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What the Isla Vista Killings Have to Do With ‘Misogynist Extremism’

Posted on May 25, 2014

  A woman looks at bullet holes Saturday in the window of IV Deli Mart where part of Friday night’s mass shooting took place in Isla Vista, Calif. AP/Jae C. Hong

When violent eruptions like the killings in Santa Barbara on May 23 happen, discussions in the news often—as they have in this case—focus on individual culpability as well as the assumed (and often substantiated) mental illness of the perpetrator. Familiar refrains about the loner, the loser and the loon are bandied about, and any explanation the killer might give for the crime is sensationalized and then dismissed as the ravings of a disturbed, self-propelled menace—and thank goodness the authorities defused that human time bomb. Moving on.

Not so fast, says the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny in a forceful essay posted Sunday. What’s lost in recycling the lone-gunman trope in this instance is the chance to address systemic and ideological contributions to this particular young man’s rage, which Penny sums up with the term “misogynist extremism.” She offers this read of the Isla Vista tragedy before the news cycle rumbles on and 22-year-old Elliot Rodger is filed away as another sick unfortunate whose motivations and mentality, while supplying compelling fodder for belabored media analysis, are categorically incomprehensible to the sane population.

The ideology behind these attacks—and there is ideology—is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration,” in Rodger’s words. We owe them respect and obedience, and our refusal to give it to them is to blame for their anger, their violence—stupid sluts get what they deserve. Most of all, there is an overpowering sense of rage and entitlement: the conviction that men have been denied a birthright of easy power.

Capitalism commodifies that rage, monetizes it, disseminates it through handbooks and forums and crass mainstream pornography. It does not occur to these men that women might have experienced these very human things, too, because it does not occur to them that women are human, not really. Women are prizes to be caught and used or hags to be harassed or, occasionally, both.

Violent extremism always attracts the lost, the broken, young men full of rage at the hand they’ve been dealt. Violent extremism entices those who long to lash out at a system they believe has cheated them, but lack they courage to think for themselves, beyond the easy answers they are offered by peddlers of hate. Misogynist extremism is no different. For some time now misogynist extremism has been excused, as all acts of terrorism committed by white men are excused, as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. The pattern is repeatedly denied: these are the words and actions of the disturbed.

The comments under Penny’s article are also worth a read and point out, in one example, how some media outlets have perpetuated problematic sexual power dynamics by highlighting Rodger’s virginity in their headlines.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson


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