Analysis

Tuesday 29 July 2014

A terrible tragedy that has turned into a gender debate

'Elliott Rodger's murder spree in the USA may be more to do with his mental illness, than the gender divide'

Prof Patricia Casey

Published 02/06/2014|02:30

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Women pray in front of a makeshift memorial for UCSB student Christopher Michael-Martinez, one of seven people killed after the drive-by shootings in Santa Barbara. Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

THE murderous rampage of Elliot Rodger last week in Santa Barbara, California, left seven dead, including Rodger himself, and 13 injured.

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Twenty-two year old Rodger, according to reports, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome as a child and has had extensive therapy throughout his short life.

His parents separated when he was seven. It is unclear whom he lived with thereafter.

According to reports, in the weeks before the massacre, his father had alerted the police and he was interviewed by them, being described afterwards as "polite and kind".

Early on the day that the rampage occurred, his therapist contacted his mother about an email in which he talked about killing, almost at the same time as she saw a YouTube video. The video that he made, and released in the minutes before coldly driving through the streets and randomly shooting people, is chilling in the extreme. It is widely available on YouTube.

He was privileged and good looking, yet he declared his life to have been lonely and blamed this on his small stature and, as a result, the absence of sex.

His killings have released a torrent of anger, vitriol and accusations that even outstrip the internet standards, in their vehemence.

Various perspectives on his deathly behaviour have been offered in newspaper columns, in related comments and in blogospheres and social media. Venom and contempt, rather than insight and respect, rule the day.

One explanation for Rodger's killing spree is that the Mental Health Services let him down. He was after all, so the argument goes, a young man with a mental illness and community care was not there for him when he needed it. This accusation is made despite the fact that he was attending a therapist and indeed the therapist was alarmed at his email threats.

He had been treated over the years by multiple psychotherapists and also had a named psychiatrist, according to his "manifesto", released after his killing spree. Whether he should have been in a more structured type of care is unclear at this point.

Numerous screaming commentators dubbed him a self-aggrandising narcissist who had only himself to blame if girls didn't fancy him. He is "rich, drives expensive cars, but because his manner was so off putting he did not appeal to young women", yelled the ranting mob. "Good riddance," they say.

An alternative viewpoint, metaphorically written in blood, was a post called "Another Angry Woman: An Open Letter to All Men". The irony of an angry woman commenting on the murderous activities of another angry individual seemed lost on her. Here is a sample: "Dear men, I'm addressing every single one of you. If you think this isn't for you, it probably is. If you're itching to complain that I'm making generalisations, this is definitely for you. Sit down, shut up, and maybe try not to prove me right ...

"Elliot Rodger murdered six people because he felt entitled to sex and emotional labour from women ... Take a look at the level of misogyny seeping from all men who screech NOT ALL MEN" (are like that)."

The Angry Woman goes on to speak of structural misogyny and to compare men to pigs. The picture attached to her blog shows a topless woman, smoking a cigarette. In her blog she says she is attempting to demonstrate that breasts are not always sexual in intent. Too true!

The final explanation amounts to a deeply disturbing justification for what happened. It came from an organisation called PUA (PickupArtists) Hate, an organisation to which Rodger apparently subscribed. An article written by one named as Roosh, in a piece called Return of Kings, believes that if men were offered more sexual options, the deaths would not have occurred ...

He says: "If there was a societal mechanism to steer sexually frustrated males like Rodger into learning self-improvement, game and masculinity, the very values that are taught here and on many other manosphere sites...

"It is them who must accept responsibility for these seven deaths and make the moral change to their ideologies in order to prevent such an act from happening again... We live in a society where being shy, normal, or a little awkward is duly punished by entitled American women who have been encouraged to pursue exciting and fun casual sex in their prime with sexy and hot men as a way of 'experimentation'."

Militant feminists and assertive masculinists have managed to dominate and polarise the human tragedy for the victims, their families and the family of Rodger, into a national gender debate in the US.

The current narrative about Elliott Rodger fails to consider his past and how it might contribute to his future behaviour, and it minimises the possibility that the deathly behaviour engaged in by Rodger may be linked to mental illness.

Political opportunism has likely, once again, dominated the discourse about a national tragedy.

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