younger male colleague had found a girlfriend. 

“I don’t have a girlfriend. Just because of this one thing, my whole life has fallen apart,” he wrote on a web forum from his phone on June 5. Three days later, he slammed a rented truck toward a busy intersection in Tokyo's Akihabara district, killing three people, then descended the vehicle and stabbed 12 people on the street. 

Neither of them seemed to regard women as individuals. Most often, "girlfriends" were described as abstract prizes to be won by accumulating money or owning a certain type of car. There is little talk of love or relationships in their online writings: a "girlfriend" is only a ticket toward greater social acceptance and external validation. 

Worse, there's an implied sense of obligation on the part of women to follow certain, predictable rules when choosing their partner: rich over poor, white over black. Rodger calls it "unjust" that a "white girl" chose an Indian man over himself, and seethes over a woman who chooses to date a "poor" man who drives a "beat-up" car. 

In his entire 141-page manifesto going over his memories from childhood to the present day, Rodger makes almost no mention of any real efforts he made to court specific women. He vividly remembers wearing expensive brands like Gucci and Armani before entering a room full of young people, and is shattered when no "pretty" woman is bold enough to make the first move. And the woman must be pretty -- unattractive women don't count. 

Rodger never seems to view girls as equals, or even as people he can relate to and have meaningful discussions with. They are mere symbols whose function is to validate a man's status in the eyes of his peers. The fact that they never responded to his silent pleas for attention, in his view, meant they had failed their purpose as women.  

"What I truly wanted...what I truly needed was a girlfriend," he wrote. "I needed to feel worthy as a male. For so long I have felt worthless, and it's all girls' fault." 

Tellingly, Rodger blames his mother for not marrying into "great wealth", as though more money would have secured him scores of easy partners:  

"Joining a family of great wealth would have truly saved my life. I would have a high enough status to attract beautiful girlfriends, and live above all of my enemies. All of my horrific troubles would have been eased instantly. It is very selfish of my mother to not consider this."

While the intensity of Rodger's blame toward women is unusual, echoes of his views are found everywhere. What gave him the idea that at 22, it was profoundly abnormal for him to have never dated a girl? Why are women of certain ethnicities instantly labeled 'sell-outs' if they date outside their group? Why, despite many single young women in their twenties, have so few acted on a desire for violent revenge against the men who rejected them? And why, so many years after the École Polytechnique massacre of women in Montreal, do gendered crimes against women keep happening? 

Rodger asked what was wrong with the world, and raged about how "unfair" life was.

It is unfair. Sexism is deeply unfair to men and women and makes victims of both. The beliefs that people like Rodger hold don't just develop overnight -- they are built up over years, normalized by countless messages in the media and daily conversations. It's a shame the discussions have to be sparked by acts of violence, only to be shut down and repeated again.    

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