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May 28, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Discussion: Isla Vista killings, #YesAllWomen and male privilege

Isla Vista gunman Elliot Rodger’s disgusting, misogynist rants point to a seriously disturbed young man who lacked coping skills. The 22-year-old’s chilling sense of entitlement is outlined in startling detail in a 141-page manifesto I have no interest or time in reading. Thankfully, writer Jeff Yang did (reluctantly), and his analysis for Quartz is a must-read on the roles that race, class and gender possibly played in the motives of a mass killer.

Here’s an excerpt from Yang’s op-ed:

According to Rodger, this is what underscored to him the degree to which women were markers of status:

“Because of my father’s acquisition of a new girlfriend, my little mind got the impression that my father was a man that women found attractive, as he was able to find a new girlfriend in such a short period of time from divorcing my mother. I subconsciously held him in higher regard because of this. It is very interesting how this phenomenon works…that males who can easily find female mates garner more respect from their fellow men.”

Rodger grew up in the shadow of Hollywood, a place where terms like “trophy wife” and “arm candy” and “casting couch” are thrown around with glib abandon. It’s a culture that has mainstreamed the notion that women are accessories, party favors, tools for sexual release, not just behind the scenes, but in front of it, particularly within the genres most likely to shape the worldview of young males.

Now let’s take a look at the storm brewing on Twitter over the #YesAllWomen hashtag. Here’s one example:

The #YesAllWomen hashtag isn’t so much about labeling all men as woman-hating, mentally deranged killers. It’s about acknowledging that at some point in many women’s lives, they have suffered emotional or physical harm at the hands of men. They have every right to name how they felt in those moments. Guys, listen to what they’re saying before you launch your own attacks about how women are just as mean as men. That might be true in some cases, but history matters. Women’s collective voices have largely been squashed in a society dominated by men.

During a conversation (on a different topic) on Tuesday with Dr. Debra Boyer, an anthropologist and expert on abuse here in Seattle, I asked her to help me make sense of Rodger’s behavior.

“He was mentally ill, but the culture informs mental illness and how it’s expressed. [Elliot Rodger] chose women. Women are [considered] legitimate targets of male violence in our culture,” she said. “That starts with talking over a woman in a conversation, not listening, paying women less. It’s a whole culture of male privilege, which goes back thousands of years.”

Boyer suggests that “men can really no longer be bystanders. They need to confront their feelings about privilege and entitlement and to stop protecting men who engage in this.”

Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the open forum below. Please keep comments civil. To be considered for publication in a follow-up blog post, names must be real. Address and contact information is for verification purposes only.

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Comments | Topics: elliot rodger, gender, isla vista

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