This post was originally written for Facebook, but I have been encouraged to post it here as well.
Alright, Facebook, it's time to get serious. Let's talk about Elliot Rodger & Santa Barbara for a minute here.
I've seen and heard a lot of people discussing Rodger's state of mental health and the implications it had on his actions. At face value, these comments may seem valid. Clearly someone who is "psychotic" or has a "mental imbalance" could be unstable enough to go on this sort of killing spree, right? Except that's where you're wrong in several different ways.
Firstly, as far as we know right now, Rodger was never officially diagnosed with any sort of mental disorder. All of the major news outlets may be speculating about it but I have yet to see a single legitimate source discussing any real diagnosis. While it has been confirmed that he was seeing a therapist and/or counselor, whether or not a diagnosis was made remains unclear. Calling Rodger mentally ill because of his actions is factually inaccurate and only leads to more rumors & uncertainty about the shooting. Sticking to the known facts is the only way to ensure the discussion remains focused on what it needs to be about.
Secondly, blaming Rodger's actions on mental disorders further stigmatizes these issues. It associates mental disorders and illnesses with violence, crime, and immorality. It implies that all people with mental disorders are prone to going on these sorts of deadly rampages or committing other violent crimes. It implies that people with mental disorders are dangerous, are to be feared, are to be shunned and blamed for all these tragedies. These negative connotations around mental disorders only serve to worsen the public opinion of mental illness, and that ought to be the last thing anybody wants to do.
Consider this: according to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 26.2% Americans over the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental disorder (source). For every four adults you know, there's a good chance that one of them could be suffering. Using mental illness as an explanation for Rodger's actions tells these people--your friends--that they are equivalent to this murderer. Could you tell that to your best friend's face if you knew they were diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental disorder? I didn't think so.
In addition to these statistics, multiple studies have shown that people diagnosed with mental disorders are far less likely to be violent than those without. Appleby et al. (2001) found that people with mental disorders are actually vastly more likely to be victims of violent crimes, not perpetrators; similarly, in 2006 the Institute of Medicine concluded that people with mental disorders contribute far less to the number of violent crimes committed than people without mental disorders (source). With this in mind, the likelihood of Rodger honestly being psychologically ill should seem very low.
Thirdly, blaming mental illness for this tragedy continues to ignore the real root cause. Rodger did not kill these six people because he was mentally disturbed. He killed these people because he was a product of the deeply and violently misogynistic American society.
In his now-infamous video, Rodger explicitly stated that he hated women. He outright said that the women who spurned his advances over the years deserved to be killed, and all "blonde sluts" deserved this fate as well. This screenshot of a comment made by Rodger on a bodybuilding forum shows that he strongly connected women and feminism with evil and injustice towards men (source). His 141-page manifesto blamed rejection by women for every misfortune in his "twisted world".
This mindset is not one of a mentally ill man. This is the mindset of a man who grew up in a world that confirmed his sick ideals. Everywhere in American society you see men like Elliot Rodger being validated in the belief that women owe them sex and romance simply for being "kind". Everywhere you look in American society, you can see women being held responsible for the crimes committed against them--rape victims are asked what they were wearing, assault victims are asked why they weren't more careful, women who are harassed on the street are told they must have been provocative somehow and should be appreciative of the attention.
This has to stop.
The only way we will ever prevent another shooting like this from happening is by educating our sons and teaching them that they are not entitled to women's bodies. We have to teach them that if they want a relationship with a woman, they have to earn that woman's respect through honest kindness. We have to teach them to see women as real human beings instead of objects to claim. We have to teach them that women deserve the right to pick their partners without having to fear for their lives if they deny someone. We have to teach them that women deserve respect, because right now we are failing desperately.
I am far from a stranger to the complicated politics of men's entitlement. I have had dear friendships with boys turn into major causes of stress because I felt uncomfortable with their clearly romantic advances but I didn't want to jeopardize our friendship. I have feared for my reputation because I turned down boys who would go on to tell their friends how awful I was and how nobody would ever like me. I have been called names and insults ranging from "rude" & "heartless" to "bitch" & "whore" simply because I didn't want to date these boys. I have dealt with being catcalled, being told to smile, and having my appearance inappropriately commented upon by men older than my father. This past Halloween, I went dancing with several of my female friends and had to shake off countless male hands trying to make their way around my waist or into my back pockets. None of these guys cared that I had a boyfriend across the state, that I didn't want them to grope me, or that I only wanted to enjoy a night out with my friends. To them, I wasn't even a person. I was just an object to grind against for a few minutes, and that terrified me.
I should not have to worry for my safety when I walk across campus after a mandatory night class. I should not have to approach all of my friendships with guys with the concern that I might be "leading them on". I should not be told in all seriousness that one benefit of my short hair is that guys won't be able to grab me by it when I walk by. I should not have to follow instructions on how not to be raped when I know that the boys surrounding me haven't been taught not to rape me. I should not be afraid that when I return to campus in August I will become a victim of another crime by another Elliot Rodger who decided that he was being denied what was owed to him. I should not be afraid for my life just because I am a woman living in America.
The thing is, I'm not the only woman to have experienced this. Every single woman has had to protect themselves and the other women around them because they were threatened by men. Every single woman has been told that anything bad that befalls them is their fault, that they did something wrong to deserve it. Every single woman has had to fear men assaulting them just for being women.
This cycle can't stop until we dismantle and absolutely destroy the idea that men are entitled to women's bodies. Elliot Rodger believed that he was justified in murdering Katie Cooper and Veronika Weiss because he felt that the women in his past owed him sexual favors. Saturday morning, mere hours after Rodger's shooting, another California man opened fire on three young women because none of them would agree to sex with him (source). Countless more acts of violence targeted towards women are going to happen if we don't start reconstructing the way we view women in America.
So when you blame Elliot Rodger's mental state for his shooting, you ignore the fact that he was specifically targeting women and wanted to kill as many "blonde sluts" as he could. You are further demeaning the lives of women across the country by telling them their safety doesn't matter, that they don't matter, because the gunman couldn't be held accountable for his actions since he wasn't right in the head. You are further enforcing this toxic and misogynistic system that constantly kills women no matter what they do to protect themselves. You are acting as an agent of violence against women, and you are denying us the right to be validated as human beings.
If you agree with anything that Rodger believed--that men are worse off in this world than women, that all men are owed sexual gratification from women they act kindly towards, that all the women who denied him deserved to die--then please unfriend me immediately. Better yet, let me know who you are so I can block you directly. I do not want to associate with anybody who thinks that I deserve to die because I don't want to date somebody. I refuse to surround myself with people who don't even regard me as a real person. This is not a subject that is up for debate. I am not going to listen to people tell me that women's problems aren't real or feminism isn't needed in American society when there are two young women pointlessly dead because of a spoiled child's entitlement, and most people don't even know their names.
If you still need further proof that Rodger's actions were an act of terrorism against women rather than the misdirections of a mentally ill boy, look at the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. Read these people's stories and then try to tell me that this wasn't violence against women, or that women have it easier than men. I hope you appreciate that you have the privilege to find it difficult to stomach, because women don't have that privilege when we have to live through it every day.