A young man in California, Elliot Rodger, is believed to have posted online a video threatening annihilation of women as retribution for a life of sexual rejection, followed by a shooting rampage, seven women dead and his own suicide.
While an investigation and the uncovering of facts about why this twenty-two year-old university student resorted to a murderous rampage will take some time, his uploaded YouTube video describing his sexual frustrations from perspectives of both misogyny and sexual inadequacy provides a few initial ways to make sense of this tragedy
"For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desire. All because girls have never been attracted to me."
Rodger complains of being "still a virgin" at 22 years of age, a couple of years into his college degree. "College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex, and fun, and pleasure. In those years, I've had to rot in loneliness."
Much of the initial media commentary has, so far, rightly focused on the intense misogyny that culminates in such heinous violence against women and the ways in which the über-misogynistic rhetoric of the Men's Movement is replicated in much of his video material and, ultimately, in his behaviour.
A substantial portion of the media response has, not unexpectedly, been framed by 'individualising' the act and the person - that his attitude to women, his motivation for the crime, his willingness to kill women, all emerge from a person internally troubled, who needed mental health support and who, broadly, was an anomaly in an otherwise well-adjusted contemporary first-world elite community.
Aside from the problematic tendency to individualise rather than looking to socio-cultural factors that make such attitudes, behaviours and acts thinkable, public commentary has been right to point to the ways in which misogynistic attitudes operate within a continuum from an anti-woman slogan such as "Ditch the Witch", or a wink about women sex workers, to the murder of Jill Meagher and the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Quebec in which an anti-feminist killed fourteen women, leading to the vital work of the White Ribbon Campaign which has been running since 1991.
At the same time, however, there are other elements that have not been discussed in detail so far, but which allow this terrible event to highlight some of the social attitudes which circulate in ways that make Rodger's demands seem credible to himself. The first is a culture in which sexual satisfaction is presented as a human right and that presents itself as a social pressure to seek sexual fulfilment, sometimes 'at all costs'. The second is a cultural framework of norms that encourages people to put painful pressure on themselves through social comparisons.
The Right to Sexual Fulfilment (Now)
Rodger claimed several times in his video that, without sex and as a virgin, he has had to "rot in loneliness". He probably was lonely - particularly if many of his university peers were having sex, had partners, had greater success in initiating a sexual encounter or maintaining a relationship.
It needs to be asked, however, what it is that positioned him to see himself as lonely - indeed, to articulate that loneliness in a YouTube video and to make the case for retribution on those he believed were the cause of his unfulfilled sexual desires.
Part of Rodger's motivation is based in the idea that he has been denied a "right" to sexual fulfilment. Girls who threw "themselves at obnoxious brutes," he felt, needed to punished, slaughtered and annihilated because others had access to "hedonistic pleasures" while he was excluded. The "popular kids" were "living a better life" than that he felt was available to himself.
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