The killing of seven people, including himself, by Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista, California near the University of California, Santa Barbara on May 23, 2014 has provided a grim illustration of how powerful the rhetoric of masculinity can be. Based on his own testimony, the twenty-two year old Rodger understood himself to be entitled to sexual attention from women due to his gender and wealth. The rage that inspired his attack was fueled by a sense that he had been denied what was rightfully his. Rodger's attitude, while evidently extreme, is symptomatic of dominant patriarchal attitudes that frame men as subjects and women as objects. This misogynistic worldview is hardly something new. What is new is the growth of an increasingly coherent movement of men known as the Men's Rights Movement explicitly espousing the notion that this dominant form of masculinity is under threat.
A recent post on the blog The Belle Jar explains how Rodger's violent pronouncements and ultimate murders were honed by the Men's Rights Movement:
This is what the Men’s Rights Movement teaches its members. Especially vulnerable, lonely young men who have a hard time relating to women. It teaches them that women, and especially feminist women, are to blame for their unhappiness. It teaches them that women lie, and that women are naturally predisposed to cheat, trick and manipulate. It teaches them that men as a social class are dominant over women and that they are entitled to women’s bodies. It teaches them that women who won’t give them what they want deserve some kind of punishment.
We need to talk about this. The media, especially, needs to address this. We live in a culture that constantly devalues women in a million little different ways, and that culture has evolved to include a vast online community of men who take that devaluation to its natural conclusion: brutal, violent hatred of women. And I don’t mean that all these men have been physically violent towards women, but rather that they use violent, degrading, dehumanizing language when discussing women. Whose bodies, just as a reminder, they feel completely entitled to.
Elliot Rodger's atrocity is an injunction to all of us about the dangers of masculinity. Too many men are socialized to believe that they must speak through the language of violence. The growth of the Men's Rights Movement is a testament to the fact that many men believe that their failure to find happiness is a function of not being masculine enough. They believe that if the can hone their masculinity to a fine enough point, they will finally get what they want (and deserve) from life. They have it backwards. It is masculinity itself, not women, that prevents adherents of the Men's Rights Movement from attaining the sort of lives they want for themselves. Vulnerability, not violence, is the ticket to greater fulfillment. Seven more people died on May 23 because masculinity demanded it. When will the toll be high enough?