What happened is just so horrific. Elliot Rodger drove through Santa Barbara on Friday night and shot and killed six people, and injured seven others. Now three more bodies have been found, along with a manifesto. Of course everyone wants to know why. And in looking for answers, people have found many records from Rodger’s life which point to his anger toward women. From YouTube rants to postings on bodybuilding, MRA (men’s rights activist) and PUA (pick-up artist) forums, a picture has emerged of a man who hated women.
For those unfamiliar with MRA and PUA forums, the men’s rights activist community serves as a place for men to air their grievances and the pick-up artists are interested in learning how to pick up women for casual sex. That pervasive and lingering misogyny aren’t hard to find both places should surprise no one.
This fact, combined with Rodger’s apparent motive in his rampage, has led many to turn a critical eye toward these communities, and to cast blame. So much carnage creates so much guilt. It’s understandable that it seems like there’s more to go around than we can put on one person.
People are also taking an opportunity to rightly acknowledge the fact that misogyny is hardly confined to dark internet forums, but instead absolutely permeates our culture. Indeed, violence against women by men is simply a fact of life. And where it isn’t happening, women still fear it. We change our behaviors, choose where to live, what to wear, where to go, and more based on the fear that we will be hurt for making the wrong choice.
The state sits idly by where it does not compound the problem. Getting police to take rape victims seriously is next-to-impossible many places, and getting an investigation even harder. That’s when police aren’t harassing victims, they’re creating new ones. Last week protester Cecily McMillan was sentenced to three months in jail for assaulting a police officer’s hand with her breast so hard it bruised her.
All this is true, and important. And I am proud of the people using this tragedy as an opportunity to be honest about it for a moment. Disproportionate violence against women is the horror show we all live with, playing on mute in the background. This event has turned up the volume. Let’s keep it turned up so we can work on turning it off.
But what I fear is that in our struggle to understand what went wrong with Rodger we will transfer blame from him, where it belongs, to these communities, where it doesn’t.
The empirical evidence indicates violent video games don’t cause violence. The empirical evidence indicates that rape porn doesn’t cause rape. And, while less studied, it’s safe to assume MRA and PUA communities don’t cause misogyny. Violence, rape fantasies, and misogyny all exist. They are unfortunate facts of life. But attacking the non-violent means people use to cope with them doesn’t make them go away. If only it were that simple. In reality, banning or trying to shut down video games and porn and these communities will only exacerbate the feelings of embitterment which help lead people to them in the first place. It cannot be overlooked as well that using force against these groups would also violate important rights.
One must not endorse, approve of, excuse or condone the misogyny easily found in many MRA and PUA communities to understand the drawbacks of attacking them. Nor does one, for that matter, need to endorse, approve of, excuse or condone the misandry easily found in many feminist communities. Like pro-ana or white-supremacist communities, there is no doubt that many are using these communities to learn how to better hide their problems instead of fixing them. There is no doubt that many are deepening their issues by commiserating with the like-minded.
Frankly, if you look long enough at enough Republican, Democrat, libertarian, Teletubbies, beer brewing, Karate, etc. comment thread or message board, you will find sexism, homophobia, racism. It’s a question of degrees. Again, they permeate our culture. And while the degrees clearly matter, condemning some communities and not others is made difficult by the fact that the lines which must be drawn are not very clear.
The problem is sexism, homophobia, and racism. The problem is violence. We should examine MRA and PUA communities, and criticize reprehensible material when they produce it. But they cannot be blamed for what happened here. Elliot Rodger killed and injured those people. MRA and PUA communities are symptoms, not the disease. And blaming them and trying to shut them down will only make the illness worse.
Cathy Reisenwitz is an Editor at Young Voices and a D.C.-based writer and political commentator. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and a blogger for the Huffington Post and writer for Bitcoin Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has appeared on Fox News and Al Jazeera America.
She has spoken on topics of economic freedom, Bitcoin and feminism at CPAC, Tea Party conferences, CryptoCurrency Conference, ISFLC, the Heritage Foundation and various other events.
When not fighting the state, she reads girl blogs, tech blogs, politics blogs and career blogs. She loves non-fiction books (currently on a positive psychology kick) and working out.