In the wake of the Isla Vista shooting, there’s been a massive push to turn the reported shooter, Elliott Rodger, into a poster boy for the evils of misogyny. A number of columnists have jumped on the bandwagon, penning spiels about how Rodger was spurred to murder by his profound hatred of women, and picking particularly violent passages from the semi-delusional 140-page autobiography he left behind to prove their point. Readers have jumped on board with the confusingly unrelated hashtag #YesAllWomen.
But Rodger wasn’t a murderer because he was a misogynist; he was a murderer — and a misogynist — because he was seriously mentally ill. To say otherwise is to hijack the issue and turn it into a billboard for leftist talking points, instead of recognizing the lesson we should take from this tragedy: that the state of mental health treatments in this country deserves serious examination.
And yet the media wasted no time characterizing Rodger with little to no understanding of the situation, arguing that the United States’ supposed habit of raising young men to think they deserve sex from women is the reason why a young man decided to stab his two male roommates and a visiting male and then gun down as many people of either gender as he could.
It’s laughably evident that many of these columnists haven’t even bothered to read Rodger’s manifesto-cum-autobiography, which contradicts their claims that a misogynistic society is at fault for his rampage. Instead, they’ve been slinging around the same particularly violent selections from his manifesto without bothering to understand the context of where they came from. It’s morally dubious, and journalistically appalling.
A number of them have even attempted to downplay the mental health aspect of the issue, instead arguing that socially condoned misogyny is the reason people pull guns on strangers. In one particularly insipid column for the Guardian, feminist author Jessica Valenti argues that we have to ignore the mental health component because not doing so stigmatizes the mentally ill, and that “while it is unclear what role Rodger’s reportedly poor mental health played in the alleged crime, the role of misogyny is obvious.”
Columnists like Valenti are obviously not psychiatrists, but they could at least play at being reporters. Police reports, family statements, and Rodger’s own manifesto are explicitly clear about the level of mental illness he was suffering from, and how this illness resulted in his delusions and frustrations about women and his eventual murder spree. He suffered from Asperger’s, which, while certainly not a violent disorder on its own, made it difficult for him to connect with others and perhaps led to the lifelong frustration he felt at not being part of society. Beyond this, he was completely unable to function in society: he had no real friends, switched schools multiple times and dropped out of college, lied to his parents, didn’t like not getting his way, and, if his memoir is any indication, was at least moderately delusional. His parents repeatedly took him to psychiatrists and counselors and he was at one point prescribed Risperdal, an antipsychotic, but refused to take it. He had a support team of life skills coaches who met with him frequently because he was unable to function on his own, and reportedly lived in a support facility for people with disabilities.
Most tellingly, he had a long history of random attacks against people he saw on the street, and details several instances where he spilled coffee on strangers he randomly disliked, yelled slurs at them, or even physically assaulted them. His family called the police shortly before the shooting because they were worried by his violent rants. His own grandmother told reporters that he had a history of mental illness and was “very disturbed,” and his aunt described him as “extremely sick.” Rodger killed people because he was mentally ill and was seriously disturbed. His misogyny is a manifestation of his particular illness, not of a society which he was incapable of understanding or successfully partaking in.
If anything, Rodger’s manifesto should be reassuring to feminists despite its disturbing nature, as it reveals just how alone he was in his hatred of women. Far from society cultivating these ideas in Rodger, a large part of the frustration that led him to plan his attempted massacre was the refusal of everyone around him to tolerate his ideas about women. In recent years, when he was overwhelmed with frustration and attempted to push a group of women off a ledge, bystanders intervened and he ended up with a broken ankle and a bad beating. He recounts losing every one of his few friendships as soon as he revealed to them his animosity towards women. His own family stepped in multiple times to intervene, and even called the police on him as a preventative measure. He was even berated on some of the “misogynistic” message boards he joined because his hatred wasn’t tolerated even there. Rodger’s disturbing story should reassure us that overt misogyny is hardly tolerated in casual culture — Rodger himself admitted that he was driven to his massacre because of the overwhelming resistance society showed to his misogynistic views.
And yet the liberal media persists in painting this story as one of social misogyny and misogynistic violence. But to do anything other than recognize the truth — that Rodger’s behavior was abnormal, irrational, and the result of a serious mental disorder — is to plaster a talking point onto a serious tragedy. It’s a cheap shot at best, and disrespectful to the victims at worst. They died because a young man who was suffering severe mental illness didn’t get the help he needed and wasn’t stopped from acting out his delusions in time, despite what appear to be his family’s best efforts. If you want a conversation, let’s discuss the state of mental illness treatments in this country. Let’s not use a tragedy — which in a wiser country would be an opportunity for learning and improving on our mental health system — as a billboard for fanatically advertising our own talking points. Young men simply don’t decide to stab their male roommates to death — and plot to kill their father and brother, as Rodger did — because they think they deserve sex. To argue otherwise is borderline delusional in itself.
Elliott Rodger killed people because he was mentally ill. He was violent because he was mentally ill. He hated women because he was mentally ill. Of course, having mental health issues doesn’t automatically make someone this way, but in this case, Rodger’s mental illness manifested itself through obsessive hatred and violence. His manifesto is the tirade of a madman, and to regard it as anything else does a disservice to the victims of the shooting. We have an obligation to learn from this situation, and figure out why someone with such a history of violence and mental illness was never able to get the help he needed. Twisting a tragedy of public health to fit into a feminist social talking point ignores the serious causes of a serious situation, and uses a very real tragedy as a gaudy billboard for advertising feminists’ own manifesto.
Saying Rodger planned a massacre because of misogyny is like saying a schizophrenic who thinks he hears God telling him to kill people has those feelings because of the church, or a mental patient who thinks the CIA is contacting him through his teeth has these delusions because of the CIA. Rodger was a misogynist because he was incapable of functioning in normal society and had a serious untreated mental disorder, and that’s how his frustration and insanity expressed itself.
Rodger’s note doesn’t deserve to be treated like a treatise on American society; it needs to be treated like what it is, a delusional rant. By taking his vitriol seriously, we give him credence, which is the thing he wanted — so badly he’d kill for it. He was disturbed, and by treating the rantings of a madman like truth we risk losing all sense of reality ourselves.