It has become a tragically common part of reality that there is at least one violent mass shooting per year in the USA which becomes headline news. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Sandy Hook – these names are now synonymous with unimaginable grief. Unfortunately, Isla Vista has now joined their ranks in infamy.
The facts of the incident are chilling. 22-year-old Elliot Rodger had been suffering from severe mental health issues, compounded by feelings of isolation. Blaming women for being rejected, most notably at a college event where he had exhibited some aggresive tendencies, he posted an online manifesto mapping out his intention to kill sorority members. He went on to kill 6 students using weapons legally registered to him before shooting himself through the head.
Immediately after the incident, messages of condolences flooded the internet along with a thorough examination of his motives. The video and written manifesto that Rodgers had posted before he went on his killing spree were easily available. When his statement became widely-known, it launched a significant debate on misogyny and the negative perceptions of “friendzoning”.
Commentators on multiple online platforms, most notably on YouTube and Tumblr, began a healthy debate on the unspoken acceptance of how men seem to “deserve” attention, and how this unchallenged culture of expectation creates a deadly environment for women to live in. A twitter hashtag “#YesAllWomen” was also launched to highlight the prevalence of daily violence created by supposedly harmless male-female interactions.
Amidst the heartache, it seemed that the world was ready to take notice of a greater problem and, while it by no means brings justice to the victims, it was a positive by-product of a horrific incident. Sadly, as is far too often the case, what started as a much needed discussion turned into an over-simplified and sometimes ugly blame game. The online comments and the Twitter hashtag brought vital attention to the abuse of women and the unfair societal expectations placed on them.
However, these same commenters became extremely aggressive when attempts were made to discuss the other aspects of this tragedy. While the discussions rightfully pointed out Rodgers’ feelings of rejection as the trigger of the shooting, they wrongfully painted all of the victims as female. The first three to have been killed were the attacker’s male roommates, alongside a fourth male victim later on.
While the discussions rightfully pointed out Rodgers’ feelings of rejection as the trigger of the shooting, they wrongfully painted all of the victims as female.
Similarly, any mention of Rodger’s severe – and reportedly violent – mental health history was brushed off, apparently because this was coming to his defense. The fact that many other mass shooters, regardless of their or their victims’ gender, have similar histories was quickly dismissed, an alarming reflection on how mental health care is perceived to be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
The debate on women’s abuse that has been sparked by the Isla Vista killings is very necessary.
Not to mention the fact that the question of gun control and background checks, normally the first point of discussion, seems to have slipped under the radar, even though it is known that Rodger had legally purchased all three of the weapons with which he carried out the killings.
The debate on women’s abuse that has been sparked by the Isla Vista killings is very necessary. While some have attempted to dismiss it, it is crucial that a usually overlooked feature of these alarmingly frequent attacks is delved into. It is doubly important in a case that was so clearly precipitated by feelings of emasculation and rejection. What should not happen, however, is for well-meaning commentators to then ignore the various other, equally relevant aspects of this tragedy.
Elliot Rodger went on his rampage because he felt like he did not fit in. Let us now not try to fit a complex issue into one single box; it is a disservice to the severity of the incident and it risks misrepresenting what should be a deeply nuanced discussion.
Header photo: flickr/mickie