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What he was thinking

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University of California at Santa Barbara students at a memorial service for six students slain by Elliot Rodger.

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University of California at Santa Barbara students at a memorial service for six students slain by Elliot Rodger.

I spent a recent weekend studying the 137-page screed left behind by the young man who slaughtered six students in an Isla Vista rampage aimed at punishing women because he’d never had a girlfriend.

"There is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female," wrote Elliot Rodger, who was 22 when he shot himself to death as police closed in.

Rodger’s diatribe is a chilling depiction of his twisted world view. He didn’t target only the "blonde sluts" and pretty sorority girls he felt had rejected him. He wanted all women locked up and starved in concentration camps — with a few spared for forced breeding.

"I would have an enormous tower built just for myself, where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch them all die," Rodger wrote in the months before his rampage. "Women represent everything that is unfair with this world. ... They must all be eradicated."

That is clearly the rant of a madman.

But his attitude has tapped into the anger and fears of women accustomed to accepting the everyday indignities of a culture that is tuned to the wants of men.

And before we write this tragedy off as just another unfortunate collusion between mental illness and guns, we ought to listen to those women’s voices.

It’s human nature to want to wring meaning from an unfathomable event. Then we can dictate remedies and soothe ourselves with the notion that we can keep it from happening again.

But there is no tidy moral to draw from this horrific story. It’s a sign that our culture is in trouble in ways that neither tougher gun laws nor better mental-health care will be able to fix.

It’s shone a spotlight on how much macho behaviour is exalted and women’s feelings ignored or misunderstood.

My colleague, Robin Abcarian, has written about the Twitter campaign, at hashtag #YesAllWomen, that sprang up in response to Rodger’s attack. Thousands of women have shared experiences that made them feel objectified, belittled or reviled.

They evoke the sort of everyday sexism girls have learned to accommodate and women to endure: the need to adjust your dress, your behaviour, your comings and goings to avoid being victimized by men who feel entitled to attention or something more.

The Twitter campaign has been mocked by men who say it unfairly stereotypes them. They see madness in Rodger’s rants, not misogyny.

Certainly, Rodger’s anger, expectations and sense of entitlement were irrationally and unconscionably overblown. But they reflect a cultural norm that’s seldom publicly challenged.

The surge of tweets has reminded me how easy it is to be complicit in a system that perpetually relegates females to the role of potential victim.

I understand now why my daughter bristles when I complain her skirt is too short or warn her not to walk alone at night to the market near her apartment. That makes me just one more voice saying, "It’s the woman’s fault."

Instead, we ought to acknowledge there’s something wrong when a 12-year-old girl can’t wear shorts in the summer because men will honk and catcall her. When a middle-aged woman can’t go out on a date without texting her whereabouts to friends in case she doesn’t come home.

Every time there’s a mass killing, a controversy rages over how much notoriety we should give the shooter and his troubling delusions.

But I couldn’t help feeling oddly grateful as I read Rodger’s account. We always wonder "What was he thinking?" in the aftermath of the crime. This time there’s a blueprint that details his descent into madness.

His obvious mental illness and easy access to guns are only parts of the problem.

He was a shy, spoiled, social misfit who was targeted by bullies. A boy with intense longings and no way to make sense of the world. A mentally unbalanced teenager who spent up to 15 hours a day for years immersed in World of Warcraft, a video game "full of mystery, magic and endless adventure," its website promised.

Buy into that, and you become a heroic fantasy character and share a virtual world online with strangers. But you never talk to an actual girl, unless she’s a friend of the family.

Later, you can’t understand why your designer clothes and expensive car don’t have women flocking to you.

But you never become anything more than a victim in your villain-dominated drama. Because the real world is not like Hollywood or World of Warcraft.

And no one in that real world was ever able to reach you, to teach you women are not commodities.

 

Sandy Banks is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

 

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