In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s senseless rampage in Southern California on May 23, 2014 there have been many debates that made me thoughtful. One of the most poignant issues that was raised is an age old debate between feminists and (for the lack of a better word) ‘traditionalists’. In her article, In a final videotaped message, a sad reflection of the sexist stories we so often see on screen, Ann Hornaday argues “movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire.” She used movies such as Neighbors as an example of the type of film that promotes unrealistic expectations that young men may have in regards to women and courtship. Judd Apatow, the director of Neighbors, and Seth Rogen, who stars in the film, both reacted to her article negatively. They believed that Hornaday was accusing them of inspiring this hideous, misogynistic crime when in fact she was making a comment about how media has a powerful influence to shape what people desire. I made a similar point in my unicorn chasing post. In my post, I argued that women are conditioned by the media to seek out the perfect man who will complete them, even though some of us know that we are merely chasing a mystical creature that does not exist. This tragic incident reminded me that men are also subjected to unrealistic expectations created by the media. Many bromance films, a genre Rogen and Apatow are affiliated with, paint a picture that college life should be filled with sex, fun and pleasure and that the “shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl”. Like romantic comedies, bromance films perpetuate traditional gender roles and set unrealistic expectations in love, romance and sex. Though Rogen and Apatow are not responsible for what had happened, they are a part of the racket that makes a profit by selling these fantasies. The problem is that the media is selling us these fantasies, and many of us do not have the awareness to refrain from buying into them.
Elliot Rodger represents a segment of society that has been fed with unrealistic expectations but not equipped to deal with the changing circumstances of society. Feminism has pushed for women’s role to change, but the fundamental structure of society has remained more or less intact. Women are no longer expected to be mere housewives and mothers- we can now have a career of our own. Some might argue that we are expected to juggle motherhood and career. Though women’s perception of themselves has changed and as girls are prepped for their changing role, men are subconsciously resistant to change because as boys, they are taught to hang on to their traditional gender role.
“Men want the sense of power more than they want the sense of freedom. They want the feeling that comes to them as providers for women more than they want the feeling that comes to them as free men. They want someone dependent on them more than they want a comrade.” Susan Faludi, Feminism for them?
This quote captures the essence of how many men subconsciously view themselves. Men as providers is the traditional gender role and it manifest itself in our popular media such as magazines, films and TV shows. Men of course know the rhetoric of feminism, and understand how to behave in an appropriate and respectful manner in public. However, many men derive power from being in the dominant position as provider to a woman and whether they are conscious of not, many of them still hold on to their traditional role, and act accordingly without realizing it. There is a tension between the changes brought forth by feminism and how many men perceive themselves. This is especially evident in the context of dating: As a woman, I am supposed to be submissive and at the same time, engaging; be naughty but also play hard to get. I am also supposed to ignore my own desires because I should allow a man to dominate me. This tension is confusing because it seems like society picks and chooses the benefits feminism brought forth in a way that benefits men. Men are only providers when it’s convenient for them. In the past, when I asked for emotional support from a boyfriend, I was labelled as ‘needy’ and ’emotional’. Feminism started a public dialogue about sex and remove the taboo associated with it (especially in urban, educated, westernized areas). In addition, feminism pushed to make birth control and abortion available to us, which has also reduced the chances of unwanted pregnancies. While this makes it easier for men to have sex with women, when a woman can have sex without the fear of pregnancy she isn’t beholden to a man in the same way. This threatens men’s dominant position as a provider for women, which could make many men uncomfortable. As a result, many women who embrace their sexuality are either reduced to mere sex objects or are slut- shamed.
Going back to Elliot Rodger, I can’t help but to think that his unspeakable crime reflects how sick our society is. There are a lot of reasons our society is dysfunctional, and I believe one of the main culprit for our sickness is our popular media. Elliot Rodger had a delusional view of himself and women, and our media and culture play a large part of how his views were shaped. He decided that he needed to kill women because he perceived himself as having no power over them, and was therefore made to feel inadequate as a man. The media portrayal of gender roles is incredibly damaging to the collective psyche and we need to have a conversation about how these portrayals are undoing the hard work of many feminists who are fighting for gender equality. Feminism has paved the way for women to be more visible in the public sphere, to free us from the confinement of our kitchen, to enable us to engage with the world in a more meaningful way outside of our homes. However, there is still a long way to go. As a feminist, I am not merely concerned the well-being and the rights of women, I am also very concerned about marginalized, alienated individuals such as Elliot Rodger. How do we, not just as feminists, but also as responsible citizens of the world, teach both men and women to be more critical of our wants and needs, rather than to be lazy and succumb to the poison the media feeds us? Feminists have given women a choice; should men also have the right to choose to deviate from their traditional gender role? I believe that until men can view their role differently, women’s role will never change completely, there will always be confusion, conflict and inequality between the genders. The Elliot Rodger incident is tragic, and yet this also brought important issues back into the public eye. How do we, as informed and critical individuals, make our popular media more accountable and responsible as participants in the larger conversation about gender? How do feminists help men embrace alternative identities for themselves? Wes actually started the conversation in Thanks a Gay Day post. However, I think he forgot to thank feminists, who fought along the LGBT movement to bring equality between gender and sexual orientations.