Elliot Rodger in his final video
Elliot Rodger in his final video

 

At the end of one of his many online videos, Elliot Rodger asks his female classmates, “I’m such a nice guy. Why won’t you give me a chance?” On Friday night, Rodger committed a drive-by shooting killing three people in a student neighborhood near the University of California at Santa Barbara. Three more bodies were found in his apartment complex.

Since the shooting, Rodger’s YouTube account has become a sort of haunted house for those who want to understand the warped reasoning that motivated him. The lurking specter of modern rape culture hangs over most of his blog posts, in which he mused on his unfulfilled romantic and sex life while at UCSB. In his last video, he announced that he would be punishing women for not dating him by targeting sorority members.

A recurring motif in these cyber monologues is the problematic Nice Guy myth, or idea that women are only attracted to guys who treat them poorly. “Nice guys,” or men who truly value and respect women, are unjustly looked over by women for romantic relationships and often kept in the “friendzone.” Throughout his video diaries, Rodger identifies with the mythical “nice guy,” describing himself as “polite” and a “gentleman” who just can’t seem to get a girlfriend. He expresses shock that his female peers go after “obnoxious brutes,” which he uses as justification for his frustration and disgust with the opposite sex.

The narrative might seem innocent enough, but it slyly asserts that women are myopic masochists who are hardwired to date assholes. Perhaps more importantly, it establishes a messed up value system in which women owe guys romance and sex for not being a jerk. There’s a popular unattributed proverb in blog posts and think pieces about nice guys that summarizes the concept well: “Women are not vending machines that you put kindness coins in until sex falls out.

Of course, this myth was not the only, or even the main, thing responsible for what happened on Friday. For one, Rodger’s view of women seems to have been a Frankenstein’s monster of various narratives popular among men’s rights groups with which he was affiliated. The nice guy narrative is then only a piece of the puzzle. Moreover, Rodger had mental health issues and was seeing multiple therapists, so it is not as if rape culture drove him to violence all by itself. Many have pointed out, though, that the sexist tall tales that men’s rights groups like to spin probably exacerbated and perverted the anger and loneliness he felt as a result of his illness.

But it’s worth focusing on the Nice Guy narrative because it’s one of the most insidious elements of modern sexism. While it may not be as blatantly misogynistic as rape jokes or victim-blaming, the subtlety makes it all the more dangerous. Many commenters on Rodger’s videos who condemn his actions have nevertheless expressed a disturbing sense of solidarity with his complaint about women’s fabled preference towards “obnoxious brutes.”

If this had happened when I was in high school, I would definitely have agreed with these YouTube pundits. It was a trope that I had seen over and over again in TV shows and movies: the sweet sensitive guy pining after the silly girl who’s dating a jerk. Many of my friends shared my thoughts, and we considered ourselves pretty progressive when it came to women’s rights. Although the nuances of rape culture were not a common topics among us high school boys, we understood that “no means no” and women deserve equal footing with men.

But the problem was that we thought equal rights and saying no to rape was all that there was to creating a safe environment for everyone. If we believed in these things, then there was no way we were making a sexist faux pas for asserting that some of us were simply too nice to get with girls.

This is all to say that when we talk about the factors that ended up perverting the thoughts of a lonely college student, we shouldn’t focus on his overt hate of women. Only fringe groups believe that women deserve malice, and simply attributing Rodger’s actions to misguided disgust toward women only scratches the surface of the problem. We will likely never convince anti-women groups that misogyny is wrong, but what we can do is stymie the myths in mainstream culture that feed into their hate, preventing them from seducing other troubled young men like Rodger. The myth of the Nice Guy is a good place to start.

The original post erroneously stated that six people died as a result of the drive-by shooting. In fact, three died as a result of shooting, and three more were found in Rodger’s apartment complex. 

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2 Comments

  1. “What the tragedy on Friday tells us about rape culture” oh please, even the Politic is trying to capitalize on this terrible massacre? Rape culture and even the “nice guy myth” are serious topics, but using the ravings of a clearly mentally ill murderer as a jumping-off point for this discussion comes off just as crass as all the mainstream media outlets doing the same thing.

    Oh and there were 7 total people who died, 3 stabbed in the apartment, 3 shot on the street and the murderer himself. Please, Politic editors, do some simple fact-checking before you publish.

    1. Thank you for bringing this up; I think your comment gets at a debate that is currently being discussed in comment sections and Facebook posts across the Internet. The question over whether this is being politicized (I realize that your term “capitalizing” might insinuate something slightly different and darker – I would love to hear your thoughts if you think that is the case) is definitely valid and worth discussing.

      I have to admit that I had similar doubts as you when I first started writing this. Trying to make sense of tragedies in the way I’ve done here may unintentionally come off as a sign of disrespect for those who lost their lives. I do apologize if I’ve offended you.

      Yet, I feel as if mass hate crimes in the past shine a light on this issue. In 2012 Wade Michael Page committed a mass shooting at a Sikh temple. Page was a prominent neo-Nazi who was active in the white power music scene, though psychologists who evaluated him while he was in the army say he was likely mentally ill and had shown multiple red flags for the crime he would later commit.

      Just because Page was mentally ill, in my opinion, does not diminish the important conversations that resulted about how white power music often serves as a gateway drug for troubled adolescents and how the large concentration of hate group acolytes in the army may radicalize soldiers with little history of racism.

      Many of the perpetrators of mass hate or politically motivated crimes are in fact mentally ill, just like Rodger and Page. Norway shooter Anders Breivik and Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan both almost certainly had mental health issues, but then I think it’s all the more important to look at how hate and terrorist groups can and do take advantage of mentally ill people and any cultural trends in broader society that direct such troubled men to seek out these groups.

      Now this is not to say that all mentally ill people are capable of mass murder, or that all mass murderers have a specific DSM mental illness. Plus, commentators have made the valid point that Rodger may have committed murder even if he didn’t associate with anti-women groups. But the fact that certain tropes in society reinforce the doctrines that anti-women groups hold would seem to be an important issue if it legitimizes their movement among troubled young men. The nice guy myth is most definitely not the single motivator of Rodger’s crimes, but if you read his manifesto it certainly seems as if signals from mainstream culture led him into the arms of hate groups.

      I would be very interested to hear you further elaborate on your comment. Do you think my logic is flawed?

      *Also, thank you for pointing out the factual inaccuracy in the post. I was reading the news reports incorrectly, which I really should have caught before I published this.

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