The Santa Barbara Mass Shooting, Elliot Rodger, and Aggrieved White Male Entitlement Syndrome
When an entire social structure has been erected to reinforce the lie that white folks are "normal" and "Others" are "deviant," it can be very difficult to break out of denial.
By Chauncey DeVega
When an "Arab" or "Muslim" American kills people in mass they are a "terrorist." When a black person shoots someone they are "thugs." When a white man commits a mass shooting he is "mentally ill" or "sick."
Whiteness and white privilege are the luxury to be an individual, one whose behavior reflects nothing about white people as a group.
There will not be a national discussion of a culture of "white pathology" or how white Americans may have a "cultural problem" with their young men and gun violence. The news media will not devote extensive time to the "social problem" of white male violence and mass shootings.
Elliot Rodger, a rich, white, entitled young man, allegedly killed six innocent men and women and wounded 13 others yesterday. Like Adam Lanza, this would appear to be a case of aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome, one which has led to a murderous and tragic outcome.
I have written about what I term "aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome" on several occasions.
In a complementary manner, William Hamby offers up a sharp synthesis of how rage and white male privilege come together to create monsters:
At the risk of getting too existentialist, I'd like to propose a very simple and elegant explanation for not only school shootings but a host of other barbaric acts in recent years: White men are having a crisis of both aggrievement and entitlement. One need only look at the 2012 election season to see less brutal but equally mind-numbing examples of white men going mad because they are losing their power. The "Republican Meltdown" is a perfect example of men who previously had all the control escalating to madness when that control was lost...
In moments after unspeakable tragedy we must not rush to conclusions. But here's one thing we already know too well
By Katie McDonough
And this anger—this toxic male entitlement—isn’t contained to random comment boards or the YouTube videos of disturbed young men. It’s on full view elsewhere in our culture. Earlier this week, a writer for the New York Post quoted a member of a men’s rights group as the sole source in a report on Jill Abramson’s ouster at the New York Times. Mel Feit of the National Center for Men told columnist Richard Johnson that Abramson was systematically firing men and replacing them with women. He said that our society gives women preferential treatment. On his website, Feit bemoans a culture in which men are subject to the powerful whims of vindictive women who exist on “sexual pedestals.” He argues that men can’t be blamed for rape after a certain point of arousal. These views about women and violence are replicated in our criminal justice system. They filter into our media. This is what makes Rodger’s misogynistic vitriol so terrifying—the fact that in many ways it’s utterly banal.
The news out of Isla Vista is still painfully fresh, and in the coming days we will continue to struggle to understand this pattern of violence. And while we do that—the work of considering what laws, support systems and cultural shifts must be put in place to prevent these tragedies from destroying more lives, families and communities—I can’t help but be reminded of all of the women who have been victimized by a culture and a system that denies their humanity.
I’m reminded of Marissa Alexander, whom the state of Florida is trying to imprison for 60 years because she fired a warning shot to ward off a man who had a history of violently abusing her and had told her that he was going to kill her. I’m reminded of CeCe McDonald, a trans woman of color who was incarcerated for defending herself during a brutal assault. “Her gift for survival was a prison sentence,” trans actress and activist Laverne Cox recently observed. I’m reminded of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted more than a month ago and remain missing because they had the audacity to go to school.
I think of the millions of other women and girls whose names the public does not know, but who have been forced all the same—by institutional forces larger than themselves, by systemic and enduring misogyny and racism, by the sheer bad luck of being at a given place at a given moment—to become statistics or symbols of our culture’s profound disregard for the humanity of women and girls. I am reminded of all of them and I don’t know where to put the pain and anger that comes with that. There is no possible vessel large enough to hold it all.
By Elizabeth Plank
1. Men commit most school shootings
All but one of the mass murders in the U.S. over the last 30 years has been committed by men. The fact that gender is often omitted from the story speaks to how we still see the masculine as the irreproachable and invisible standard. As Michael Kimmel notes in his extensive research on school shootings, if the genders were reversed and most school shootings were committed by women, you'd bet gender would be part of the analysis.
We often instead shift the conversation to "mental illness" and describe shooters as madmen, while the characteristics they exhibit are often an extension of toxic masculinity ideals that are institutionally reinforced.
Details are still emerging, but according to the Daily Kos, Elliot Rodger subscribed to many Men's Rights Activists' (MRA) websites and may have adopted their radical ideology about women. The comments that motivated his killing spree were not far from many of the ones that are openly made by men in those communities. Even in the aftermath of the tragedy in Santa Barbara, a pick-up artist group (many of which often classify as MRAs) left a horrendous comment publicizing their services, as if their view of entitlement to women were valid in the first place.
Like many other school shooters, Elliot Rodger displayed a colossal sense of entitlement in his unsettling manifesto. He describes his inability to attract women as something he needed to "punish" them for. He describes the fact that women are not interested in him as an "injustice" and a "crime" because he is the "perfect guy." In an attempt to prove that he is the "alpha male," he decides to slaughter them. He believes he is entitled to women's bodies and, when denied access, he retaliates. "It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it," he says.
This kind of attitude toward females can be seen in bullying patterns too. Although we tend to believe that girls bully girls and boys bully boys, cross-gender bullying is much more frequent than we think. When it occurs, it is often "unpopular boys" who are not deemed to be the Alpha Male by their peers who bully "popular girls." These boys seem to use bullying to prove their manhood.
We live in a society where being white and male affords one with countless privileges and, for some, a toxic sense of entitlement. As Michael Kimmel explains, "righteous retaliation is a deeply held, almost sacred, tenant of masculinity: if you are aggrieved, you are entitled to retribution. American men don't just get mad, we get even."
Can I go ahead and scream yet? It's time for America to admit what it's long resisted: White male privilege kills
By Brittney Cooper
This sense of heterosexual white male entitlement to a world that grants all one’s wishes, and this destructive murderous anger that attends the ostensible denial of these wishes, is at the emotional core of white supremacy. Elliot Rodger was a late bloomer, which while socially inconvenient and embarrassing, is neither uncommon nor a problem. But because we don’t have a fundamentally honest societal conversation happening about white male privilege, rooted as it is in sexism and racism, we can’t even observe one of the most basic truths here: What Rodger perceived as a denial was at the very worst a delay. Our society is fundamentally premised on making sure that straight, middle-class (upper class in Rodger’s case) white men have access to power, money and women.
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.
By Amanda Marcotte
Obviously, this isn’t true across the board. We’ve all had plenty of experiences with white dudes of the Donald Trump sort, who are so puffed up artificially that they have no idea what blithering idiots they actually are. We’ve all met men who actually believe that the obligatory tittering at their lame jokes that women provide means they are actually funny. It’s sad, but kind of comical.
But being constantly told that, by virtue of being a white dude, you are supposed to be smarter, more sexually powerful, funnier, etc. than everyone else can have a totally different effect, and I think the Rodger situation makes that really clear. A lot of white guys look around and realize that they really aren’t all that smart/sexually masterful/whatever, and they are hit with a profound insecurity. They aren’t what white guys are “supposed” to be!
Of course, where this kind of insecurity is very different than more run-of-the-mill insecurity, where the insecure person just wallows in shame, many men suffering from anxious masculinity react by indulging grotesque power fantasies, hoping by acting like giant assholes—or, worse, actually committing violence—they can become the big men they are secretly afraid they are not. Rodger was direct about this: Murder would make him an “alpha”, with is MRA/PUA terminology for the fantasy of the powerful man. But this sort of thinking crops up in lesser forms all the time.
For more on the subject, see Newtown Shootings Show America's Pathology and Aurora Shooting Shows America's Pathology.