Roundup: Essential feminist writing on the Isla Vista shooting

We, as a feminist community, have spent the last four days in shock after the Isla Vista shooting. That the roots of the tragedy — violent misogyny — may be too intimately familiar to so many of us hasn’t softened the blow. Here we’ve tried to compile some of the best feminist writing in the aftermath, highlighting how our movements are processing, responding, and fighting back. Let us know what you’ve been reading in the comments.

White guy killer syndrome: Elliot Rodger’s deadly, privileged rage by Brittney Cooper at Salon

Every few years, the American public has to watch in horror as some white kid goes on a rampage, killing everything from babies to old people. Yet, neither the press nor the law will understand such perpetrators as monsters or terrorists. Few will have a conversation about white male pathology and the ways that systems of whiteness and patriarchy continue to produce white men who think like this.

Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism by Laurie Penny at The New Statesman 

The ideology behind these attacks – and there is ideology – is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration”, in Rodger’s words. We owe them respect and obedience, and our refusal to give it to them is to blame for their anger, their violence – stupid sluts get what they deserve. Most of all, there is an overpowering sense of rage and entitlement: the conviction that men have been denied a birthright of easy power.

Masculinity, Violence, and Bandaid Solutions by Miri Mogilevsky at Brute Reason

You will not hear that Black people who commit violent acts are never presumed to be mentally ill; they’re just presumed to be Black. You will not hear about how it’s only “terrorism” if a brown person does it; the fact that it’s politically motivated and intended to terrorize a particular group of people is not, apparently, enough. You will hear a lot about “not all men,” but you will not hear that misandry irritates and misogyny kills.

Misogyny is Poison, and You’re Drinking It by Jess Zimmerman at The Archipelago

It’s so easy to say that Rodger is something awful and strange, an alien metabolism that somehow processes everyday interactions into poison. It’s so easy that men you know are doing it right now, as you read this—explaining to the women around them that this is about mental illness, not about hate. They’re doing this because they don’t want to admit that the poison is real and they’re drinking it too.

Elliott Rodger and the High Price of Misogyny by Danielle Paradis at Dispatches from Paradis

Naturally, this seems as good a time as any to remark on this “madman” and the lack of mental health services in the country. All these things are true, and even if we don’t know the extent to which mental illness played in these deaths, I’d still like to see better services and less barriers for people who are vulnerable due to mental health issues. These are all good, concrete issues that we can point to–tangible topics that we can blame for Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage.

And yet, while we talk about these things, it buries the things we don’t like to talk about: the roles that entitlement and misogyny play in senseless acts of violence.

What Elliot Rodger Said About Women Reveals Why We Need to Stamp Out Misogyny by Liz Plank at Policy Mic

What happened in Santa Barbara is nothing less than a hate crime, and yet mainstream news outlets are distilling the issue to “mental illness” and “premeditated mass murder.” Although we should be shocked by Elliot Rodger’s actions, we should not be surprised. In fact, most school shootings share chillingly similar characteristics. It’s time we stop treating these incidents as anomalies and start recognizing the deep societal issues at play.

What a close read of the Isla Vista shooter’s horrific manifesto, “My Twisted World,” says about his values—and ours by Jeff Yang at Quartz

[B[ased on the memoir-cum-confession that he left behind, Rodger’s murderous rage was rooted in an obsessive self-hatred, born from his belief that he was entitled to, and thwarted from obtaining, a trifecta of privileges: Race, class, and gender. He saw himself as not quite white enough. Not quite rich enough. Not quite “masculine” enough, in the toxic, testosterone-saturated way that that term is defined in our society.

Elliot Rodger and Men Who Hate Women at The Belle Jar

We don’t know if Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. We don’t know if he was a “madman.” We do know that he was desperately lonely and unhappy, and that the Men’s Rights Movement convinced him that his loneliness and unhappiness was intentionally caused by women. Because this is what the Men’s Rights Movement does: it spreads misogyny, it spreads violence, and most of all it spreads a sense of entitlement towards women’s bodies. Pretending that this is the a rare act perpetrated by a “crazy” person is disingenuous and also does nothing to address the threat of violence that women face every day.

Rightbloggers: Santa Barbara Killer Elliot Rodger’s Sexist Rants Have Nothing To Do With Sexism (Or Guns) by Roy Edroso at Runnin’ Scared

Any reasonable observer would look at this and conclude Rodger had problems with women, at least women who unfairly chose to live their lives as autonomous humans without regard for his needs. Rightbloggers saw it differently. To them, it might have meant any number of things, but what it certainly didn’t mean was that sexism exists.

How ‘Pick-Up Artist’ Philosophy and Its More Misogynist Backlash Shaped Mind of Alleged Killer Elliot Rodger by Amanda Marcotte at The American Prospect

Obviously, the discourse of male entitlement to female attention has long been a problem in our society. Young men angry at women for supposedly overlooking their charms for less worthy and more brutish sexual rivals existed long before The Game was published or PUA/MRA forums proliferated online. But the internet and the PUA community have created a self-haven for young men engaged in this self-pitying discourse, encouraging them to cultivate that chip on their shoulders, wallowing in misogynist accusations that women en masse are failing them by not giving up the sex these ostensibly unappreciated men believe they deserve.

Pickup artists argue that “Game” is the solution to Elliot Rodger-style rampages. Here’s why they’re wrong by David Futrelle at We Hunted the Mammoth

So how much of a solution is training a guy who is already filled with a toxic mixture of entitlement and self-loathing (yes, these strange bedfellows do often go together) in some techniques that might help him to tamp down his insecurities enough to manipulate some willing or not-so-willing women into bed?

You might have simply turned a mass killer into a serial rapist, or possibly a serial killer.

The Power of #YesAllWomen by Sasha Weiss at The New Yorker

There is something about the fact that Twitter is primarily designed for speech—for short, strong, declarative utterance—that makes it an especially powerful vehicle for activism, a place of liberation. Reading #YesAllWomen, and participating in it, is the opposite of warily watching a man masturbate and being unable to confront him with language. #YesAllWomen is the vibrant revenge of women who have been gagged and silenced.

Elliot’s Entitlement by Cassie Goodwin at Brainy Femme

To be really honest though, the extreme outliers aren’t the guys that really scare me, deep down. It’s the rest of them – the quiet ones who think of themselves as “normal”, who think they’re “nice” because they’re not like THAT guy, but who still think they are owed everything they desire from women. Who think, quietly, but with certainty, that it’s not fair when a woman turns them down, that women who aren’t attracted to them are bitches, that they have the right to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

Elliott Rodger and the Price of Toxic Masculinity by Harris O’Malley at Paging Dr. Nerdlove

Maybe he was dealing with some sort of mental health issue. Maybe he was a sociopath. Maybe it was both. Maybe he was a skilled enough manipulator that he was able to tell the therapists what they wanted to hear. We don’t know. We may never know. But in the end, that’snot an explanation. That is just a way of compartmentalizing him, separating him out from the rest of the male population. A systematic “Not All Men”, as it were. It does far more harm, increasing the stigma of people who do suffer from mental illness and – more importantly – glosses over the real issue.

Some related readings:

Hegemonic Masculinity and Mass Murderers in the United States by Deniese Kennedy-Kollar and Christopher A. D. Charles in the Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice

This exploratory study examines the act of mass murder as an attempt by the perpetrators to lay claim to a hegemonic masculine identity that has been damaged or denied them, yet that they feel entitled to as males in American culture. Biographical information was gathered for 28 men who have committed mass murder in the United States since 1970 and examined for evidence of stressors to the perpetrators’ masculine identities. . . These stressors suggest that the motivations for mass murders are numerous and complex. There is no psychological profile unique to mass murderers and many authors have speculated on their motivations. However, in this study, the range of interrelated stressors experienced by the majority of mass murderers threatened their hegemonic masculine identity and these men engaged in violence to protect their identity.

Where are the Gun Women? by Olivia Haber-Greenwood at CASE Magazine

Our failure to discuss violence as male-violence is an issue of naming. When a man commits a crime, his gender is left unnamed and he is allowed to represent some violent streak in American (or any other) culture. This is because men, from their dominant position, get to represent our culture on the whole. The fact that young American men are the most violent group of people in the industrialized worldis obscured by an understanding that America is a violent culture.

A Good Men’s Rights Movement Is Hard to Find by Jaclyn Friedman at The American Prospect

And make no mistake: anti-woman hate is the defining feature of the MRAs, and the examples above are the rule, not the exception. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a storied civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, told 20/20: “The Manosphere is an underworld of so-called men’s rights groups and individuals on the Internet, which is just fraught with really hard-line anti-woman misogyny.” A Voice For Men makes no excuses for their hatred of women, from posts ranting about women who are “begging to be raped” to treatises about how fat women want to be sexually violated because it would mean we are desired.


Alexandra Brodsky is a Feministing editor, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com. During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com.

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