Memorial Day Weekend was hijacked by yet another crazed “lone gunman” who went on a shooting spree killing strangers. As details were revealed, it became more and more clear that Elliot Rodger was seemingly headed full-speed towards a tragedy of this sort. But as many commentators on Friday’s rampage have pointed out, this type of deadly rage is all too common.
If we examine the perpetrators of American mass murders of the last 20 years, overwhelmingly they are men. Sooner rather than later we must ask ourselves when and how we are going to redefine manhood away from violence, retribution, guns and killing? When will we teach men and boys that power comes not from the barrel of a gun, that there are other ways to express or deal with pain or trauma, ways rooted in peace, love, nonviolence?
Brittney Cooper at Salon sums it up pretty well in the phrase “White Guy Killer Syndrome” but links the rage and sense of privilege that leads an individual to murder to the sense of overall entitlement driving oppression of whole groups of people:
And while we have no problem from President Obama, down to Paul Ryan, down to the preacher in the pulpit talking about pathological Black masculinity, we seem wholly uninterested in talking about pathological white masculinity, which continues to assert itself in the most dangerous and deadly of ways.
In this regard, the rage at the core of Rodger’s horrific acts is not unlike the kind of middle class, heterosexual, white male rage that drives much of social policy in this country. In the era of Barack Obama, we have endured a mass temper tantrum from white men that includes a mind-boggling war on women, with an unprecedented rollback of the gains of the women’s rights movement, and an attempt to decimate whole communities of color, which are disproportionately poor, through school privatization, mass incarceration (which began long before the Obama era) and the gutting of the social safety net.
I’m not calling these guys mass murderers. Of that I want to be clear. But I am saying that we cannot understand Elliot Rodger’s clear mental health issues and view of himself as the supremely forsaken victim here outside a context of racism, white supremacy, and patriarchy. I’m also saying that white male privilege might be considered a mental health issue, because it allows these dudes to move through the world believing that their happiness, pleasure, and well-being, matters more than the death and suffering of others.
This is madness.
Rodger was apparently greatly influenced by the “men’s rights movement,” the overall tone of which is bitterly misogynistic and violent. It is fueled by men enraged at a world in which their presumed male white privilege is being questioned. Add some guns and your “rights movement” becomes a terrorist movement. Jessica Valenti notes, in her piece for The Guardian, that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a watchdog group that keeps an eye on domestic hate groups, has been tracking this movement for years. “Male supremacy” is at the core of “white supremacy” and always has been. SPLC carefully distinguishes between the true grievances of some men in various circumstances, and hate speech that encompasses general rage at all women, and calls for violence.
Valenti then provides the call to action:
The truth is that there is no such thing as a lone misogynist – they are created by our culture, and by communities that tell them that their hatred is both commonplace and justified.
So when we say that these things are unstoppable, what we are really saying is that we’re unwilling to do the work to stop them. Violence against women does not have to be inevitable, but it is almost always foreseeable: what matters is what we do about it.