There have been some excellent articles this week questioning whether there is a link between recent mass murders such as in Isla Vista and attitudes of male privilege.
Chauncey DeVega wrote a brilliant article on white male privilege for Alternet pointing out that, “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”.”
Jessica Valenti of the Guardian wrote, “(Elliot) Rodger, like most young American men, was taught that he was entitled to sex and female attention. (Only last month, a young woman was allegedly stabbed to death for rejecting a different young man’s prom invitation.) He believed this so fully that he described women’s apathy toward him as an “injustice” and a “crime”.
“You forced me to suffer all my life, now I will make you all suffer. I waited a long time for this. I’ll give you exactly what you deserve, all of you. All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men.”
It is a serious mistake to consider these murders as inexplicable acts of unspecified mental illness if they are actually the result of misogynist attitudes learned by the majority of males of this culture. The National Coalition against Domestic Violence estimates that one in six women in the United States has suffered either sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. One third of all female homicides are committed by an intimate partner. A culture that produces this kind of abuse so routinely may very well be playing a major role in producing the misogynist attitudes that result in violence against women.
Looking back on his words, Rodger’s words sound eerily familiar to anyone who works on sexual assault or domestic violence:
“I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male.”
It is too early to know what happened in this specific case, but since violence against women in our culture is anything but rare, it is past time to ask whether much of this violence stems from teaching young males attitudes of male privilege.
“White male entitlement is the belief that minorities owe us deference, and women owe us sex,” says DeVega. He then quotes William Hamby on the topic:
“Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It’s called “aggrieved entitlement.” According to the authors, it is “a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.” This feeling was clearly articulated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre. Harris said, “People constantly make fun of my face, my hair, my shirts…” A group of girls asked him, “Why are you doing this?” He replied, “We’ve always wanted to do this. This is payback… This is for all the sh*t you put us through. This is what you deserve.”
“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.
“The thing is, losing power hurts. That’s the “aggrieve” part of aggrieved entitlement. It’s one thing for a bunch of white men to feel hurt because they are no longer the kings of their own private castles, rulers of all they survey. It’s another thing for them to feel like they’re entitled to power, and more importantly, entitled to punish others for taking it away. And that — aggrievement plus the feeling of entitlement — is what may well drive people like Adam Lanza to these horrific crimes.”
Alan Alda said this week that humanity has seen the need to confront cancer and the common cold, “We don’t accept those things. Why should we accept this kind of behavior (misogyny) that leads to death and dismemberment, just because it’s common all over the world?”