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May 27, 2014

Misogyny not to blame for Santa Barbara massacre

We love the narrative that blames a current cultural ill (loose morals, video games, a controversial book, misogyny) for random acts of inexplicable horror. But this narrative is completely wrong.

Elliot Rodger massacre

When Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon at point-blank range, he was carrying a copy of Catcher in the Rye. This was also among a very few volumes found in the apartment of John Hinckley Jr. — although, of course, the infamous stalker attributed his attempt on the life of Ronald Reagan much more to the work of Martin Scorsese. Nonetheless, it’s important that after we blame Taxi Driver for that attempted homicide, we note the fatal shooting of 21-year-old actress Rebecca Schaeffer was effected by an assailant carrying J.D. Salinger in his jacket.

Talk about murder by the book. After all, everybody is these past few days. Since the fatal shooting of four men and two women in Santa Barbara, California, apparently by a man named Elliot Rodger, who also committed suicide, the role of cultural influence is again under scrutiny.

According to commentators, this 22-year-old read some misogynistic pamphlets and websites. It is held by many commentators that his alleged actions were not, in fact, the result of the same ultra-individualised extremism that has driven white Americans to kill each other since one who signed the Mayflower compact took out a blunderbuss in the middle of an argument. This violence, it is said, is not part of the occasional American tradition of believing aberrant shit and shooting guns at people in its name. This violence is the work of misogynistic websites.

Here is a post at The American Prospect describing how “pick up artist” writing shaped the mind of a killer. Here is a post at The Daily Kos asserting that Rodger was influenced by the Men’s Rights Movement. Here is a crayon drawing at the New Statesman by someone who should probably have taken a break rather than deciding to “make no apologies for the fact this piece is full of rage” and go on to describe the “ideology” that fuelled this crime. Society, say the writers, endorses this kind of hate-crime.

In short, and in the fast habit of the morally panicked, the internet and what remains of news media “know” why this crime was committed. On ABC1’s Q&A last night, author Tara Moss summed broad feeling up when she noted that the alleged assailant had told us that misogyny was his motive in his last video.

This view requires that we accept not only that the act of violence was the logical end to a normative hatred of women but that Rodger is a reliable narrator. This is bit like according Holden Caulfield the same status. If this were high school English, we’d all get an F.

We’d fail, and we’d end the fictional lives of Salinger’s Holden and Scorsese’s Travis and, while we were at it, we’d take back the Beatles White Album from iPhones everywhere because, as you know, this was the trigger for the Manson Family’s murder of Sharon Tate and eight other souls. Probably the Bible, too, given that Jim Jones’ fondness for it led to what would be the single largest loss of American civilian life by human design until September 11, 2001, which, as everybody knows, was the work of the Koran. Also, as it happens, the reading material for the Boston bombers.

Are we up to speed, yet? In summary: The Bible kills. The Beatles kill. Columbine was the work of Marilyn Manson. Aurora was down to Batman. Sandy Hook was only made possible by video games.

When Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza, an ardent player of Dance Dance Revolution, did his worst to the babies of Connecticut, President Barack Obama responded by proposing measures that would prevent raving loonies previously charged with bloody murder from buying semi-automatics. These controls were defeated in the US Senate. Perhaps the US Violent Content Research Act, which proposes proving a link between novelty dance games and mass shootings, has a better chance of passing.

It must do, because we have begun to believe so ardently that madmen have a violent genealogy that has less to do with owning a gun in what has long been the world’s most violent liberal democracy than it does with vice.  We have begun to seek comfort so ardently in the simplest accounts of history’s most complex age. Who knows why people without any obvious reason to do so kill?  Who knows why rampage killers affix their unstuck sickness to a particular cultural peg?

The Guardian knows. Here it is offering “further proof that misogyny kills”, that the unwholesome literature of an unwholesome time is responsible for something that has been happening since the birth of criminal records. As Jessica Valenti has it (and she is careful not to call the alleged assailant mad for fear that it will “stigmatise the mentally ill”; she’s not so worried about stigmatising an entire nation), guns don’t kill people. Misogyny does. Stop the “victim-blaming”. Start the victim-claiming.

Way to change the public conversation. Way to hinder much-needed support for those gun control measures well-regarded studies tell us save lives. Way to kickstart that kind of feminist Godwin-ing that begins in the gut and ends in social scientism.Whenever we hear about bloodshed in the cult-and-gun-happy United States, we are absolutely confused and absolutely sure in succession. First, there is the instant in which we know this horror is beyond the reach of our understanding. Then, we acquire instant expertise in forensic and social psychology and begin to explain exactly why it happened. And then, actual grown-ups start writing oblivious and frantic things like PolicyMic’s” What Elliot Rodger Said About Women Reveals Why We Need to Stamp Out Misogyny“.

What Eliot Rodger Said About Women reveals that the guy was a nutter-butter created by goodness-knows-what fusion of chemicals with numb hate, and that a person with a long history of psychiatric therapy was able to access a gun. These are not the actions of a person, despite the author’s desperation to locate him in an evil-guy continuum, which form the endpoint of patriarchy. These are the actions of a person only a very few experts are qualified to assess within a broader social and psychological context. But the internet knows what he was doing because, of course, “The gunman knew exactly what he was doing”; there’s Moss’s reliable narrator again.

On this widely read assessment goes: the media should not dismiss such people as madmen but acknowledge that their actions are an “extension of toxic masculinity ideals that are institutionally reinforced”. The media should do this quickly and often. The media should not deny that “many school shootings could qualify as hate crimes against women and girls”. The author goes on to cite one example of such a crime, bringing her misogyny total to two. Which is still one fewer than Catcher in the Rye. Or, you know, two if we count the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald also liked a bit of Salinger.

But no matter. According to “research” (aka a blogger who used a Wikipedia entry as the basis for some Excel pie charts), school shootings claim a greater number of female student victims than male student victims. And the media do not report this (mild, improperly sourced) statistic because of misogyny. The same misogyny that links all acts of disdain or harm directed at women — soon to include, I imagine, this article — and that pulled the trigger on four men and two women last Friday in California (five men when you include the gunman).

The DIY sociology continues apace. We can’t be sure what to make of the figure in an amateur data set that tells us that more male teachers than female teachers are slain in this, the 180th anniversary year of US school shootings by students. (The first was male on male, if you’re interested.) But it probably has something to do with misogyny. Because this week, all murders are the product of misogyny. All murderers know exactly what they’re doing. All murders have their roots in misogyny, because men mostly do murder. And men know what they’re doing. And we know what men are doing. Misogyny.

The tone of this analysis might be novel; the shape of it is familiar.

Charlie Manson and his girls were spurred on by The White Album, an artefact of a permissive era. Lanza was moved to kill by the video games of a violent era. Some 900 people in the People’s Agricultural Temple died by the perversion of Christian tenets in a godless era. Here’s the formula: the social ill that currently preoccupies me is the basis for that horrible thing. We know what they are doing. And so do they.

Rodger “knew exactly what he was doing”. Just like Charles Manson did, presumably, when he attempted to spark a race war by instructing his “family” to go to a house in a tony white suburb and “totally destroy everyone … as gruesome as you can“.

We can say that Manson was probably a racist. What we cannot say is that his crimes were the “extension of toxic ideals” that are institutionally reinforced. If you want to look for evidence of just what horror racism in America can achieve, you don’t need to go to Benedict Canyon. Go a few kilometres away to South Central Los Angeles or Google the US Census Bureau. And it is there where you might find the evidence for sexism, too.

That’s the thing about the everyday horror of social inequality. It’s boring, and it never makes headlines. Most of the violence it produces is niggling and slow and diffuse, not hard and fast and centralised. And it doesn’t manifest, as much as we might will it to, in the bloodthirsty actions of people who are the product of influences too various and convoluted to be easily explained or understood.

Make no mistake, this PUA stuff is icky. Sexism is real. But to say that these things led to these particular deaths is radically myopic. To say that all aggression enacted toward a woman is misogynist is just plain wrong. Not only does this latest giddy hypothesising fail to (a) buoy a pending bill for gun control and (b) acknowledge that white US citizens have been in the habit of bizarrely killing each other in small numbers and for peculiar reasons shortly after stepping off the cult-ship Mayflower. It actually makes feminists looks as stupid as the people who want to see Dance Dance Revolution banned in connection with massacre. And, to borrow the rage of all the commentators previously quoted, that makes me Unapologetically Angry and Full of Grief. As a feminist and as a critic of cultural goods.

This is not an attempt to minimise the extraordinary tragedy in Santa Barbara wrought by inexplicable horror or the ordinary tragedies wrought by the fictions of gender and race. Rather, it is an urging not to blame cultural goods for social ill. It is a plea not to see books, pamphlets, websites, records or sensationalised report of murder as anything but a possible illustration of ill, not its origin.

And it is a reminder that the First Amendment is the good one. It’s the Second we have to worry about.

This is my statement,

Holden Caulfield.

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42 comments

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42 thoughts on “Misogyny not to blame for Santa Barbara massacre

  1. arnold ziffel

    The title of this piece is ‘Razer: misogyny not to blame for Santa Barbara massacre’.
    I guess that might be the product of an enthusiastic subbie, if Crikey has such people.
    I’m happy for Ms Razer to take on the prevailing suppositions in our culture, including the purported links between cultural representations of violence and actual violent acts.
    Mr Rodger appeared in a Youtube saying why he was going to do this, including a desire to punish women for their choosing other men over him.
    Not to suggest that this is the motivation in all cases, but it seems to be operating in this case.
    Do we believe what he tells us?
    Why is Holden Caulfield the sign-off on the article?
    Did Mr Rodger mention that particular fictional character?
    I wish no one did – I reckon it’s a bit overrated.
    What we might need is some explanation for why the perpetrators of the shooting deaths that occur so often are virtually 100% male.
    I’m happy to regard movies, comics and video games as symptoms rather than as causal factors, as as long as we’re seriously trying to find a more satisfying explanation rather than just suggesting it started with the Mayflower.

  2. danger_monkey

    Click-bait by a contrarian writer, attacking a straw man.

    No one in the US believes that the sole cause of this mass killing was misogyny. We all know that it flows from the confluence of culture, mental illness and an obsession with guns. But the culture has a significant misogynistic component and you have to go no further than the writings and recordings of Mr Rodgers himself to see (and hear it).

  3. Georgie McRae

    How you can say that misogyny (hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women) wasn’t at least a major factor in this is beyond me. This man clearly expressed hatred against women in general. There seems to be a lot of argument that is “Was he crazy?” versus “Was he a misogynist?” – surely I’m not the only one seeing that potentially he was both? And – to say he is a misogynist is not saying that every single attack on a woman is misogynist, either.

    Yes, it also boils down to significant mental issues and gun control. I could not agree more that these need to be addressed, however that does not mean the misogyny isn’t a factor or that anybody who acknowledges that is somehow hurting feminism/missing the point. One argument for gun control is that people with sick ideologies (whether they be racist, misogynist, far-left, far-right, religious or anything else) and mental issues aren’t so easily able to inflict massive harm.

    I completely agree that misogyny is not behind every attack on women, just as every attack on a person of a particular heritage is not necessarily racism. However, sometimes – perhaps even often – it is. And there is no point denying that as we should address ALL the factors contributing to these awful attacks, not just cherry pick them.

  4. David Irving (no relation)

    Misogyny. You use that word, Ms Razer, but i do not think that word means what you think it means.

  5. Charles Miller

    It’s funny how mental illness and “you know, some people just snap like that, asking why is pointless” seems an almost entirely white excuse for killing people.

  6. Pippa Tandy

    Hurrah. Some sense.

  7. Ca Noyb

    As you claim to be a writer, perhaps pen something that has some kind of logical argument structure. If you’re going to go bashing around a sensitive issue, a proper review of the facts rather than mocking other analysis would be appropriate. But that’s not what you write, is it? You write click-bait, anti-feminist diatribes without actually producing anything of higher quality than the work that you ‘critique’.

    If you identify as feminist, trust me… we don’t want you on our team.

    As an ACTUAL social psychologist, I’m calling this article for the MRA cookie-seeking rubbish that it is.

    Yes, there is a massive issue with gun violence. However, THIS case has also raised a very serious issue not only with a pervasive culture of disrespect towards women and the entitlement felt by many men, but also in the quashing of women’s right to have a reaction, to want to start a conversation about those attitudes and to be heard. The killer did not come up with these attitudes on his own. It’s pervasively embedded in our culture, and everyone has the right to be upset about it. It’s not co-opting the gun control issue, it’s adding to that conversation that the vast majority of shooters are men. Isn’t that worth having a rational discussion about?

  8. Mark out West

    Hey if you want to see some real misogyny then look no further than Manus Island and the woman and children locked up there.

    NO WAIT, Australian woman don’t care cause the majority of them voted this govment in and agree with Manus.

    Misogyny must only be a 1st World thing.

  9. jimjames jammyjams

    before any of you pretend you know what this guy was about you should all read his manifesto from start to finish. sex was his primary motivator, and he saw women as the arbiters of that sex and wished to punish them for denying him (interestingly he never says he actually approached any women to talk to them). his ultimate fantasy was to live in a society free from sex which he thought would bring a natural purity to the human race. this last point should be viewed in context to santa barbara/isla vista where he was living, which apparently is a spring break mecca. he viewed the people there (and by extension all humans), who he had a profound jealousy and loathing of as impure beasts, driven by base desires. he had a psychopathic jealousy of just about everyone, chronic depression and extreme antisocial tendencies. people were trying to get him help for years, everyone around him recognised there was a problem but for whatever reason he was fixated on his desire to be with a “white attractive blonde woman”. “mysogyny” was not so much a symptom it was by-product, much less a cause.

  10. jimjames jammyjams

    also he hated pick up artists. PUA Hate (note the hate?) is a website devoted hating the type of men which rodgers viewed as stealing the women he obsessed over. he also viewed the people on PUAHate as depressing, and “[m]ost of the people on that website have extremely stupid opinions that I found very frustrating”.

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