A suicide note in the gym bag pointed investigators to a website with a litany of complaints: Sodini was frustrated and angry that he wasn't dating or sleeping with women, and he shot three people and injured six others as revenge. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University, wrote about Sodini — and about angry men as varied as the school shooters at Columbine and Virginia Tech, fathers' rights activists and the Tea Party movement — in his book Angry White Men.
Not all of the men Kimmel describes are white. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was Korean-American, the first nonwhite ram shooter in more than a decade; Elliot Rodger, who shot three people and stabbed three more, was half Asian. But they're united by a central phenomenon that Kimmel describes as "aggrieved entitlement": a growing anger that privilege men once considered their birthright has slipped away as American society has become more equal, and a belief that they are justified in taking revenge against people who harmed them.
Despite Rodger's multiracial background, the Santa Barbara shootings are "a textbook case of everything I've been writing about," he said in an interview.
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What follows is a transcript of a conversation with Kimmel, slightly edited for clarity and length. They feel entitled, as white men, to the idea that this is their country, this is their world. What they inherited from their fathers and grandfathers, what they thought was their birthright was access to money, power, and women. It's not that they expected to have it, but that they felt entitled to it.
And so when they see others getting it, they feel like it's an injustice.
So you would hear aggrieved entitlement, for example, from Tea Partiers who say "Let's take our country back. That's what I mean by aggrieved entitlement: the sense that you are entitled to those things, and you're not getting them and other people are getting them.
And that's unjust and unfair to you. So it's a sense of white men's victimization. LN: But if Elliot Rodger isn't a white man — and he wrote about his half-Asian background in his manifesto, arguing that it held him back with women — how does he fit into this phenomenon? MK: It's so interesting how he uses his own race. When he is looking at "these white girls" who are with black or Latino or Asian guys, he identifies entirely as white.
When he thinks about it, he's of mixed race himself. He "sees" race when it is about others; with himself it's the class the BMW and gender his male entitlement that seems to hold sway. LN: You write about male economic entitlement, about political entitlement. It seems like what we're seeing in the Santa Barbara shooting is sexual entitlement.
MK: I have a chapter in which I talk about the prototype, the early instance, of something that reminds one of Elliot Rodger: George Sodini. He had posted almost the same kinds of complaints that Elliot Rodger posts. For example, "I haven't had a date in years, I haven't had sex in 20 years" — Sodini says — "I've been rejected by 30 million women. They've all turned him down. So he's getting his revenge. He's entitled to sex, they've turned him down, and he's getting even by going out and killing them.
And then, of course, killing himself. That's also a very big part of this plan, and part of the similarities among many of these guys. This is not simply mass murder; this is suicide by mass murder. His goal all along was to kill himself as well. MK: We expected our lives to look like the lives of our fathers or grandfathers — that we would work in offices that would look like the set of Mad Men.
That world is completely gone. All of the arenas in which men used to just be with other guys — the locker room, the boardroom, the operating theater, the college classroom — all of those areas have now been, from their perspective, invaded by women.
That's part of it: women's greater equality. But to someone like Elliot Rodger or George Sodini, the rules are if you play the game right, if you're good and clean and reasonably good-looking, you should be able to get a girl.
And it is absolutely baffling to Rodger or to Sodini that all these other guys get them. In his manifesto, Rodger constantly complains that he sees white girls with black guys, or Latino guys, or Asian guys. And he doesn't understand it — he's so much more deserving. That's part of what the entitlement sounds like.
LN: So how does this entitlement turn into violence? You write about violence as a way for angry men to prove their masculinity or overcome humiliations.
He feels humiliated by all of these women who go out with all of these undeserving guys, while he — and these are his words — "a perfect guy," "a supreme gentleman," gets rejected all the time and is still a virgin and can't get sex. He can't get a pretty white blonde girl to go out with him, even though he has a fancy car.
He's been emasculated by this, he's been humiliated. He says this quite clearly: I am so angry, I am going to get even with you.
Violence is the way you get even. The ideal of the American man is we don't get mad, we get even. Violence in this case is revenge.
It's retaliation. As he says, it's the day of retribution.
It's restorative. It's a way to retrieve your manhood. And when you do that, you go out in a blaze of glory.
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You don't just kill them, you take yourself too. You go out in that blaze of glory and then your manhood is magnificently restored to you.
LN: One thing you write about with regard to school shootings in particular is that there hasn't been the attention to gender and race and class with white, adolescent, middle-class guys that there might be in other cases. MK: When it's a white guy, it's always about mental illness. When it's a white guy it's always some kind of individual problem: "He was mentally ill.
Here's a thought experiment for you. And so seven police officers show up at Elliot Rodger's apartment. He was very polite and very deferential and the police officers take a look at him, and they asked if he ever thought about suicide.
'it's a way to retrieve your manhood': a cultural explanation of the santa barbara shooting
He says no. They leave. And he's sitting here shaking, the whole time, thinking, if they walk into my bedroom I'm in trouble because they'll see the arsenal I've accumulated. Just imagine for a moment if Elliot Rodger is black. Do you think if they'd be asking if he had suicidal thoughts?
Hell no. They would instantly have handcuffed him, and they would have searched his room and found all the guns and it never would have happened. LN: What will it take to have a broader conversation about cultural factors in a situation like this? MK: It will take us making race visible. How is it possible that a guy like this — it seems on its face sort of obvious that he's mentally ill. Anybody who runs around shooting other people, we assume they're mentally ill. So how is it this mental illness managed to sail just below the radar of virtually everybody except his parents, who tried to do something?
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Nobody noticed because he seemed like the rest of us. He seemed so "normal. So that when the police do come, they think, we got a call, it was credible, let's take a look. MK: I think it would be facile to argue the manosphere, as it's called, urged him to do this.
I think those places are kind of a solace for that sense of aggrieved entitlement.