from Jean Calder

On 23rd May 2014 there was a premeditated mass sexist shooting in Santa Barbara, California, in which two women and one man died and 13 others were injured, seven very seriously.

Just prior to the shootings, the British-born murderer Elliot Rodger stabbed to death three men, two of whom were his flatmates.

The shootings weren’t random, but were targeted at women. In itself this is not unusual. College and school shootings in the USA are almost always carried out by young men – and many target women or girls, though the media often mask this by referring to the dead as “victims”, “students” or “people”.

In this case, Rodger had produced a ‘manifesto’ in which he referred to women as “bitches” and said that destroying them would “purify” humanity. He fantasised about becoming a dictator who could starve women to death in concentration camps. He bought his first gun in 2012 writing “who’s the alpha male now, bitches?” He planned to kill his male housemates and use their flat as his “personal torture and killing chamber”.

Just hours before the shootings he posted a video online setting out plans to “punish” all women, stating “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it.” He said “I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there.”

He added “I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male. Yes… After I have annihilated every single girl in the sorority house I will take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there….”

Finally, Rodger acted upon his threats. He drove as he had planned to do, to the Alpha Phi sorority house, a women’s residence. He attempted to shoot one young woman in the face, but missed. He killed two women outside the residence then drove away.

He began to spray the street with bullets, according to a witness appearing to target women. He killed a male shopper at a delicatessen. He accelerated away, hitting parked cars and pedestrians and shooting at bystanders. At one point he ran over a cyclist. Shot by police, he finally crashed and was found dead with a head wound.

Around the same time as the Santa Barbara killings, a gunman, apparently acting alone, shot and killed three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, seriously injuring a fourth. Journalists immediately began to speculate that this might be an anti-semitic attack. In the early days of investigation there was no evidence to this effect, other than the choice of building, but they quite reasonably started with the assumption that the killer’s motivation might be racist.

This was in stark contrast to the way in which the Santa Barbara killings were handled. There the focus was not Rodger’s clearly articulated misogyny and sexism nor his sense of entitlement to sex with non-consenting women, but the fact that he was a “virgin” and disturbed. There was even a hint that girls who had rejected or not noticed him might in some sense be to blame. Journalists addressed the need for gun control and improved responses to mental illness. However, none seemed willing to put Rodger’s declared hatred of women – or indeed male violence – under the spotlight.

Some journalists went so far as to deny Rodgers had targeted women, pointing out that he also killed men.This is true, but that’s no reason to think his “Retribution”, as he called it, any less an act of sexist and misogynist terrorism.

The gunman in Brussels shot and killed two Israeli tourists at the Jewish museum. However, should his other two victims turn out to be gentile rather than jewish, it certainly won’t stop journalists referring to this as an anti-semitic outrage. It would be absurd to do so – and dangerous.

Therefore it’s deeply troubling that similarly experienced journalists working for the same publications, who seem readily able to recognise possible anti-semitic violence, are apparently completely unable to identify or explore the lethal sexism of dangerous men like Elliot Rodgers.

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