Elliot Rodger and Intersectionality. Fighting “the shrug.”

A representation of possible
intersections. Not representative of Rodger.

The murders in California and the subsequent #YesAllWomen hashtag (an overview) have, appropriately, dominated my social media world since it happened. For some, the murder is a clear call to action – but to act where? How? For others, the response has been to shrug, to say, “it’s complicated,” or just to say the guy was crazy, it’s tragic, but what can we actually do?

Who is to know, such voices ask, why he did it and what we ought to do in response?  For some, this shrug of “what can we do?” is genuine. For others, though, it’s a strategy to keep attention OFF of misogyny or gun violence, in particular (two fields relevant to this crime on which large groups of people do not want attention focused). “The shrug,” as I’m calling it, serves the pro-gun and misogynistic status quo.

It turns out, though, that feminist theory has (since the late 80s) come up with a way to proceed through this morass of fields, ideas, and complexities: intersectionality

I hesitate mentioning the feminist origin of this concept, as it will immediately turn some people away, but perhaps that’s important to acknowledge as well. It emerged as a way of talking primarily about race, class, and gender together, then sexuality, and now any other relevant field. It allows us to say – today, I am focused on one topic, but I acknowledge the others exist. More importantly, I see that they interact.

I see clear arguments to make the UCSB killings about misogyny, about guns, about class, about mental illness. And that’s why the concept of intersectionality is so important – it allows us, when confronted with life, which is always complicated, to get past the almighty shrug.

Intersectional thinking allows us to:

…take his misogynistic words and link them to other groups who say the same things, and say that perhaps these trends in our culture matter, but that we tend not to notice the quotidian horrors and only the extraordinary, and maybe think about what it might take to classify such as hate groups and how we might want to respond after that, given that MRAs (Men’s Rights Activist – here’s a not-objective primer on the movement) and their ilk have regular access to mainstream discourse (as opposed to white power, for example)

…consider access to guns and whether it is reasonable to advocate for a policy that might have allowed the police to easily realize that he had been buying guns and ammo after the police received a call from his parents.

…think about the limitations of psychiatric care and how we might do better with people experiencing these kinds of issues and try to better integrate, if that was indeed his needs.

….think about the complexities of class privilege, race, bullying and all the other categories that intersected in this lone, deranged, killer.

Then ask – in which of these fields might we reasonably do better?

I personally have spent many hours in my context as a writer about gender talking to MRAs, trying to see their side of the story, trying to find common ground. I wonder if it’s time to shift and deal with them as I do antisemites and the white power folks who, like MRAs, do sometimes notice real problems with their lives but blame them on the wrong things and inspire fringe members to direct acts of terror. 

I’m thinking about it.

Intersectionality matters. We can focus on the controlling ideology of misogyny that underlies this particular crime without losing sight of the intersections.

In case you aren’t convinced, here’s another way of looking at it:

On Saturday, three people were shot at a Jewish Museum in Brussels. There may be many things involved with the shooter, but it’s reasonable to suspect antisemitism is part of the cause. A month or so ago three people were shot near Jewish community center in Kansas City. It was reasonable to suspect antisemitism was the cause, and it was, even though one can certainly argue the killer was mentally ill and could have done the killings without firearms, and even though he actually killed Christians.

It’s necessary, in the wake of such killings, to think about the ways that antisemitism is replicated in our country and what we might do to change attitudes.

In Isla Vista, a man said misogynistic things – he hated women, he hated men who had access to women – and then he killed people. Like the killers in Kansas City and Brussels, we can note that other factors matter.

It is necessary, however, to think about the ways in which his ideology is replicated in this country and what we might do to change attitudes.

Note: heavily updated with an explanation of intersectionality after 10:00 CST 5/26:

5 Replies to “Elliot Rodger and Intersectionality. Fighting “the shrug.””

  1. Kathy Bundy says:

    One of the most heartening developments I've seen recently is the "Moral Monday" movement taking place where I live in Raleigh NC, and around the state. While the focus is on the Republican legislation that swept through the General Assembly last summer, the foundation of this movement is based in a groundswell that started in previous administrations. It is a conscious and growing coalition that demonstrates the intersectionality of all people who are being adversely affected by political policy decisions. Started by the NAACP, it grew tremendously in 2012, when the Amendment One same-sex marriage battle brought in many more people who had not previously seen themselves allied with that organization. In face of voter restrictions, medicaid denial, anti-labor and anti-immigrant policies, closing of abortion clinics, and severe rhetoric and cuts to the public education structure, formerly disparate groups are seeing themselves as connected to a whole and coming together for direct action. In this, I see great hope.

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