Shortly before Elliot Rodger set out into the streets of Isla Vista, California, on Friday night, he released an 138-page manifesto outlining his intentions to wage a “war on women” where he would “punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex.” By the end of the evening, he had murdered two women and four men, wounded 13 others, and killed himself. In the wake of the murders, some leveraged Rodger’s death count to argue that, if anything, Rodger’s crimes were an expression of his hatred of men, not women. If he was such a misogynist, why were his victims mostly male? “He killed twice as many men as women you fool,” one man wrote to me in an email, echoing a sentiment I’ve heard in many forms over the past few days. “That sound like misogyny to you?”
It does. Women’s issues are often dismissed as a niche concern, but we constitute half of the human population. Once that’s recognized, it’s not hard to see how hating us can inflict significant collateral damage among all people—including the men who are our partners, our relatives, and our colleagues. Misogyny kills men, too.
Rodger hated women, that much was clear. He told us again and again in the manifesto he circulated in advance of the attack, in videos he posted weeks beforehand, and on misogynistic message boards he populated for years. Women are “vicious, stupid, cruel animals,” he wrote. They are “spoiled, heartless, wicked bitches”; they are “a plague that must be quarantined”; they are “evil and depraved”; they should not “have any rights in a civilized society.” Rodger fantasized about herding all women into concentration camps, starving most of them to death, then farming out the rest of them for reproductive purposes in order to ensure the dominance of men. But men who loved women also incurred Rodger’s wrath. “I will destroy all women,” Rodger wrote. “I will make them all suffer for rejecting me. I will arm myself with deadly weapons and wage a war against all women and the men they are attracted to.” Rodger viewed women as objects, and he resented other men for hoarding what he viewed as his property. “If I can’t have them,” he wrote, “no one will.”
In her 2007 book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano noted that misogyny is the belief that “femaleness and femininity are inferior to, and exist primarily for the benefit of, maleness and masculinity,” and that’s an attitude that works to police both men and women.* It expresses itself in the bullying of insufficiently masculine boys, in the pervasiveness of homophobic slurs, in the suppression of open emotional expression among men, and in overwhelming violence against trans women, who are especially stigmatized for appearing to reject what some consider as their God-given male bodies.
Then there is the male toll from domestic violence against women. Over the past decade, organizations that fight domestic violence have begun to take a closer look at all of the deaths that result from dating and spousal relationships, beyond the victims who are killed by their intimate partners. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic violence murders. But men die, too. Some are killed by their partners, male or female. Others are killed by police after killing their partners, or attempting to. Many kill themselves. And every year, a number of men die at the hands of other men who murder the current partners of their ex-girlfriends or ex-wives. Still—perhaps because these murders constitute a minority of cases, and because domestic violence organizations are expressly devoted to aiding the immediate victims of intimate partner violence—the phenomenon hasn’t been seriously investigated. Jane Doe Inc., an advocacy organization against domestic violence in Massachusetts, expanded the bounds of its own annual death count in 2005 to include homicides where “the homicide victim was a bystander or intervened in an attempted domestic violence homicide and was killed” and ones where “the motive for the murder was reported to have included jealousy” in the context of an intimate relationship. “The human toll from domestic violence is grossly underestimated,” Jane Doe reported in 2006. “Domestic violence homicides represent just the tip of the iceberg regarding mortality and morbidity resulting from domestic violence.”
Rodger was not a domestic abuser. He was a mentally ill young man who had better access to firearms than he did sufficient mental health care. But his stated motivation behind targeting both male and female victims—“If I can’t have them, no one will”—echoes the attitudes of the perpetrators of domestic violence. Conforming to Jane Doe’s framework, Rodger’s male victims included men he envied as well as roommates he perceived as getting in his way.
It is not uncommon for men who resent women to take out their aggressions on other men, but unlike public violence against women, male-on-male attacks slip more easily underneath our cultural radar. When Jersey Shore reality star Snooki was punched by a man at a bar while cameras rolled, the guy was instantly mobbed by her protective male friends and, later, widely condemned by television viewers. But as Cord Jefferson detailed in Jezebel at the time, violence between men on the show—often enacted in fights over the show’s female characters—was completely normalized. Both scenarios are evidence of misogyny’s societal impact; only one is accepted as such.
A year before the murders, Elliot Rodger used this dynamic to his advantage when he attended a college house party that he later wrote in his manifesto was an attempt to give the “female gender one last chance to provide me with the pleasures I deserved from them.” But the female partygoers failed to satisfy, and, drunk and dejected, Rodger hopped onto a 10-foot ledge and openly attempted to shove off the women he disdained, and the men who had occupied their attentions. When police confronted him about the incident, Rodger claimed that it had simply been a boyish fight between men, who Rodger said had attacked him for acting too “cocky.” This excuse helped Rodger evade immediate punishment and allowed the misogynistic roots of his anger to go undetected.
Elliot Rodger targeted women out of entitlement, their male partners out of jealousy, and unrelated male bystanders out of expedience. This is not ammunition for an argument that he was a misandrist at heart—it’s evidence of the horrific extent of misogyny’s cultural reach.
*Correction, May 29, 2014: This post originally misspelled the last name of author Julia Serano and misstated the year her book Whipping Girl was published. It was released in 2007.