Apologies for the second non-history post in a row, but sometimes, you’ve just got to write down what you think.
As a historian, I seek truth and sense in documents. Some make it harder than others to find.
On Saturday Elliot Rodger, a twenty-two year old boy living in California killed four men and two women in the student community of Isla Vista. Three of the men were his room-mates, whom he stabbed to death, Cheng Yuan ‘James’ Hong, 20; George Chen, 19; and Weihan Wang, 20. He then drove to a sorority house, intending to kill women. There he shot and killed Katie Cooper, 22, and Veronika Weiss, 19 and injured another as yet un-named female. The other male was Christopher Michaels-Martinez, aged 20, killed in a shooting at a deli. In the police chase that followed, Rodger hit two cyclists, one of whom put in the car’s windscreen in the impact, and a second, the accident which effectively ended the car chase. Rodger was shot in the hip, it has been reported, by police, but died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. In the car were three semi-automatic weapons, and in excess of four hundred rounds of ammunition, all purchased legally by Rodger.
Elliot Rodger had a long history of mental health problems. His mother is reported as having said, ‘He was always a disturbed child. I don’t know how he was allowed to get a gun’.
That Elliot Rodger was a disturbed child is evidenced by the video he made and released onto YouTube before embarking upon the killings. It is further evidenced by the 137 page ‘memoir’ entitled My Twisted World, which he sent to a news station and which you can read here. I am unsure if another such document left by a mass-killer exists and it is a detailed record of his early life and the journey towards Saturday’s killings. On a preschool field trip he gets lost and and rushes around asking strangers for help. It’s tough when his parents separate and his dad gets a new partner who goes on to have baby Jazz. He spends what seems like a serious amount of time playing World of Warcraft, where he ‘felt safe’. When in middle school he comments on his experiences of being bullied: ‘I never knew how to gain positive attention, only negative’. On the 4th of the July, aged fifteen, he pulls his by-now toddling brother Jazz from a swimming pool at a party, jumping in fully-clothed to haul him out, and ‘The only person who saw this happen was a little girl swimming in the shallow end’. Sometimes, he dabbles in online pornography. He records his bafflement when his father turns up on a Harley Davidson, presuming it to be ‘some kind of midlife crisis’, and his envy aged sixteen, seeing his twelve year old nemesis, Leo, French kissing a girl; it was everything Rodger ‘longed for’, ‘to be worthy of a girl’s attraction’.
Rodger’s life changes at seventeen, which he recognises clearly. He is hideously lonely. ‘I began to have fantasies of becoming very powerful and stopping everyone having sex…I saw it as an evil and barbaric act, all because I was unable to have it’, yet still ‘walks around my mother’s neighbourhood in the desperate hope that someone would befriend me or a girl would talk to me’. He dreams often about empowering himself through being rich, and plays the lottery. By this time, both his parents are aware he needs help, and attempt to get it for him, through stricter regimes and a counsellor. Aged nineteen, he reads and thoroughly enjoys Game of Thrones. Also when aged nineteen, his only long term friend, James, becomes frightened by Rodger and his ‘fantasies’ and breaks off contact.
Elliot Rodger moves, aged nineteen, to Isla Vista to study at Santa Barbara City College. By this stage he recognises his views as ‘fascist’. His first week is marred when a friend of his room-mates’ visits and talks of his sexual conquests and Rodger flies into a temper and douses him with orange juice. Rodger describes him in his memoir as ‘ugly black filth’. He begins to believe women’s ‘minds are flawed’ because they will consent to sex with men he viewed as ‘beneath’ him. He also begins to believe that there is a ‘flaw in the foundation of humanity’. He becomes increasingly racist, commenting seemingly without exception on the race of any boy dating ‘a hot white girl’. Yet Elliot Rodger was mixed race, describing himself as ‘half white, half Asian’. He begins to rely on alcohol to engage in any social situation, often with unfortunate consequences. He meets James again, behaves badly and James is once again frightened of him. They will not see each other again. Rodger describes James as ‘a weakling’.
The fixation with sex is worse by now, and conflated with notions of love. He wants to experience love, be loved, to love. His fantasy of the perfect night is to dress up with a girlfriend, take her to parties, the to make ‘passionate love’ to her before falling asleep, ‘snuggling into her sexy warm body’. Socially, he becomes angrier, using small acts of petty aggression on people he believes have slighted him, or are experiencing happy relationships. On page 101 he first uses the phrase ‘the final solution’ and ‘Day of Retribution’: ‘I didn’t want to to do it. I wanted to live.’ He is frightened of himself. He goes to the Hunger Games premiere (his father was assistant director) and refers to ‘some cunt actress’, while feeling ‘so pathetic for not having a date’. James Ellis will not speak to him or meet him.
That summer he sees a group of college students messing about in the sun in Girsh Park. He buys a super-soaker from K-Mart, fills it with orange juice and returns to the park, firing it at them before running away to his car and escaping.
He fails to win the lottery again, breaks his laptop and thinks he will go to a shooting range. As he fires the first few rounds, he feels sick. ‘I questioned my whole life…”What am I doing here? How could things have led to this?”‘
‘I will never have sex, never have love, never have children. I will never be a creator, but I could be a destroyer.’
He is seeing a psychiatrist. His parents are worried about him. He buys a handgun, a Glock 34 semi-automatic pistol.
‘Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?‘
Still playing the lottery, Rodger is convinced money will fix his problems. He spends thousands of dollars on tickets, driving to Arizona to buy them. He spends $1100 on a Sig Sauer P226, more ‘efficient’ than the Glock.
‘My hatred and rage toward all women festered inside me like a plague.’
In the Spring of 2013, Rodger finds a website forum for ‘sex-starved’ men. It confirms his prejudices of ‘how wicked and degenerate women really are’ although he finds most of the men on there ‘stupid’. He sends a link to the website to his parents. His parents and his psychiatrist arrange for him to spend time with a 25 year old counsellor who will try to befriend him and enable him to engage in ordinary social situations. He likes Gavin. He goes to lunch at the Four Seasons with his father and enjoys it.
‘I realized that I didn’t want to give up on life in this world. I wanted to live a happy life, a life in which I could have a beautiful girlfriend and experience this amazing world with her.’
His parents hire two social skills counsellors, with Gavin’s help. One is a girl Rodger’s own age: Sasha. He likes her but feels even more pathetic at his parents having to ‘hire’ friends for him. In July 2013 he gets drunk in order to go to a party, falls from a roof from which he had tried to push some of the girls, snaps his ankle and is beaten up by a group of boys. As he recovers from surgery to pin his leg, he makes more plans.
‘The plan was to destroy the entirety of Isla Vista, and kill every single person in it, or at least kill as many popular young people as possible before the police arrive and I’d have to kill myself.’
The broken leg is a set back. He will have to wait until Spring 2014 to carry out the Day of Retribution. His psychiatrist recommends Risperidone, defined on Wikipedia as ‘an antipsychotic drug mainly used to treat schizophrenia (including adolescent schizophrenia), schizoaffective disorder the mixed and manic states of bipolar disorder and irritability in people with autism’. He refuses to take it. His eighteen year old sister gets a boyfriend, Samuel, who is mixed race. Rodger listens to ‘the sounds of Samuel plunging his penis into my sister’s vagina through her closed room door’. It is the most explicit description of a sexual encounter in the text. He decides to buy a third handgun.
‘Even in the first months of 2014…the little twinge of hope inside me never faded. It remained as if [it] were the tiny, flickering flame of a candle in a dark room.’
Elliot Rodger plans the massacre in three stages. The first, two days before the Day of Retribution, he will lure as many people to his apartment as possible, torture them and behead them. The following morning he will kill his brother Jazz, and his stepmother as ‘she will be in the way’. He plans the attack so that he will not have to kill his father, who will be absent. The second phase will be an attack on the sorority house with the most attractive girls. The third will be a massacre on the streets and a dumping of the heads of his victims, so that ‘everyone will fear me for the god I am’. He decides on Saturday the 24th of May as the Day of Retribution.
He uploads videos onto YouTube asking why girls don’t like him. His mother sees them and contacts the police. Seven police officers visit him but do not search his apartment, where the guns were stored. They leave. Rodger writes the epilogue to his memoir.
‘The ultimate evil behind human sexuality is the human female.’
He fantasises about starving almost all women to death in vast concentration camps. Some would be kept for breeding, by artificial insemination. ‘Sexuality will completely cease to exist. Love will cease to exist.’ He writes of his belief that he is the victim.
‘I will punish everyone.’
Six people are now dead and eight people wounded at the hands of Elliot Rodger. Four others were hurt by his car. The Internet is alight with opinion. Misogyny is being blamed for what is described as Rodger’s ‘sense of entitlement’ to sex. The #YesAllWomen hashtag is dominating Twitter and moving across other social media platforms, detailing thousands of women’s experiences of male entitlement and rape culture.
Why have I written this? Yesterday morning, after reading Rodger’s memoir, I posted a tweet: Elliot Rodger is not a symbol of rape culture. He was a mentally ill, underdeveloped young adult. His delusions do not equal ‘what men really think’. I was partly wrong; Elliot Rodger has, in one day, become a symbol of rape culture. But Elliot Rodger never raped anyone, nor tried to. He craved sexual intimacy and affection to the point of insensibility and ultimately, madness, but he did not sexually assault anyone. According to his memoir, he never touched a woman, any woman, in a sexual manner. In his own words he was ‘a kissless virgin’. His sexual fantasies, as far as they are described, are adolescent and even romantic. He wasn’t without money and could certainly have purchased a sexual encounter which would have rid him of the intolerable burden of his virginity, but he didn’t want to. He was desperate for love, acceptance and a relationship, ‘…I felt depressed because I wanted sex, yet I felt I was unworthy of it’. This is not the language of sexual entitlement. It is the language of inferiority and misery.
Did Elliot Rodger hate women? Yes. By the time he made that video, with its frightening, misogynistic language, he did hate them. He hated everyone. He wanted to punish everyone. He was going to kill his own brother. He had assumed a god-like identity that would allow him enough confidence to carry out his vengeance on ‘the popular kids’.
Since posting that tweet, I have been described, variously, although with a remarkable consistency in lack of punctuation, as an ‘apologist’, a ‘bitch’, a ‘cunt’ and been told I am victimising mentally ill people who don’t murder (yes, really – might have that one framed). I’ve had three very interesting debates with highly articulate students aged 15, 18 and 20, two female, one male. I’ve read lots of #YesAllWomen tweets and read hundreds of sad and vile things done to women by men. I have read tweets about how pervasive misogyny is to blame for his crime by a woman who terms herself ‘Khaleesi’ in her profile. If you don’t know who Khaleesi is, she’s the raped-but-learns-to-like-it princess from Elliot’s favourite book Game of Thrones, a book so spectacularly rapey I read it, poured lighter fluid on it and used it as a firelighter. When I pointed out how confused this was, I was informed (by someone else) that this was only because the woman in question had learned to internalise misogyny, as indeed had I, along with every other woman. And I have been told I don’t understand because I’ve ‘never been a victim’, by someone searching keywords and who knows absolutely nothing about me.
How did that woman know I have not been ‘a victim’? Because it’s not in my profile? Because I’m not writing hashtagged tweets about my experiences? Is this what it’s come to? Squabbling over who’s the bigger victim? I wish any of the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram had the ability to put their experiences to a hashtag. But they can’t, can they, because they’ve been kidnapped by self-serving bestial rapists justifying their sexual desires as religion and will be living in the reality of sexual slavery. I wish girls in Somalia and the Sudan could post on Twitter about how they are going to have their clitorises cut out by the village ‘auntie’ so we could stop FGM forever.
I don’t expect this post to be popular. But I believe and hope that feminism can and must remain a force for good, not become a divisive, petty circus where everything is a ‘culture’ or an acronym or an attack. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, it’s not an attack. There is no competition for Best Feminist. A better and more equal world will be built on discourse, debate, engagement and on enabling those without a voice to find and embrace it, not anger and paranoia and certainly not on ‘radicalisation’, which appears to be increasingly acceptable when applied to feminism and totally unacceptable when applied to any other cause.
The basic truth of feminism is that each woman who has a voice must use it, to speak for herself and her beliefs. Which is why I object to the title of the hashtag #YesAllWomen – none of those tweets speak for me or any other woman than the author. However, the power of the #YesAllWomen hashtag lies in this outlet for traumatic individual experience and as such, is hugely valuable to those contributing and reading. It also proves, without a doubt, that female experiences, particularly the grim or even just tawdry ones at the hands of men, are often tediously and sadly similar. The patronising, the groping, the catcalling, the leering, the abuse, the assaults, the rape. But Elliot Rodger didn’t, as far as we know and certainly from his own testimony, do any of these things. Elliot Rodger wanted to ‘make passionate love’ and then ‘snuggle’.
Does this sound as if I feel sorry for Elliot Rodger? Am I trying to excuse his behaviour? Am I trying to blame mental illness – his family’s lawyer has stated he was diagnosed as ‘high-functioning’ and ‘Aspergic’ – for what he did? Am I a rape apologist? I’m not, and no, no, no. I have not included him in the dead, because he does not deserve to be numbered with them. I am sorry for his victims and their families. I am sorry for Elliot Rodger’s family, who, in his own words, appear to have tried for the past eight years to help him and to get him help. I have read that memoir and written this post because making Elliot Rodger the dartboard poster boy for rape culture and misogyny is not borne out by the account he has left. And people whipping themselves into a frenzy of outrage about a self-entitled, rich, white kid, haven’t even bothered to see that he was mixed-race. It’s lazy and shouty and dull. And it’s glorifying a cause over the people who were killed by a mixed up, unstable young man.
Finally, all men are not self-entitled potential rapists looking to catch women out. They’re just not. A vast number of men across the world respect women, value them, and support the fight for equality. Yes, misogyny is a powerful thread running throughout global cultures, affecting everything from pay gaps to being kidnapped from school. This must change. Yet things are changing rapidly in Western civilisation and not always for the better: the sexualisation of children by the media and fashion industries needs to be stopped, and the proliferation of an increasingly violent porn culture is blurring lines of healthy sexuality and consent for a whole new generation. One of the biggest selling English language books of all time is about the saviour of a rich, broken and sexually violent man with mummy issues, who is saved by a virgin who before meeting him has never experienced sexual desire let alone orgasm. It was published in 2011. Game of Thrones is a cultural phenomenon, both in print and on screen. People want this shit. That needs to change too. It will take a long time.
But what needs to stop right now is ascribing simplistic, headline-grabbing motives to the actions of fragmented and troubled individuals such as Elliot Rodger just because they suit an agenda, no matter how worthy that agenda might be. The evidence left by the killer himself indicates that no one thing or incident led to Saturday’s events but an awful maelstrom of mental instability, social and sexual conditioning, loneliness, basic human cravings and rejection. And as Rodger said when he made the decision to plan his Day of Retribution, his words echoing other college killers of the last few decades, ‘I was tired of being the invisible shy kid. Infamy is better than total obscurity.’
The injustice and the legacy of what is already known as the Isla Vista Massacre does not belong to Elliot Rodger, nor to the media, nor any of us. It belongs to the families of Cheng Yuan ‘James’ Hong, 20; George Chen, 19; Weihan Wang, 20; Katie Cooper, 22; Veronika Weiss, 19, and Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20.
- Times they are a-changin
- Speakers Guide For the Blind and Deaf