A middle road between mental health and misogyny

Two days ago, May 23rd 2014, an insane person and student at University of California at Santa Barbara killed seven people on the UCSB campus before being killed himself. The murderer, identified as Elliot Rodger, had posted a video online not long before his shooting spree in which he announced his "Day of Retribution." Retribution for what, you may ask? Well, for all those "blonde sluts" who never slept with him. 

In the days following this event, we're going to hear a lot of things from the media on both sides of the political spectrum. Aside from the usual gun control arguments, pundits on the left will exclaim that events like this are the result of violent and belittling rhetoric against women, a lot of which is beginning to re-emerge in dialogue on a national level. Eager to point the blame somewhere else, pundits on the right will most likely protest that belittling women isn't what caused this murder, it was lack of access to mental health care. 

Here's the thing: Both sides are right, in a strange and disturbingly cyclical way. 

Warning: the video below, while not depicting any violence, is still incredibly disturbing.

Elliot Roger discusses his "Day of Retribution." 

Elliot Rodger was clearly mentally ill. Anyone who watches his videos, or reads his 140 page manifesto (trigger warning) will see that. However, he was also a member of the so-called "Pick-Up Artist" community. 

If you're not familiar with the Pick-Up Artist (PUA) community, allow me to introduce you. You probably won't thank me later, but it's important to talk about, so bear with me. 

The PUA community is an industry of scammers who make money teaching insecure men how to pick up women. Actually, let me amend that. It's an industry of scammers who make money teaching insecure men how to fail at picking up women. There's a very good reason why this failure occurs: the PUA community teaches men to view women as "targets." Sometimes they even go so far as to literally refer to women this way. They also teach men that every man is deserving of love, affection, and sex. The only thing standing between men and sex is their own inability to manipulate women into having sex with them. 

This is the type of discourse that Elliot Rodger, an incredibly mentally ill man, was soaking his mind in. Day in. Day out. 

After Jared Loughner opened fire on an event being held by Rep. Gabby Giffords (D - AZ) in Tuscon, AZ in 2011, much was made of whether violent political rhetoric had contributed to the shooting. Images surfaced that had been posted online by Sarah Palin's PAC, SarahPAC, that listed several key House races where conservatives were hoping to unseat the Democratic incumbent. The races were marked using cross-hairs. Conservatives screamed that the rhetoric wasn't the issue, and that this man was just mentally ill. And they were certainly right about that last part - the man was mentally ill. But, mentally ill people are influenced by the things they see around them. Many are prone to obsessive thinking... and sometimes society feeds them an obsession. Do I know for sure that Jared Loughner was influenced by violent political rhetoric? No, and probably very few people ever will. 

 SarahPAC Crosshairs

But we know for a fact that Elliot Rodger was posting online in Pick-Up Artist communities. He may have been prone to obsessive and narcissistic thinking, but in the PUA "worldview" he found an outlet for that obsession: women who didn't give him what he thought he deserved. PUA communities taught him that women were something to be controlled by men. In his manifesto, he even claims that women who are allowed to breed on their own will breed with inferior men and destroy the human race. 

Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with. That decision should be made for them by rational men of intelligence. If women continue to have rights, they will only hinder the advancement of the human race by breeding with degenerate men and creating stupid, degenerate offspring. This will cause humanity to become even more depraved with each generation. Women have more power in human society than they deserve, all because of sex. There is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female.

-Elliot Rodger

Not surprisingly, the PUA communities have started reacting a defensively. What is surprising, however, is how they're defending themselves. Amanda Hess at Slate put together an excellent piece that sums it all up. Many PUA communities have responded by ridiculing Rodger, saying that he wasn't "alpha male" enough, that he was "too feminine" and if he'd only had "higher testosterone" he'd have been able to get women. Many are going so far as to say that if he had taken the tips and teachings of the community, he'd have gotten laid and (no joke) would not have killed all those people. This type of denial is dangerous, because it deflects from the real issue. 

The real issue is that much of the rhetoric used by the PUA community, when absorbed through the lens of mental illness, directly contributes to this type of horror. Sure, most guys who have trouble with women and find the PUA community are not going to go murder people if their attempts at getting laid don't work. But you can't guarantee when you say things publicly that they won't be heard by someone who will misinterpret them. It appears in this case, that's exactly what happened. 

There was a poignant article floating around not too long ago that discussed why rape jokes are never funny. I'm unable to find the exact article right now, but the gist of it was that when a rape joke is told, rapists often take that joke as a justification of their actions. They think everyone is laughing with them, not at them. In their minds, if its a joking matter, it must be normal. Obviously, this is unhealthy, but rapists are not healthy people. The same thing applies here. The PUA community can try all they want to claim that they're not to blame for whatever (ridiculous) reason they want to. And nothing absolves Elliot Rodger of being responsible for his own actions. But it is also irresponsible and disgusting of the PUA community not to take action to police their own language. The responsible thing for them to do as a community would be to discuss how their language may be perceived by someone who is mentally ill, and whether the way they refer to women, joking or not, may be taken more seriously than they intended it. This particular incident may not be their fault, but they certainly had a hand in creating the misogyny within Elliot Rodger that led him to do this. 

I really hope every one of them thinks long and hard about that. 

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Emily Chance

Emily Chance

Don't mind me, I'm just over here reveling in big city life.

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