I was at my DBT day program today waiting for groups to start and a video of Dzohkhar Tsarnaev came up on the news, playing over and over as though there was nothing else to talk about. (Seriously, who cares about this kid anymore? We know what he did, we know he’s probably going to be in prison for life. Let’s move on.) Naturally, my mind wandered, and on the subject of serial killers, let’s discuss Elliot Rodger.
The #YesAllWomen hashtag is wonderful (and if you haven’t read it, stop reading this post right now and open this link in a new tab: https://twitter.com/hashtag/YesAllWomen). What Rodgers did was — beyond any sort of argument — a hate crime infused with the moldy, antiquated marinade that is the Men’s Rights “movement”. That I’m sure we can all agree on, along with the fact that he was a rich, entitled kid whose problems went denied.
That said, I am not at all comfortable with the dialogue regarding mental illness surrounding Rodger.
Here’s the thing: when you say something was “the work of a madman”, you are attempting to distance yourself from the perpetrator, and this presents two problems:
1) You are othering people with mental illness.
2) Arguing that something is “madness” is denying that the thoughts and feelings leading to harmful behaviours are held by people who are not “mad”, which is dangerously not the case here when it comes to misogyny (apologies to Sparta).
Quick vocab lesson: “othering” is just determining that someone else is different from you with the implication that doing so is a negative action; you turn someone into the Other and distance yourself. It happens often to people in marginalised groups at the hands of people in power and more frequently than not is an escapist ploy so someone doesn’t have to challenge their privilege or some firmly-held conviction.
Elliot Rodger was indisputably mentally ill. We know he had medications and refused to take them, had seen multiple therapists, and had more than one welfare check occur in response to his disturbing rhetoric. (For my own sake, I’m not going to repost the videos, but they’re not hard to find if you’re really interested.) I’m not a doctor, but it walked and quacked like delusions of grandeur.
It is not appropriate or correct to draw the conclusion that all people suffering from psychosis are dangerous. Not only is it not true, but it’s shifting the blame from a culture that excuses misogyny to a heinous degree to one man’s self-absorption. In fact, people with mental illness — particularly disorders frequently featuring psychosis like schizophrenia — are many, many times more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators:
- “Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006).”
- “…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).”
- “The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994).”
-“People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001). People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999).”
(Source: http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_violence.php and the referenced papers)
Slapping a demonising label like “violent” onto a very diverse group of people is destructive to both public perception of us — we who need the support of our communities more than most — as well as to our own self-images, which is ironic considering so many of us struggle with them already. Most of the time, if we are violent, it’s against ourselves. (Bipolar II sufferers have one of the highest suicide rates of any group.)
More importantly, it’s dismissive of the real issue, which is…
The communities Elliot Rodger took part in are part of the MRA and PUA movements (men’s rights activism and pick-up artist respectively). Both are known to be on the spectrum of somewhat unfriendly to outright vomiting hate speech when it comes to women. Many of them blame either feminism, women as a whole, or both for their problems. (Strangely, identity politics has produced a bizarro outcome where moderate MRAs and feminists end up working towards the same goals from different trajectories but neither will make any concessions because the other group is the Enemy™. I digress.)
Elliot Rodger was both a bigot himself and steeped in rhetoric that fed the flames of his anger. Most of the people he was engaging with are not mentally ill, they’re people espousing the extreme version of an ideology that is incredibly pervasive. Redirect your attention to #YesAllWomen until it makes sense — this is something all women experience. Attributing his actions to mental health makes the mentally ill the demons — his actions are significantly attributable to the hateful communities he was in.
You need look no further than the forums he posted on and the MRA subreddits to understand what I mean. There are men there calling him a hero, calling for more violence until women are “put in their places”.
The mentally ill are not your culprits — misogynists are. Misogynists are the ones espousing more violence.
And misogyny is the problem we need to solve.