Entitlement and misogyny – a theme playing out from California to Pakistan
Last week's gang rapes, stoning and mass shooting all boil down to sour male self-pity
Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30
In America, a 22-year-old virgin opens fire in a public place as an expression of rage against all the women who have sexually rejected him. In India, two teenage girls are tied to a tree, gang-raped and then hanged. In Pakistan, a pregnant woman who married against her family's wishes is attacked by 20 relatives with stones, batons and bricks and beaten until lifeless.
This happens in front of the highest court of the land. It's been a bad week for women. And though the cultural, social and personal conditions that surround all three of these cases are different, they have one thing in common – they are all an expression of inchoate male rage.
In America, a culture that invented the post-adolescent vengeful shooter, the media is saturated with analysis, urgent attempts to explain. It has been called "aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome". A status-obsessed society gets a status-obsessed killer. Elliott Rodger, a rich, image-obsessed, California-dwelling son of a famous Hollywood director would probably have been horrified to think that he had anything in common with, for example, the rural police officers who have been arrested on suspicion of rape and murder of two adolescent girls in a small village in Uttar Pradesh. But at base, he responded to the same, sexually motivated, murderous impulse as they did.
So in the same week, because of the actions of a handful of men, America is in crisis about its gun culture, India is in turmoil about its rape culture, and Pakistan's authorities have expressed concern about the country's honour culture, yet the simple misogyny that underpins all of these apparently disparate problems is the same.
Perhaps we've something broader to learn, then, from Elliott Rodger, rather than simply trying to decode the ravings of a mentally unstable narcissist. Because in all three of these cases, he alone went as far as to make his violent, seething, implacable rage against women explicit. He provided a portrait of masculine entitlement curdled into something altogether more malign. And entitlement (mixed with sadism) is the common theme of all three crimes, across three countries. It boils down to sour male self-pity – what men consider themselves to be denied by the women around them, in these cases, sex, or the right kind of respect, obedience and adulation.
Rodger's sense of entitlement is carefully anatomised on paper and in images. Because he was a killer of his times – articulate and inclined to express himself, define himself even, via social media. He documented his disturbed state in endless selfies and through self-made videos in which he appeared preening, pouting and composed, describing his state of mind with an almost actorly delivery. Through these, and his self-aggrandising book My Twisted World, he could ape and emulate the sort of recognition, celebrity and social importance that he felt he was so woefully lacking in his real life.
Elliot was born in England to a wealthy, creative British family. As a boy, he was sent to boarding school in the Sussex countryside. If there were privations in his early life, they certainly weren't material. But even at primary school, he became aware of what he saw as his shortcomings, especially in sports. When he was five, his family moved to the US to facilitate his father's career. Soon after, his parents divorced – an event that seemed to affect him deeply. "I was absolutely shocked, outraged, and above all, overwhelmed. This was a huge life-changing event... a very sad day," he wrote.
His father remarried, to French actress Soumaya Akaaboune, best known for her appearance on a French version of Real Housewives. According to Rodger, his relationship with his new stepmother was tense. But outwardly he had access to glamour and luxury – appearing on the red carpet when his father became assistant director of the Hunger Games franchise; driving around Santa Barbara in his own black BMW. On paper, he seemed to be living the 90210 experience. But that wasn't how he felt – he described himself as "the weird kid" and confessed to disturbing obsessions with a young girl he had been close friends with as a child, and the American-born "pick-up artist culture" that promised to help lonely men score girls. His family was aware of his problems and had intervened many times – he had been in therapy since he was nine years old.
Rodger felt that the women he encountered were to blame for his feelings of isolation. He outlined his plan to punish and kill "all those girls that I have desired so much – they would have all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man, if I ever made a sexual advance towards them".
"If I can't have you girls, I will destroy you," he went on, declaring his intention to "slaughter every single spoiled stuck-up blond slut I see". In the end, he killed twice as many men as he did women but vengeful rage tends to be blind to simple logic.
Desire, fury and a thwarted, warped masculinity that finds expression through devastating violence; it's a perfect storm described in vivid detail by Elliot Rodger. But it's not unique to him – it's a storm that, as we've seen repeatedly in the news, plays out regularly, in different ways, all over the world.