As a mental health advocate, a feminist, and as someone who has an avid interest in writing about narcissistic abuse, the Elliot Rodger case made my heart ache and my head spin. This case raised so many key social and political issues it was difficult to keep track of them all: misogyny, mental illness and gun control, to name a few. It led to a mass twitter movement under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, to document the horrific experiences of sexual assault, rape, street harassment and the everyday inequalities women face. It led to articles like this one talking about the importance of improving our mental health system to make sure that disturbed people like Elliot Rodger, who was most likely a narcissistic sociopath (although there is misconception that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s) get diagnosed and get proper treatment or care. It also reawakened an issue that’s been in the media for a while now, the issue of gun control and the failings of laws that facilitate access to weapons to potential perpetrators. There are arguments on all sides about which “issue” should be prioritized, which issue “caused” this disturbed man to instigate a mass shooting.
However, these arguments about which issue is most important is actually detracting from a multifaceted reality we have to face. They are all important (although perhaps not an equal amount) and interconnected. They all need to be examined in order to understand what occurred and why it did.
The Elliot Rodger case is indeed about the misogyny in our society and culture as well as the individual pathology that interacted with it. It is about the fact that women can be maimed, killed, assaulted, and even thrown acid upon because they reject sexual advances or marriage proposals from men. It is about rape culture, a pervasive and problematic set of ideologies, practices and values in our culture that normalize and trivialize sexual violence against women, shifting the blame from perpetrator to victim through mechanisms like slut-shaming, street harassment, and cyberbullying when women dare to speak out against it. Yes, there have been a number of women who are a part of the #YesAllWomen movement who have been unjustifiably harassed, stalked and threatened online due to their tweets. After participating in the #YesAllWomen twitter movement against rape culture with my own tweet, “Because the length of my skirt should not be seen as a measure of my consent #YesAllWomen,” I received a nonsensical tweet from an anonymous person who told me, “Studies prove that women who wear bright colors are looking to have sex. It indicates desire.” And this, my friends, is why we need a movement against rape culture and misogyny, and why these issues cannot be dismissed when speaking about the Elliot Rodger case. It is clear from the hateful responses of those who wish to demean this movement, and from Eliot Rodger’s own entitled rants, a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies is actually considered normal in today’s culture. With the normalization of this type of entitlement, Eliot Rodger’s own statements, are, as Jessica Valenti puts it, part of “the norm,” rather than the exclusive rantings of a psychopath. Society and culture owned this sense of entitlement to women’s bodies long before Eliot Rodger’s used it to justify his violence. Misogyny and the rape culture that accompany it are two issues are still very much alive and were manifested in this case.
This case is also about the failings of the mental health system and the trained officials such as law enforcement and mental health practitioners who failed to identify Elliot Rodger’s pathology even when it was reported to them by his own parents. Although we may never have an official diagnosis, Elliot Rodger appears to be an extremely disturbing example of a narcissistic sociopath. This is demonstrated by his grandiose sense of self, claims about how “awesome,” “magnificent,” “godly,” “beautiful” and “perfectly gentlemanly he is,” coupled with his ridiculous sense of entitlement, violation of the rights of others, lack of empathy as well as arrogant remarks dripping with misogyny and racism (which are part of grandiose sense of self and sense of entitlement). He even liked his own Facebook selfies. Red flag right there. Narcissists and sociopaths are all around us, and while they don’t always reveal themselves in such extreme ways, they are still malignant and capable of ruining lives. They work at our companies as charming and conniving CEOs. They are the emotional vampires and psychological abusers in our romantic relationships. They are the destructive, malignant politicians. They are the trolls on Twitter and Facebook. They can be anyone. They are the Elliot Rodgers in different forms. We must educate ourselves on this disorder as our culture is also becoming highly narcissistic and providing a conducive environment for this disorder to thrive and be rewarded. The development of psychopathology depends on an interaction between biological predisposition and the external environment, after all. Social media has become a popular mechanism to strengthen and solidify narcissistic urges, for us to “like” and post self-absorbed statuses, pictures, and videos. Although we are not all sociopaths and narcissists, a culture like this will do nothing to curb the development of such a disorder and its potentially life-threatening effects.
And of course, let’s not forget about gun control. Even in a state with restrictive gun laws, Elliot Rodger, someone who had been struggling with mental health issues, was still able to gain access to a gun. This issue also interacts with a failing of our mental health system to identify, diagnose and treat individuals properly. Without that knowledge, guns can be given to people like Elliot Rodger more easily than therapeutic treatment. Why is that? Why is the importance of being armed and the ability to defend ourselves more important than making sure that weapons don’t get into the hands of the wrong people? Why is it more important and more accessible to have a gun than to have access to effective mental health practitioners and treatment? Why is it more prioritized than say, training law enforcement officials better to recognize the signs of disguised psychopathology – something that could’ve helped prevent Elliot Rodger’s crimes?
What’s narcissism got to do with it? The same thing that misogyny, gun control, and the failings mental health system have to do with it. All these issues interact with one another and will continue to feed each other in a vicious cycle if we don’t speak out on their behalf and the victims that suffer at the hands of all of them. None of them can be discounted when discussing this case, although people can argue about which issue should be prioritized. The Elliot Rodger case has erupted in an explosive outpouring that has the potential to highlight social justice and sociocultural issues that need to be addressed. The time for change is now.
Shahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the former President of NOW-NYU and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma.