Culture

Elliot Rodger, And The Dark Heart Of Men’s Rights Activism

Mental illness and gun control had a huge bearing on this weekend's tragedy, but we can't ignore the impact of a warped, misogynistic and toxic worldview that's proliferating online.

Last Friday night in Isla Vista, California, a young man named Elliot Rodger stabbed his three flatmates to death before driving through the streets in his black BMW, shooting randomly at members of the public. This rampage was put to a halt when Rodger, trapped in a shootout with the local police force, shot himself in the head. Excluding himself, Rodger killed six people: his flatmates Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, and Weihan Wang, and, on the streets, Katherine Breann Cooper, Veronika Weiss, and Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez. Thirteen others were injured.

Events such as these are, if not exactly commonplace, then at least depressingly familiar in the United States: in the past few years they’ve seen similar events in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech. As ever, this latest killing spree will stir up a debate in the US about both gun control and mental illness. But what separates this year’s Isla Vista killings from other massacres is that Elliot Rodger not only appears to have had serious mental problems, but also subscribed to a virulent form of misogyny currently known in general as “men’s rights activism”. Rodger’s internet activities and the message boards he frequented demonstrate that this “activism” played a key role in Rodger’s rampage – even though the majority of his victims were men.

Who Are These Men’s Rights Activists?

Given that most positions of power and influence in contemporary society are occupied by men – nearly every position in the current Australian government’s cabinet, for example – it seems weird that there even is such a thing as a men’s rights movement. What rights are men currently denied?

The historical genesis of the movement makes it clear that men’s rights activists are not so much arguing for a coherent position but, instead, are arguing against another position – namely, feminism. One of the first men’s rights movements, the Bund für Männerrechte or ‘League for Men’s Rights’, was founded in Austria in March 1926 with the explicit aim of counteracting the ‘excesses’ of post–World War I women’s emancipation movements. The strength and popularity of men’s rights movements since then seems to have closely tracked the growing influence of feminist movements, such as the great flowering of second-wave feminist thought in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Now, thanks to the internet and its own corresponding explosion of feminist voices, men’s rights activists from across the globe can come together online to share their grievances about the modern world.

The key assertion of men’s rights activists is that men do not have power or privilege over women. Rather, they posit, men are victimised by a social structure that favours women. Men’s rights activists point to a number of facts that, they claim, support this central tenet: the fact that men are more likely to die while working than women; the fact that men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than women; and the fact that women are more frequently awarded full custody of children in divorce proceedings than men. (They also point to some ‘facts’ that are not facts at all, such as the risible claim that 50% or more of rapes reported to police did not happen, when in fact sexual assault is vastly under-reported.) These, they argue, prove that contemporary Western societies are structured to favour women at the expense of men.

Men’s Rights Activists And Pick-Up Artistry

A recent development in men’s rights activism is its connection with another social movement: that of pick-up artistry. The central idea of pick-up artistry is that women can be seduced by applying certain techniques, including ‘negging’ (a compliment with a back-handed sting in its tail, designed to make a woman feel insecure), ‘peacocking’ (wearing one outlandish accessory that will draw women’s attention) and ‘kino’ (touching a woman casually during conversation to establish a precedent of physical contact). Of course, pick-up artistry is creepy as fuck because it’s so overtly rape-y: what it says to men is that if women aren’t interested in you, you can use ‘this one weird old trick’ to make them have sex with you. It basically treats dating as a video game rather than an interaction between two equal adults, with sex as the reward for mastering complex manoeuvres of button-pushing, just like the fatalities in Mortal Kombat.

Pick-up artistry, which reached the mainstream thanks to the popularity of Neil Strauss’s 2005 best-seller The Game, also comes packaged with its own evolutionary theory. This theory argues that certain men are ‘alphas’ who can effortlessly dominate other men and have their pick of women, while nice-guy ‘betas’ will supply women with their emotional and material needs without ever getting any nookie. Men who cannot demonstrate their physical or social attractiveness will become ‘incel’, or involuntarily celibate. When you combine this pseudeo-science with men’s rights activism, a toxic worldview emerges: women are seen as parasites who feed off men and don’t even have the decency to sleep with them to return the favour.

Not All Mass Murderers …

Rodger clearly viewed his lack of sexual success with women as a form of torture. In a YouTube video he uploaded before embarking on his crimes, he claimed, “I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me”.

As Rodger wrote in a 137-page memoir-cum-manifesto, the first phase of his spree “will represent my vengeance against all of the men who have had pleasurable sex lives while I’ve had to suffer. Things will be fair once I make them suffer as I did. I will finally even the score.” He would then move his attention to the people he saw as the authors of his torment: women. “I cannot kill every single female on earth, but I can deliver a devastating blow that will shake all of them to the core of their wicked hearts.” He planned to target a certain sorority full of “spoiled, heartless, wicked bitches”; “the kind of girls I’ve always desired but was never able to have because they all look down on me.”

Although his plans were foiled before he could kill more women than men, it is clear that Rodger’s attack was primarily motivated by an intense hatred of women, one stoked by his membership in several online groups dedicated to advancing male privilege such as PUAhate.com. (Some of these were so-called “anti-Pick-Up Artistry” groups, but it’s important to understand that these groups are not so much critical of the idea that women can be tricked into having sex with an otherwise unattractive man as they are critical of the burgeoning pick-up artist industry that they see as having stolen their money.)

One of the great, and very tragic, ironies that has emerged from this massacre is that many people – and not just men – are lining up to dissociate Rodger from the world of men’s rights activism and anti-pickup artistry. Men’s rights activists absolutely hate the idea of women generalising their experiences with men, so much so that the phrase “not all men” has become something of a humorous trope amongst internet-connected feminists. In the wake of the killings, there is concerted effort on social media and elsewhere to portray Rodger as an outlier, someone who does not represent the attitudes of men’s rights activists or those in the pick-up artist or anti-PUA communities. (These communities have responded to the shooting by diving for cover: one bodybuilding forum where Rodger had an account has deleted all trace of him, and PUAhate.com is currently offline.) They point to the fact that Rodger killed more men than women; they argue that he was clearly mentally ill, and talk about the issue of gun control. Mental illness and gun control, they believe, have more of a bearing on what happened than Rodger’s rampant misogyny.

There is certainly some truth to the idea that Rodger was mentally ill – by definition, anyone who would plan a killing spree is mentally disturbed. Similarly, of course Rodger was an outlier in these communities, since not every men’s right activist has resorted to murder. And absolutely there should be further discussion about gun control in the United States, because these massacres keep happening. Take away his mental health issues and his easy access to guns, and this tragedy could well have been prevented.

But why are we ignoring the fact that Rodger’s immersion in this online subculture very clearly had a bearing on his selection of victims, and his warped persecution complex? A warped worldview where men are the ultimate victims because women don’t put out enough seems to have been the catalyst for this tragedy. And that’s something members of the men’s rights and pick-up artist communities should be soberly reflecting on.

Men’s Rights Activism and Feminism

I have often thought in the past that men’s rights activism is, to purloin Gayle Rubin’s phrase, a feminism manqué — that is, that its practitioners could be feminists, but have missed the vital link between their laundry list of complaints and a coherent social theory. After all, the first English-language men’s rights groups came about in response to feminist theory, and some of them focused not on how wrong feminists were, but on developing a full picture of how much patriarchy damages men as well as women. And, as Lindy West has noted, many of the issues that stick in the craws of men’s rights activists are being worked on, right now, by feminists. Don’t like that working-class male bodies are considered a disposable commodity, capable of being worked to death, by industrial capitalism? Neither do feminists. Don’t like that custody arrangements have turned divorced men into ‘Disneyland dads’? Neither do feminists. Don’t like false rape accusations? Neither do feminists.

The difference is that feminists understand you can’t address these issues in isolation. You can’t meaningfully address men doing all the “dirty and dangerous” work without also looking at gender pay gaps, workplace cultures, and the way women’s work is systematically undervalued. (As far as dirty and dangerous goes, have you ever seen what nurses, who are predominantly female, put up with?) You can’t look at changing the perception that women should be primary caregivers without addressing the gendered division of home labour, the affective labour of motherhood, and male workplace cultures that encourage men to spend time away from their children. You can’t address the way a very, very small number of women have filed false rape claims without also looking into the number of rapes that go unreported, and the judiciary’s abysmal track record at convicting rapists.

Men’s rights activists, by contrast, don’t want to do the work that would actually address their complaints because it would mean they’d lose a bunch of male privileges that they are desperate to keep: the expectation that women exist solely for sex and motherhood, the fact that their labour is more handsomely rewarded than women’s, and so on. The men’s rights worldview wants to enforce the burdens of equality on women without men taking on their own responsibilities; it’s a worldview that wants women to pay for their own dinner because women shouldn’t be ‘leeches’, but still expects a blowjob at the end of the night because the men’s rights activist is a ‘nice guy’ who followed all the rules of ‘the game’.

One of the many terrifying things about Rodger’s shooting rampage is that it demonstrates that some of these feminists manqué have missed the point of feminism by a very, very large margin. But I hold out some hope that at least some men’s rights activists and pick-up artists out there are now strongly reconsidering their attachment to the poisonous stew of anti-women ideology and male entitlement that constitutes their current culture. It’s a worldview that values men’s comfort and libidinal urges above women’s lives, as Rodger has demonstrated in the most terrifyingly literal way. But as demonstrated by the fact that several members of these ‘manosphere’ communities found Rodger’s revenge fantasies unnerving, some shreds of human empathy remain in this world despite the corrosive effects of men’s rights rhetoric.

If nothing else comes of this tragedy, I hope that the sheer brutality of it gives pause to those men who joined this noxious online subculture because they have been given a raw deal by patriarchal society. I hope it makes them realise that there is something truly toxic at the root of this subculture, one that has contributed to seven people’s deaths. I hope it makes at least a few of them realise that women and feminists are not the enemy, but their allies.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. He is the Program and Production Coordinator for the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and has written for The AustralianThe Lifted BrowKillings (the blog of Kill Your Darlings), Meanjin and The Quietus amongst others.

Feature image of a candlelight vigil to honour the victims, via ABC7 Eye Witness News.

Comments

Comments

  1. Sally says:

    They couldn’t get a woman to write this? When did feminism find it’s voice under a white-knighting dude?

  2. Nicole Arby says:

    Such a great article. Thank you Chad.

    Misogyny is indefensible.

    Allowing people to hold misogynistic viewpoints as valid opinions is indefensible.

  3. Georgie says:

    Why should the advocacy of women’s rights be limited to one gender? Feminism found its voice through men as well as women when society began understanding the implications of the feminist movement and what it truly meant for our culture. I think its a good representation of progression in understanding gender roles and society not as a black & white issue.

  4. trixtah says:

    Wow, I missed the bit where he said, “Don’t worry, little ladies, I got this.”

    Actually, I think – and I believe most other feminists think, of any gender – that it’s important for men to educate each other, and call each other out.

    Otherwise, it’s like white people whining to non-white people about how to solve racism. It’s not the non-white people doing the idiot behaviour (in that context).

  5. Georgie says:

    Well put. You wouldn’t expect advocates of Aboriginal rights to be solely Aboriginal nor would you say only children can stand up for children or slaves for slaves.

  6. Caitlin Welsh says:

    I have no problem with a feminist man discussing men’s responses to feminism. It’s a bit insulting to Chad to say he’s white-knighting (a term often used by MRAs to disparage male feminists by suggesting they too just want to get laid but are trying to do so by agreeing with and supporting the women). He’s not displacing a woman’s voice here. He had something insightful and constructive to say from a man’s perspective.

  7. Caitlin Welsh says:

    Indeed. In fact, there are some people who won’t take injustice seriously until they hear it from someone like them. Male allies and advocates have an incredibly important role to play.

  8. metronomic1 says:

    Nice white knight article. The fact that you would try to exploit this tragedy to paint a picture of “the evil that is mens rights” is pretty telling.

  9. poopydoopy says:

    You can’t legislate opinions, though. When people’s views and opinions are legislated we end up in a totalitarian state.

  10. poopydoopy says:

    Actually, people of all colors behave in racist manners. Same for the genders: both genders can be sexist. This needs to be acknowledged by society before we can move forward.

  11. poopydoopy says:

    This was an excellent article. The young delusional man that carried out this crime had obviously picked up some of his view from MRA sites, such as this part of his manifesto:

    “The ultimate evil behind sexuality is the human female. They are the main instigators of sex. They control which men get it and which men don’t. Women are flawed creatures, and my mistreatment at their hands has made me realize this sad truth. There is something very twisted and wrong with the way their brains are wired. They think like beasts, and in truth, they are beasts. Women are incapable of having morals or thinking rationally”.

    (from Elliot Rodger’s Epilogue to his Manifesto).

    No further comment necessary.

  12. Maggie says:

    Chad Parkhill is a giant twat. The guy is frequently condescending to women and holds firm to the nepotistic, misogynistic view that he pretends to abhor.

  13. Amy Gray says:

    Crimes do not happen in a vacuum and the resulting discussion is not exploitation but an examination of the events and culture that lead to the crime. Men having rights is wholly distinct from MRA’s and there is no suggestion in this piece that men should be without them, just that they shouldn’t trample over and kill people to extract revenge or maintain their privilege.

  14. Amy Gray says:

    First off, they don’t give out prizes for calling out a man’s sexism and then describing him as a female body part. Secondly, no idea where you have the basis for your characterisation of Chad, but as a grim and humourlous feminist who knows him, I can attest he is without misogyny, condescends only to idiots and possibly has a better idea of the correct definition of nepotistic than you.

    Any points to debate the actual article?

  15. Brady Clarke says:

    here is a condescending reply: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem

  16. JennaIsWriting says:

    The fact that you would even say something like that shows how much further we still have to go.

  17. marlette782 says:

    The writer portrays men’s groups as somehow irrational. I would argue the feminists can also be irrational and paranoid. They seem to think whenever men are alone together they must be plotting against women. Does anyone remember the big deal feminists made over Clarence Thomas? He cannot be on the supreme court because he offended Anita Hill with foul language. A few years later Paula Jones accused Bill Clinton of exposing himself, and what did the feminists do? Nothing.

  18. marlette782 says:

    The guy was insane. It says nothing about men in general.

  19. Riggs says:

    Here we have a tragedy Shakespeare couldn’t have written. A proper examination of events and culture that lead to the crime would involve determining what significant events occurred between the ages of ten and twelve that ultimately lead him down this path. The guy was pathetic. He obviously spent a long time in isolation to have his mind so skewed from reality. But even then, what kind of person would beat another person’s head in after they’d fallen from a balcony and broken a leg, regardless of the circumstances that led up to it? Focusing and isolating this one aspect of the mans psyche is like staring at a grain of sand and ignoring the boulder.

  20. Joe G says:

    So your argument is that men’s groups can’t be irrational because you perceive feminists as irrational? That somehow Chad Parkhill should have been writing a comparative analysis of relative irrationality rather than specifically about the issues bought up by recent events?

  21. marlette782 says:

    I said feminists can also be irrational. The word ALSO does not exlude mens groups from being irrational

  22. Egalitarian says:

    There’s no proof at all that Elliot Rodger was involved in men’s rights movement.

    The forums he’s been found to have posted to, a bodybuilder forum and “PUAhate”, are not connected to the MRM.

    His youtube subscriptions, cited as proof of a connection, do not include a single men’s rights channel.

    Furthermore, none of his beliefs have anything to do with MRA views.

    There’s a reason why no source has been able to point to even one specific example of a connection to the men’s rights movement. There is no such connection.

  23. Tenz says:

    That still is a fallacy!

  24. Tenz says:

    Telling of what? Your infinite bigotry?!

  25. Csibi Attila says:

    lol. weak ass feminists milking this tragedy and desperately trying to link this loser with MRA’s. that’s when you know they’re losing.

  26. Guest says:

    “There is certainly some truth to the idea that Rodger was mentally ill”

    some

    …..”some”

    not once this this article mention narcissism. A very well-written article but also an irresponsible. Scoffing at the fact that people are trying to paint a MASS MURDERER as an outlier is a really, really disgusting thing to do. How about you up on how narcissism works and how narcissists handle rejection first. Hijacking a mass murder and twisting it into a political agenda is beneath contempt. Both sides of the spectrum – “MRAs” (or anyone who claims men have any issue at all, it seems) and tumblr feminists are equally idiotic.

  27. Chris says:

    Not once was narcissism mentioned – undoubtedly one of the most important facets of his character. A well-written but disingenuous article designed to join the hordes of laymen who keep trying to assert their mind-reading skills in this terrible tragedy. This will add to the dismissal of neurotic-leaning, vulnerable and socially ostracised men (ie, creeps, ”nice guys”) and overall count towards the unproductive dribble that has been leaking out of this tragedy-hijack for the past week.

  28. EGOISTICZETA says:

    i’m from south america, so my english is not good but i will try to explain

    elliot didnt know about the zeta males(man going their own way). being a zeta is having a easy going life style. a zeta dont care about women’s acceptance, and society’s acceptance. a zeta lives doing what he wants to do. it’s a very free way. elliot was emotional dependent of women, this is not a zeta thing. a zeta knows he is alone in this world. i use my asceticism to be alone when i dont have what to do.

    most important, the zeta is indifferant to woman’s acceptance. there’s is a brazilian writer called Nessahan Alita and he says about de importance of beying indiferent to women, he is christian gnostic and he says that we are alone, this is our nature, he says that only our soul will be with us after death, so we have to forget about famale acceptance and society acceptance. this writer even influenced masculinism here.

    elliot didnt know nothing about this.

  29. EqualityEd says:

    Another hit piece on the Men’s Rights Movement from feminist who could honestly care less about addressing the concerns of Men and Boys in our society. There is no relationship between Pick Up Artist and Men’s Rights. They don’t even like each other. Pick Up Artist view Men’s Rights activist as wimps fighting for equality when they should be ‘Manning Up’.

    This author is clearly sympathetic to feminist in citing they are working on men’s rights issues when in fact that’s just a way of silencing men who demand equal compassion for men from feminist. We have a very bigoted culture in regard to who we see as victims within our society. A man being beaten by a women for example does not get sympathy for being stronger but he can’t strike back without risking prison. If you are abused by someone you can’t hit back you are just as powerless as being attacked by someone you can’t beat in a physical fight. He can run, he can hide, he can call the police but if he does there is a good change he’d be the one getting arrested.

    The statistics on men abused by women aren’t given attention. The focus on violence against women is a sexist ploy to divert all focus to women by exploiting our greater sympathy for them. If feminist were indeed fighting patriarchy we’d see an end to that but instead as time goes on we see it expanding. Equality does not happen through coordinated gender biased campaigns ignoring half the victims. The same goes for sexual violence where male victimization is misreported. Too few know that a man forced to have sex via his penis does not count as a rape vicitm in these studies but that’s how most men are victimized. As counter intuitive as it sounds that’s the reality these studies show exist and if we don’t explore it we won’t address the problem men are facing.

    Men cannot compete by playing the victim better than women because they don’t get the compassion women get. The fact feminist are so selfish and corrupt that they do all they can to minimize sympathy for men should tell us something about the movement and our culture.

    A man like Elliot is truly disturbed but we have plenty of men living in isolation who need our love and support. Compassion is not just for women and a shift in our culture will take a Men’s Rights movement to hold the dominant feminist movement accountable.

  30. EqualityEd says:

    You mean no more distortion misinformation and lies. You attack men’s rights for threatening feminism’s freedom to male bash and ignore male victimization. This is not a moral cause you are on, it’s vicious propaganda using all the power and influence you can muster. We’ve brought down many a bigot in our history so don’t expect to keep this charade up forever and those who have wronged humanity with ‘hate’ will be held accountable in their own conscious at the very least.

  31. EqualityEd says:

    What freaking privilege? Men and women share the same social class. The privilege being protected is women’s activist insuring we have as little compassion for men as possible so a maximum amount of attention can go to women. You are projecting your own biases onto men.

  32. EqualityEd says:

    I find the misandry of feminism indefensible and you are demonstrating by attacking anyone opposed to it. Hating men is not a path to equality. Telling men their lives are worth less by insisting women’s be prioritized despite more men dying is hateful.

  33. HelpfulHarry says:

    Hi, it appears you didn’t read or understand a major point in this article. It would be super helpful of you if you went back and did that. Thanks pal.

  34. EqualityEd says:

    No I understand what propaganda is and as a liberal myself I’m disgusted by the smug condescension of those in my own party who play morally superior while demonizing people for simply advocating for men and boys.

    No MRA’s don’t agree with feminist but feminists have never stopped attacking men for simply being male a half century after women’s liberation. Where is the liberation that will bring equal compassion for men?

    I’m tired of waiting for people like you to grow a conscience. I’m tired of waiting for liberals who supposed to take lead on caring about people to notice having a penis shouldn’t erase your victimization, murder, or suicide. Men’s lives don’t revolve around hating women, it’s about loving and caring for them. Male vilification might help some die hard feminist score some page hits or a cushy job writing for a zine but it’s not moral.

    Don’t let the fact men care about women or want to be seen as caring about them conceal the reality of indifference towards male suffering. Men and boys die and we’ve been conditioned to care less about it. That’s really sad.

  35. EqualityEd says: