COMMENTARY | Elliot Rodger was a young man bent on destruction. He left a wave of evidence suggesting he had not been in his right mind for some time, ranging from his long “manifesto” to his ranting YouTube videos. He hated anyone who was more popular than he. According to CNN, Rodger murdered six college students in Isla Vista, California before committing suicide, beginning with his two roommates and one of their visiting friends before hitting the streets in his BMW. Dramatically, he had e-mailed many people his twisted “manifesto” shortly before his murder spree began, prompting a race against time as his parents frantically called 9-1-1 and attempted to head off their son.
What could have been done to stop Elliot Rodger? Unlike other spree killers, such as Adam Lanza, Rodger was socially proficient enough to convince police officers that he was not a threat during an April 30 visit prompted by concerns over his online postings. He planned his assault over a lengthy period of time. And, unlike other mass shooters, he did not purchase assault rifles, sticking instead to pistols.
An assault weapon ban will not stop a determined spree killer like Elliot Rodger, who is content using more compact weaponry. I do support strong gun control, but I must acknowledge that not all malicious individuals will be stopped. So what else should be done?
The aftermath of the tragedy has seen much media focus on masculinity and misogyny, questioning why men behave the way they behave. Many point to Rodger’s rampage as a horrific by-product of a culture of sexism and misogyny, with Rodger raging against women because he felt that he was “owed” sex. Others point to masculinity in general and its preference to blame external sources for one’s failures and discomforts in life. While women internalize unhappiness, they claim, men look for someone to blame. Throw in easy-to-access guns and you have a recipe for disaster.
As usual, many pundits and commentators are quickly jumping on political bandwagons. While sexism and gun culture may indeed share some of the blame in Rodger’s flavor or madness, we need look elsewhere for workable solutions to prevent other young men from sharing Rodger’s fate. Sexism abounds, as do guns, and America will not give them up. We love our sexism – yes, both men and women – and our guns.
What we need to do is develop more avenues for young men to seek mental health assistance without fear of judgment, isolation, or shame. We need to find ways to include young men who are struggling and try to provide them with wholesome, uplifting models of masculinity and socialization. Many teen boys and young men, like Elliot Rodger, may avoid seeking help because of the stigma attached. Boys who admit to having depression or other mental health maladies are often treated with apprehension, while girls who seek help for the same conditions are more openly accepted. A boy who is deemed mentally unstable is kept at arm’s length.
For all the problems there may be with traditional notions of masculinity, boys and young men desire, and will continue to desire, to meet them. Boys who are struggling should be able to access programs helping them learn to navigate masculinity and seek social proficiency. How many young men feel alienated because they know little about the ways of exuding confidence, trying to communicate with the opposite sex, and engaging in healthy banter?
Obviously, this is quite controversial. Many would say that trying to help awkward boys “fit in” by learning the ropes of traditional masculinity only entrenches gender stereotypes and sexism. Others, however, would argue that refusing to help socialize troubled young men will only lead to them being ostracized by both genders, furthering their isolation.
Most boys learn how to be boys and navigate the complex world of social, academic, and professional spheres. Some, unfortunately, do not, for various reasons. We need to make it okay for them to get help, with that help tailored toward allowing them to navigate these spheres. We need to make a concerted effort to make sure boys are getting a chance to “learn the ropes” of contemporary masculinity, for all its goods and ills. Some boys and young men may feel alienated by the prospect of going to therapy and violating accepted gender norms.
I am by no means a mental health professional, nor do I have any sort of extensive experience with mental health practices or theories. I have, however, been a young man who was struggling and worried about the stigma of “getting help.” Yes, I worried that it would make me seem like less of a man. Yes, I worried that it would not be “manly” and that I would reject it on those grounds.
Right or wrong, many boys and young men are thinking along those same lines. We must help them see that getting help is far better than not getting help, even if it means helping reinforce some traditional notions of masculinity we would rather not.