In covering Elliot Rodger, writers aren’t shy about blaming misogyny and the groups that perpetuate it

Police were examining this video posted on YouTube in which a man who identifies himself as Elliot Rodger says he is planning an attack in Isla Vista because he had been snubbed by women. Editor's note: This video contains language that some may find disturbing. (YouTube)

After George Sodini opened fire on a Pennsylvania gym killing three women and injuring nine more, many feminists were horrified, but they weren’t surprised.

As details emerged about Sodini, who also killed himself during his attack on the Collier Township L.A. Fitness in 2009, they painted a picture of the sort of man with whom writers such as Amanda Hess and Amanda Marcotte and bloggers at Feministe and Jezebel had become all too familiar: an enraged sympathizer of men’s rights activists who felt entitled to women.

While Sodini’s attack, which targeted an all-female aerobics class, drew national attention, the men’s rights and pick-up artist communities largely escaped culpability or scrutiny from mainstream media as Jill Filipovic detailed:

What’s particularly irritating about the narrative surrounding these shootings is the idea that the shooter went crazy because he was lonely and women rejected him. The NYTimes story has quotes about how he was a good-looking guy who should therefore have been able to find someone to have sex with him.

Like Elliot Rodger, the man suspected of killing six and injuring 13 in Isla Vista, Calif., before apparently shooting himself in the head, Sodini left behind blog posts and YouTube videos detailing his attitudes toward women. He wrote in one post dated June 5, 2009:

I was reading several posts on different forums and it seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little hoe has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason. Thanks for nada, b—-es! Bye.

In a YouTube video made before authorities say he opened fire Friday night, Rodger said:

College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.

Anticipating the reaction to Rodger’s rampage would look like the coverage of Sodini’s, Jill McDevitt, a sexologist, pleaded for the media to recognize the groups and philosophy that had shaped Rodger’s misogyny:

Already the news media is taking this tragic story in directions that are missing the biggest piece- misogyny and sexual entitlement.

Dear News Media,

Don’t gloss over that:

1. This was a hate crime. This was an act of violence committed against victims that were, or were sympathetic to, a group of people (in this case, women) in which the motivation for the violence was simply that they were a part of that group. That’s a hate crime. A gender based hate crime.

2. Many men are socialized young to believe they are owed sex and attention from women. They are led to believe that if they are nice, or a gentleman, or do favors, or are a ‘nice guy,’ that this entitles them to sex. The whole idea of ‘friendzoning’ and the indignation around the fear of being an attentive and good friend to a woman and not being rewarded with vagina in return (as if the only thing worthwhile about companionship with another human being is whether or not you get laid as a result), is indicative of this dehumanizing socialization that can lead to extreme and horrifying outcomes like this.

This time, however, the men’s rights and pick-up artist communities are getting more attention, and not just from feminist blogs. At Slate, Hess detailed the way pick-up artistry and men’s rights ideology informed Rodger’s thinking:

Rodger’s language is familiar to anyone who’s spent time exploring the Pick-Up Artist or Men’s Rights Activist communities. Rodger was a ‘Nice Guy,’ a man who feels he is entitled to sex based on positive personality traits known only to him.  (‘I’ve wanted love, affection, adoration. You think I’m unworthy of it. That’s a crime that can never be forgiven,’ he said). He aspired to be an ‘Alpha,’ the most attractive, dominant man in his group, but felt he’s been wrongly dismissed as an inferior ‘Beta.’ Pick-Up Artists, by the way, refer to women they would like to have sex with as their ‘targets.’

Hess wrote about Sodini’s connection with the pick-up artist community in 2009 as well.

The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak noted the connection:

Elliot Rodger has exposed the sick world of the Men’s Rights Activist movement, self-described alphas who fume about any and all the times they don’t call the shots with women, specifically the airbrushed, inflated and photo-shopped creatures they assume are there for them.

Mostly, it’s about sex. Or the lack thereof.

A group of them call themselves Pick-up Artists. And some sell their wisdom — tips that include stale bar tricks, ways to insult and ignore women as part of their seduction — as online courses, apps or seminars. They call this ability to get women to sleep with them “Game.”

When desperate men who shell out cash thinking it will buy them Game fail, they lash out online. Not at the men who try to sell them Game, but at the women who didn’t buy the act.

More widely, people have embraced the term “misogyny” to describe Rodger’s online screeds against women, and they’ve been more receptive to treating Friday’s killings as a hate crime, the way McDevitt suggests. Sunday night, Gawker’s Jordan Sargeant noticed that Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam posted incendiary annotations to Rodger’s 141-page manifesto. The manifesto had been uploaded to News Genius, Rap Genius’s sister site which aims to annotate and explain the news. Moghadam said Rodger’s manifesto was “beautifully written.” He also added this:

“Elliot barely mentions his sister Georgia throughout the book!

Towards the end, however, he tells us that they did not get along and becomes extremely angry when he hears her having sex with her boyfriend

MY GUESS: his sister is smokin hot”

When Tom Lehman, the co-founder and CEO of Rap Genius issued a statement explaining the company’s decision to fire its co-founder Moghadam, he cited Moghadam’s misogyny:

Mahbod Moghadam, one of my co-founders, annotated the piece with annotations that not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we’re trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.

Were Mahbod’s annotations posted by a new Rap Genius user, it would be up to our community leaders, who set the tone of the site and our approach to annotation, to delete them and explain to the new user why they were unacceptable.

Were Mahbod’s annotations posted by a Rap Genius moderator, that person would cease to be an effective community leader and would have to step down.

And Mahbod, our original community leader, is no exception. In light of this, Mahbod has resigned — both in his capacity as an employee of the company, and as a member of our board of directors, effective immediately.

Maghadam has since apologized. In a column for The Post, film critic Ann Hornaday asserted that Hollywood’s own culture played a role in the way Rodger, and men at large, see women:

As Rodger bemoaned his life of “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desire” and arrogantly announced that he would now prove his own status as “the true alpha male,” he unwittingly expressed the toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA. For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny). Rodger’s rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.

How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of “sex and fun and pleasure”? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, “It’s not fair”?

Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow took umbrage at their movie being name-checked as an example of pop culture’s casual sexism, and they hit back on Twitter.

 

You may recall that actress Katherine Heigl’s career hit a slump after she had the nerve to critique “Knocked Up,” which was written and directed by Apatow, as “a little sexist.”

In a piece for the Guardian, Jessica Valenti summed up the problem succinctly: “We should know this by now, but it bears repeating: misogyny kills.”

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Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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