On Friday 23rd of May a horrific series of murders took place in Isla Vista near the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus. Elliot Rodger, legally purchasing ammunition and three guns, stabbed to death two of his roommates as well as a third man and then drove off to shoot and kill three others before being found dead from a self-inflicted wound to the head. Prior to this, Elliot has left a manifesto of his intentions along with a YouTube video, now taken down, railing against women who have rejected his advances and blaming them for choosing to be with alpha-males, buff jerks who treated them poorly, rather than, presumably, ‘nice’ guys like him. To compound the entire thing, Elliot also suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, something which his family's lawyer was quick to point out. Needless to say, the news networks had a plethora of targets in their compulsory blame-game, with some even throwing in movies as the culprits. BBC, however, had this point to make:
"Following a violent attack like this one, the discussion almost always turns to gun control and often with how to deal with mental illness Thanks to Rodger's particularly long, vitriolic internet paper trail, gender and the nature of dating and relationships have also become grist for the mill.”
The particular reason I find this point poignant is the response I received from both my colleagues and my friends when discussing these news. While displaying outrage and sadness at this tragedy, many male, and some female, friends always followed through with a sad nod of understanding, silently implying an intellection of Elliot’s plight. At first this confused and terrified me. I, however, soon realised that this should not come as a surprise as they were not in any way endorsing the murders, but simply acknowledging Elliot’s inner turmoil in terms of the opposite sex. In fact, viewed from a gender conflict perspective, this story takes on a rather strange flavour for a number of reasons.
The first is the vitriol with which many (male, though I’m assuming here) denizens attacked women as solely responsible for this atrocity, with some even calling for more bloodshed as a sort of deranged retribution against all the sexual slights they were forced to endure. Here is an example from a Twitter post reported on by BBC:
The second is the rather tired response from some feminists and female journalists. The attack on Elliot’s participation in the Pick-up Artists (PUA) community is baffling to me. In that article Sara Hedgecock seems to suggest that while his mental illness is ‘not to be forgotten’, she implies that PUA community is ‘not a harmless internet hobby’ but something far more sinister, indirectly implying that these murders can be traced back in their approach to women. She is not alone in this condemnation. Having said that, PUA has not done itself many favour with quotes like: "More people will die unless you give men sexual options.” Yet pointing a finger at misogyny as the one and true culprit rings hollow at best.
All of this carries much more importance than I think most of the parties involved understand. Over the previous decades, the idea of global civil societies has become a powerful theory in describing human association as it overlaps national boundaries. At its heart this theory sees human groups using modern technology to coalesce based upon uniting beliefs not geographically bound. In other words, they can be seen as an overlapping map over the globe, shifting and morphing irregardless of the nation states to which their members belong. As a realist I do not give this theory so much credence as to propose it overrides the individual’s national identity. But I do acknowledge its utility and power in explaining the modern world alongside the more traditional theoretical frameworks. What does this have to do with a shooting in California? I would suggest that this tragedy has highlighted a somewhat ignored chasm between the two great civil groups of this planet: men and women.
When I say ignored I do not mean to delegate the great breadth of feminist scholarship into oblivion. They have long explored the idea that women might have more in common with other women of the world than they do with the men of their communities or nations. Yet based upon the two sides of the gender divide speaking right past each other in the above quoted articles, it would appear that we as a modern society are yet to hold a meaningful conversation on what that means exactly. Elliot's actions might make him a monster in the eyes of some, but the questions he asked should not. If they did, they would make monsters of us all.