In my hometown: Elliot Rodger is too familiar


From Santa Barbara to LA, the 101 freeway curves, as you approach Summerland and continues to run parallel to the Pacific, until you reach Ventura. If you’re there around 2pm, count on dolphins. Then past Oxnard, uphill to Simi Valley, just beyond there is the shopping mall that used to have a Fresh Choice (I think it’s an Olive Garden now). The freeway arcs around a small suburb, past the exit where my Dad’s childhood best friend lives. Technically now you are in LA.

This is the image I have, when I read that Elliot Rodger’s parents drove down this stretch of the 101, from LA in a vain attempt to stop him, This summer we had a pool party, near the sorority house that was Roger’s initial target and the street across from the sorority house where Veronica Weiss and Katie Cooper were killed. I’m pretty sure the pumpkin patch in Veronica Weiss’s  picture is just down the road from my high school. I’m know I’ve passed the deli that Christopher Michaels-Martinez was shot in front of.

During my first few months in France, I went out to dinner with a Frenchman and another American and the Frenchman asked us if we had heard about the shooting in Washington DC. Neither of us Americans had. We both felt like this news should bother us more, but there had been two other recent shootings and it was getting hard to get upset about everyone. I just tried to look up the DC shooting, from last fall and found that there had been a more recent one (at a school), also this past weekend.

When it happens in my home town, its different. Rodger, is a former student of the school my mom teaches at. As I mentioned in a previous post, Santa Barbara is a small community, where everyone knows almost everyone else. So I spent the weekend refreshing the google news search, until all the victims names were released. I’m thankful everyone I know is safe. I wish I could say I was sad about the loss of the Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng Yuan Hong, Weihan Wang, and George Chen, but  while I don’t feel remotely apathetic, right now I just feel disturbed by how familiar they are, how familiar Rodger is.

This same weekend 3 people were killed at the Jewish museum, in Belgium. Mass shootings happen in Europe, but  they are common in the US. I am living in Germany now and in  2010 they had less than 1,000 gun related deaths. A quick google search for mass shootings in germany yielded no results. When I compared gun deaths in 2010, in the US and in European countries, on, the results were very clear.


Mental Health is Not the “Real” Problem

Why are we different?  A 2013 Washington Post article, points out that since 2009, the US has had shootings at a rate of ONE SHOOTING PER MONTH, quoting a study commissioned by mayors against illegal guns. Christopher Michaels-Martinez’s father blames our gun laws, asking why the “right to bear arms” outweighed his son’s right to live.  This is not a new idea. It comes up after every “high profile” mass shooting. Every time, some reason, we decide to move on from this conversation (or any other conversation), and quickly decide that the real problem is “mental health care”.

CRITICAL POINTS: mass shooters are not only outliers in the general population, they are also outliers in the mental health population. Not all mass shooters have a history of mental illness. Notably, mass shootings are not connected with any one mental health disorder and people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them.

In Rodgers case, he describes his reasons, with threats of violence in extremely disturbing videos. The most recent one describing his planed attack, which he also describes in an equally disturbing 140 page manifesto. In summary, Rodger is upset, because he is a 22 year old virgin and he blames the women who have denied him sex. He plans to kill his roommates (which he did), convince people to come back to his apartment, where he can torture and kill them (he was not able to do this) and then go to a sorority and shoot all of the women who refused him (he went, but they didn’t let him in, so he shot at and killed Veronica Weiss and Katherine Cooper).

In direct response to the misogyny in Rodger’s video and manifesto, the twitter hashtag #yesallwomen was created, to point out how such misogyny is all to common. Time writer Chris Ferguson and psychology today author, directly responds to the hashtag, claiming that only distracts from the main issue: (wait for it…) a lack of mental health treatment! In Rodger’s case, while he had mental heath problems, he did not lack for mental health treatment. He had multiple professionals working with him. Once again mental health does not seem to be the culprit and focusing on, as an excuse to avoid talking about any other factors makes no sense.

REVIEW: Is our mental health system broken? Yes. Is this problem related to mass shootings? No. Also noAnd no againYup more noStill noand noand noand this could go on.

Elliot Rodgers

His words reveal a deeply pained and confused individual, caught up in his inability to attract members of the opposite sex.” –Santa Barbara Independent

“[Classmate] remembers thinking that Rodger was going to excel in life. “Some of the stuff he said sounded right-on — he was very logical, very well spoken,” said Duarte. “This kid is one of those successes. He’s gonna go places. He had that aura about him and the ego to go with it.”” –Santa Barbara Independent 

Elliot Rodger started planning his attack three years ago and began posting videos with threats of violence online.  In response to one of these videos, his mother called the police, a month earlier. When the police called on Rodger, but found him to be “rather shy, timid and polite, well-spoken” and decided he did not meet the standards for an involuntary hold. An important point in these standards is that a threat to ones self or others must be immediate. In an interview, Santa Barbara Sheriff  Bill Brown also addresses the issue of mental health stigma. In a second interview, Brown again points to mental health, saying that Rodger did not meet they criteria for a hold.

However, holding Rodger was not the only option that sheriff officers had. They could have searched the apartment. In his manifesto, Rodger points this out, saying that it would have prevented him from carrying out the killings. Instead of searching, they made Rodger call his mom and reassure her that he was ok. Brown  David Dusenbury, former deputy chief of police in Long Beach, California, the police could have obtained a search warrant based on threats of violence in internet videos. 

In a sociology class I took at SBCC (the same school my mother now teaches at and that Rodger attended, all too close to home), the professor I had described how police use victim, criminal, and “service” profiles and will often reduce people to these two categories. They get a lot of calls and in some ways this is necessary, but cognitive neuroscience world, we know the heuristics used by police officers can include social stereotypes. Therefore it might be useful to ask if there are any social stereotypes that might cause policemen to place Rodger case outside of the criminal category?

A Continuum of Violence Against Women

“When you believe that we live in a female-dominated world where straight men are the most oppressed class, it tends to make you wrong about pretty much everything.” –The Good Man Project

For some time now, misogynist extremism has been excused, as all acts of terrorism committed by white men are excused, as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. Why are we denying the existence of a pattern?” –New Statesman


Perhaps the most disturbing thing I have seen, since I started reading about the shooting are the comments supporting Rodger (trigger warning). These comments often tell women to take this as a warning for denying sex to a “nice” (seriously?) guy. The article about the comments, by sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt, also mentions yet another death that of straight A college student, Alyssa Funke, who took her life, after a “friend” discovered a pornographic video she had starred in (and was paid for) and she faced extreme bullying. 

If it isn’t bad enough, mere hours after the Isla Vista shooting, in Stockton California, a man fired shots at women, who had refused to have sex with him. He missed, but as the Jezabel article points out, women’s lives should not depend on luck. Earlier this year, Isla Vista made the news, after two gang rapes took place at UCSB, in two months. Most school shooting victims are female. The tumbler “When Women Refuse” chronicles acts of violence against women, who have refused sex to men or to date them; as was the case with a 16 year old Connecticut girl who was stabbed to death, when she turned down a prom date. The #yesallwomen twitter feed, also reveals how common acts of aggression against women are, even outside of a sexual context.

The Powder Room describes a 1989 attack in Montreal, that parallels the one in Isla Vista. The shooter went into a classroom, separated the men from the women and shot all 9 women present. The only explanation he left were the words “fight feminism”. 

Even when misogyny is recognized, men like Rodger are still characterized as a victim. Unlike the extreme male victimization perpetuated by Rodger and his fans (ugh!) this type of victimization has some legitimacy. Rodger experienced pain and we can be empathetic about this, but prioritizing his pain over his actions is not helpful. 

An even more benevolent form of male victimization, comes from the academic side of the men’s rights movement. They often point that it is difficult for men abused by women to receive justice. In some ways I can understand where they are coming from. The most prominent abuser in my own life was female. She was smaller than me and childlike and it took me two and half years to recognize the abuse, because the abuse did not fit into cultural norms. At the same time, I also was able to get rid of the abuse by rearranging my life in a way that did not involve her. So I gave up on interactions with most of my college friends (TOTALLY WORTH IT).

For the most part, the abuse I have received from men is not something I can escape as easily. Even my male friends, who self identify as feminists and try to be aware of their privilege, are so used to it that they will do things like talking over me or mansplaining something and then calling it a discussion. Look if you’re trying to do better, I’m not going to say “you’re a bad man”, but if you feel talking about women’s issues is sexist you’re denying the social inequality that exists between men and women.

Can women abuse, rape, and kill? Yes. Do most men have to deal with it? No.  Furthermore, the same stereotypes that characterize women, as weak and incapable of harming men, also characterize us as unreliable and devalue women’s voices and everyday experiences. While Women live with misogyny, there isn’t often proof of it that a man can see, until: she’s bruised, she is being assaulted, right now, she’s dead.

Alyssa Funke
Alyssa Funke

Invisible misogyny that is often the most harmful, while data on it is lacking. This is the type of misogyny that killed Alyssa and it is possible that invisible misogyny contributed to the way officers categorized Rodgers. When I read statements from Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown, the thing I find most upsetting about the apartment visit, is how they choose to spend their time making Rodger call his mother to “reassure” her, instead of checking out the videos that had upset Rodger’s mother in the fist place. Perhaps the heuristics the officers used for a “mother calling about a son”, placed this case in the “service” category.

In our sociology class we learned that the “service” category is close to the “victim” category. If this is the case, it is possible that in deciding the validity of Rodger’s victimhood, police did not investigate his mother’s claims and just went with their impressions of Rodger. Would they have taken the concerns more seriously if Rodger father had called instead?

Men and Misogyny in 2012

You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one, the true alpha male.” -Elliot Rodgers, in a video posted, just before the shooting

Data on women killed in mass shooting events, indicates that it is part of a continuum of violence against women. However, this violence is not an unique to America. The Global Gender gap report, measures factors like economic opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health and survival. In the 2013 report, the US ranks 23rd, falling from 17th in 2011. In Nicaragua (#10) and the Philippines (#5), abortion is illegal, so the report does not cover everything that effects a women’s quality of life and it probably isn’t a good measure of misogyny, which is expressed differently in different cultures (except in Sweden, apparently). Violence against women is still a problem in Europe, but mass shootings are not.

In general, our relatively liberal gun policies may explain why gun violence in the US is so high, relative to other first world countries. Recommended (especially for non-US residents and blue state residents): The minister at the UU society I attend last year, also had a sermon, with an excellent overview of guns in american culture and we’re probably never going to get rid of them entirely. When it comes to assault weapons, the Mayors against illegal guns study, incidents involving assault weapons are linked with an increase in gun related deaths and assault weapons were used in 12 of the 43 incidents since 2009. Assault weapons can explain some increase in gun deaths, but not the increase in incidents, since 2009.

Sam Wang, Princeton Election Contortion

The original article that the chart appeared in (from a blog run by Princeton faculty) indicates the assault weapons ban is one among many factors. I can’t help but notice the huge spike in gun related deaths, after 2010. What makes 2012 such an outlier?

While looking for answers, I came across an article from The Good Man Project, which looked for patterns in the lives of mass shooters, in the 70 mass shootings committed in the past 35 years. They found that being recently fired from a job was the most common life event to immediately precede a mass shooting. The Good Man project has a refreshingly feminist tone, and they attribute threats to masculinity to social pressures put on men. While Rodger’s attributes his problems to women, he had other status issues that did not relate to women. He was a college student and had not been reasonably well off, but  in his manifesto Rodgers claimed to be embarrassed by his family’s financial status, relative to that of his peers.

The first thing that occurs to me is that 2012 is not that long after the start of the recession. The Recession, lead to police budget cuts, which put strains on the time and resources police have, perhaps forcing them to rely more on heuristics. The recession also led to long term joblessness, which differentially affected American men. Also in 2012 20 women were elected to the US senate and the republican party engaged in a massive anti woman campaign.

“Shy, Timid, Polite, and Well Spoken”

In my Scripps thesis research I asked people how they characterized social groups, relative to other stereotyped groups (e.g. When you think of Asians do you imagine mostly Men, mostly Women, or 50% men and 50% women?) There were not many significant trends, except one: with the exceptions of “women”, “lesbians”, and “homemakers” participants said they imagined men (unpublished data). 

Rodger’s mother is ethnically Chinese and Rodger’s father is British. According to Susan Fiske’s stereotype content research, social stereotypes associated with Asians are different from those associated with African Americans, who are perceived as threatening. I did a (very brief) search and could not find anything about Asians and violent threat perception. In my experiences with Asian friends, I have noticed that they are often perceived as a different race (or that time I told someone that my friend, who was born in China, was there visiting family and I had to explain that she was not Mexican). This may mean that in practice, some stereotypes that Asians experience, are based on incorrect race identification. Over the past several days, many writers have classified Rodgers as white and officers may have done this as well, when they visited his apartment. 


Some times I wonder if the thing that distinguishes these shooters is that they are too familiar and too normal. Rodgers case, involves the intersection of misogyny, narrow definitions of manhood, economics, race and gender in profiling, and liberal gun policies. Based on my own experiences, what I’ve read on the #yesallwomen twitter feed and from the cases detailed above, it is apparent that men like Rodger are not isolated phenomenon, but rather outliers on a continuum of violence. I think we prefer to see them as different and the discussion surrounding mental health and violence, reflects this preference. If these men are not extremely different, if there isn’t abnormally wrong with them, then there has to be something wrong with us.

Top: Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper Bottom (not in order): Cheng Yuan Hong, Weihan Wang, and George Chen

I will be back to more travel posts next month and new travel pictures. I have been working on a post about Alsatian history, all this month, but I put off posting it, so I could talk about the shooting, instead.


4 thoughts on “In my hometown: Elliot Rodger is too familiar

  1. I really appreciate the double standard you point out, that if a woman denies someone sex she’ll be vilified, but if she makes the decision to use her sexuality for her benefit (Alyssa Funke) she’ll still face abuse. Also, the comparison between Travon Martin and this guy. I haven’t looked too much into how the general public perceives Roger, afraid it will be too upsetting, but I’ve gotten the impression that it’s far too sympathetic toward someone who was receiving help for his mental issues but had a deep seeded sense of entitlement toward women as objects and a general hatred for the sex. He doesn’t need sympathy. There are no excuses to be made for him.


    1. Chany,

      With the Travon Martin thing: Do you remember how we used to have a Sherif’s officer on campus, in high school? I have two distinct memories of them bullying high achieving latino/latina friends. The contrast between the way the same sherif’s office treated him and the way they treated my friends is startling.

      Rodgers videos indicate he felt discriminated against, because he was half Asian. I don’t know much about stereotypes Asians are subjected to. Individual lives are very complex. However, the way that the media talks about individuals isn’t and I thought juxtaposing these two cases might point this out.


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