The Santa Barbara shooter and poisonous ideals of masculinity

Rodger’s horrifying violence, the videos he posted, and the way he saw himself are all extreme. But they’re also a reflection of the way poisonous ideals of masculinity affect men. To some extent, I’ve felt the frustration Rodger felt, and I think other men may feel it as well. This is not an excuse for Rodger’s actions, but something more painful: a confrontation of the ways in which he’s not deviant, but typical. Acknowledging that seems like an important part of making sure this kind of thinking doesn’t remain typical any longer…

This equation of manhood with desirability and sexual prowess is just about everywhere in our society, from the priapic James Bond to the nebbishy, always rejected Clark Kent and his alter-ego, the ever-desired Superman. This rings true in my own experience, too. For me, being a virgin wasn’t painful because of the lack of sex or the lack of companionship. It was frustrating because of the sense that I was doing it wrong; that if I didn’t have a girlfriend, I was, like that old Marvel character, Man-Thing, a misshapen mockery of a man.

This kind of thinking creates a version of male identity that is bifurcated, or split in two. There is the man you should be, and then there is the failed, non-man thing you are. You can see this in ugly detail in Rodger’s videos, where he veers back and forth between outlandish claims of his own magnificence and despairing statements of his own inconsequentiality.