On Friday, seven people were killed in Isla Vista, including the killer* himself. While the police did not initially identify the shooter, they say that a now-removed YouTube video about his “Retribution” has some connection, according to USA Today. USA Today also reported that the police later identified the man in the video as the suspect, and that the family had gone to the police weeks before because of “disturbing” videos that he had previously posted. Back then, the police determined that nothing was wrong.
Most of the initial reactions to the shooting include some variant of, “The man is clearly mentally ill, and his family should have taken better care of him.” While there might be some truth to this (I’m not a mental health expert, I can’t say), much more than just mental illness caused this.
By placing the blame on mental illness, people essentially say that the killer is not “one of us.” Mental illness is not, in fact, a cause of violence.
Rather, mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than people who are not, although many Americans believe media coverage that suggests that mental illness causes violence.
As the news continues to portray mentally ill people negatively, people become less supportive of actually helping people with mental illness, and also avoid associating with them. Not only does this attitude magnify the pre-existing stigma surrounding mental illness, but also removes the responsibility from patriarchal culture.
Jackson Katz, one of America’s most prominent male speakers against sexism and gendered violence, tries to understand how the emphasis on masculinity has affected violence in America in the documentary Tough Guise 2. He says, among other things, that “over the past 30 years, 61 of the last 62 mass shootings have been committed by men.”
He attributes this not to mental illness, but to the toxic idea of masculinity, where men are banned from showing any emotion besides anger, for fear of appearing “weak” or feminine.
It isn’t so much that boys learn this behavior, he explains, as much as they’re taught it. Violence, he says, is taught to boys as the one method through which they can solve their problems. This is the culture that the killer was brought up in, and had been taught for his entire life – a culture of violence as a solution, and also one of deeply entrenched misogyny.
According to The Independent, he wrote a manifesto that detailed his plan in excruciating detail, where he would kill as many people, especially women, as possible. In his now-removed “Retribution” video, the shooter blames women for loving other men, being attracted to other men, and not giving him, the “supreme gentleman,” a chance with them.
I’ve heard the same sentiment pretty much my entire life, from guys that I know and even trust. “I’m a nice guy,” they’ll say, “why doesn’t she like me? I’m so nice to her.”
There’s this idea that a man simply deserves love and sex from a woman, especially if he treats her decently.
Clearly, it’s a dangerous idea, but it’s one that’s so common in patriarchal culture. People don’t seem to think it’s a problem. YouTube did not even remove the “Retribution” video until Saturday afternoon, once the news had broken out. This type of attitude is so commonplace that it doesn’t ring any alarm bells, even though the killer clearly says that he plans to “slaughter” and “annihilate” women.
This isn’t an isolated incident, not the way people will claim it is; just last month, a sixteen-year-old girl was stabbed to death by a male classmate at school, allegedly because she rejected him after he asked her to prom. Just hours after the shooting in Isla Vista, a man in Stockton shot at three women because they refused to have sex with him and his friends.
Male entitlement is rampant in American culture, and it needs to stop. A woman should never have to fear for her life over saying “No.”
Misogyny is toxic. The killer called himself an “alpha male,” and blamed women for his problems, and he’s not the only one. According to The Daily Mail, he was a member of various “men’s rights activism” forums, where his actions were applauded. The pressures he felt – especially regarding his lack of sex – are at heart, misogynistic, as “men” try to be as unlike “women” as possible. Women are supposed to be pure and virginal, the patriarchy says, and the killer felt lesser because he was a virgin. Without misogyny, without gender roles, without male entitlement, maybe things could have turned out differently.
I am not saying that the killer isn’t responsible for this. It was his decision to go out Friday night and kill, a decision that he outlined in detail in his video, and so it is his fault. However, that does not mean that people, especially men, should not look inwards, to see what we can change together, to stop this from happening again.
Currently, many people, including the media, have been describing the shooter as mentally ill, insane, an outlier who isn’t representative of most people and their attitudes. Regardless of whether or not this man was mentally ill, his view points aren’t uncommon. On re-uploads of his “Retribution” video, comment after comment applauds him for his actions, or says that women need to look at themselves and realize “this is what you get for treating guys like shit.”
These beliefs are present when men complain about the “friend zone” (interestingly enough, I’ve never heard a woman say that she was “friendzoned” when a man doesn’t return her affections), or say that nice guys never get the girl.
They come from a patriarchal culture that hurts everyone in and around it, and they need to stop.
The six victims – Weihan Wang, Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, Katherine Breann Cooper, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss – deserve so much more than to be six nameless casualties. It’s important that while we work to stop the patriarchy from claiming any more lives, we don’t forget them, as well as others who have died because of toxic beliefs.
*The killer’s name was omitted from this article following the advice of research that suggests that most mass killers are at usually motivated by narcissism and delusions of grandeur, and wish to obtain infamy, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.