In light of a recent mass murder-suicide in Santa Barbara, California, there has been a frenzy of intense speculation about what spurred the killer, Elliot Rodger, into carrying out his crime. One point of view put forward is that it was the phenomenon of violence against women, not just on his part, but on the part of men in general that spurred him on to commit this crime. That and abuse of women by men is tolerated in US society in a “culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity.” The abuse of women is a problem and, without any doubt, reprehensible, but is it fair to solely blame men? Is it reasonable to assert that the abuse of women is tolerable in US society? These questions merit discussion, but in short, my answer to both questions is a resounding no.
The available evidence, concerning Elliot Rodger, indicates he was mentally ill. He was in the care of therapists for much of his life and was known to the police, who allegedly assessed his mental health and concluded that he posed no threat. He was self-hating of his mixed-race (Eurasian), but took pride in his white ancestry, believing he was descended from English aristocracy. He fancied himself a ladies man and resented that women failed to appreciate his charm and prowess, noting in his final testament:
I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within 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. It’s an injustice, a crime, because… I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. (as cited in Wikipedia)
In brief, Elliot Rodger was a powder keg that finally exploded. Before he ended his rampage in committing suicide, he stabbed three men to death, struck four pedestrians with his BMW, shot one man and two women to death and wounded thirteen others. Of the people Rodger killed, the three men he stabbed to death were known to him. They were co-tenants in the apartment he shared with them. Though he planned this crime with malice and forethought, the remaining victims were targeted at random. The official response from the University of California Santa Barbara, where the two young women who died were students, sums up the reaction from society at large “our campus community is shocked and saddened by the events that occurred last night in the nearby community of Isla Vista. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families who are grieving and mourning as a result of this tragedy.” (as cited in Wikipedia)
The abuse of women that concern those who assert that it is men and a “culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity” who are solely responsible often takes place in marital relationships. Domestic violence is a problem in US society, but is it strictly the case that it is men abusing women? The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) undertook a study, The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, published in 2010, to examine the incidence of domestic violence, including that among bisexual, homosexual and lesbian couples. The data generated in this study show that four in 10 lesbian women (43.8%), 6 in 10 bisexual women (61.1%), and 1 in 3 heterosexual women (35.0%) reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking within the context of an intimate partner relationship at least once during their lifetime. (The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey)
More than one-third of lesbian women (36.3%), over half of bisexual women (55.1%), and more than one-quarter of heterosexual women (29.8%) in the United States have been slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. This translates into 591,000 lesbian women, 1.8 million bisexual women, and 32.5 million heterosexual women who have been slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner at some point during their lifetime. (The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey) A key finding published in the CDC study is that most lesbians who self-reported as victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner reported their attacker as female.
What this tells us is that in a given context, women are quite capable of abusing other women. The background, in this discussion being dysfunctional conjugal relationships. Yes, it is right; some men abuse women in what are supposed to be loving relationships. It is not right, nor is it tolerable. But as the data generated by the CDC shows, there are lesbians in conjugal relationships who are abused by their lesbian partners. It does not trivialize the reality that there are men who abuse women. Still, it shows the problem of the abuse of women is not entirely attributable to a “culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity.” The abuse of women in US society is a problem that needs to be discussed, but blaming men, while ignoring the fact that there are women abusing women, really does not help to address the issue in a dispassionate and meaningful way.
Posted by Geoffrey