I type “UCSB shooting” into the Google search bar, and the articles I read revolve around the same details: Elliot Rodger went on a shooting rampage that started after he stabbed three men; he ended up getting shot, and some aren’t sure if it’s suicide or if he was caught by police fire; and he posted a video about his anger towards women and felt that they needed to endure some sort of “retribution.”
As I watched Rodger’s video, my blood boiled: he felt that he was entitled to sex and felt that it was his right to “punish” the women who rejected him. He also felt anger towards “those popular guys,” who were getting more sex than he was and, paradoxically, almost praised them (and I don’t mean he praised them explicitly; rather, he envied them, but also stated that he was repulsed by them). As a feminist, I could go on about how Rodger’s thoughts about women are misplaced because people have the right to reject possible lovers, because no one is entitled to love or sex, and because Rodger’s arrogant tone reflects patriarchal perceptions of women as submissive and meek creatures who must serve men’s sexual needs.
But, as a feminist, I want to talk less about his threats towards women and more about his threats towards men. Like I said, he both envies and despises the men who are more sexually active than him, the “lonely virgin.” While Rodger is only one man in a sea of human beings, his contradictory perception of the men he threatens represents our own society’s confusion when it comes to sexual norms. Hank Green describes it very well in his video “Sexual Abuse, Consent, and Culture,” where he explains that our society holds a certain taboo against talking about sex, which causes us to imply that sexual relationships can only be explained by black-and-white dualities. In Rodger’s case, dualities revolving around the confusion on sexual norms evoke, well, further confusion and conflict. Sex is not black-and-white. Sex is not simple. Our avoidance of sexual topics forces us to make intercourse a big deal, to make it something that will wreak utter destruction or bring unimaginable pleasure. But here’s the secret: sex isn’t a big deal, as complex as it is. We need to be able to talk about it straightforwardly, without having people giggle or scoff at the words “penis” or “vagina” or “testicles” or “ovaries.”
Speaking of being able to talk about things straightforwardly, mental illness does exist. It wasn’t until I typed “UCSB shooter mental illness” that I actually found articles talking about Rodger’s mental and emotional problems. And even then, they were cloaked in mystery: most of them just said that a relative of his had recommended that he seek therapy, and police were “convinced” by Rodger’s story that he didn’t have major problems. Let me cite another video: Kevin Breel’s In his TED Talk, “Confessions of a Depressed Comic, Kevin Breel talks about the social stigma of mental illness and the need for people to speak up about it so that we can actively search for solutions. I’m not sure what Rodger may have undergone in terms of his mental health, and I don’t think his mental health justifies his actions, but the fact that he hid his problems signifies a possible issue with the way we perceive those problems. Like the taboo against talking about sex, society establishes a taboo against confronting mental illness and even frowns upon people with mental illness. Avoiding this topic, like avoiding the topic of sexual norms, only perpetuates confusion. It doesn’t “solve the problem.” We should be able to be upfront and straightforward about mental illness without stigmatizing it.
Yes, I’m recommending we talk about our problems. What a revolutionary idea, right? Well, if people are dying or suffering from terrible adversity because we’re not confronting these issues, then it just might be.