Elliot Rodgers: A Disease Model And Responsibility

I’ve been following reactions to the Elliot Rodgers shooting, and the #YesAllWomen hashtag it inspired.

As women share their experiences with harassment, misogyny violence, and cultural biases towards women, I’ve also seem many questions come up.  Was Rodgers mentally ill, what other things influenced him, can we blame misogyny if he was mentally ill, and of course who is responsible, etc.  As you can guess I’ve been following this in case you hadn’t noticed from my posts on the subject (one of which made it to Comics Bulletin).

From what I can tell (and this may update) he was troubled, he did get some therapy, he seemed aware of what he was doing, he may have been on the spectrum, and I’m frankly not sure what was up with his family.  However nothing happens in a vacuum.

Now let me state that I consider Rodgers responsible for his actions as he seemed clearly aware of them.  But his horrible crime is calling attention to the world he inhabited, from our culture at large to the MRA/PUA forums that are so often documented at We Hunted the Mammoth.  That bears discussion, because as horrible as he seemed, his crime spotlights problems in cultural enclaves as well as our culture at large – as the #YesAllWomen hashtag notes, for many women, Elliot Rodgers was an extreme of something they’re used to.

So in discussing Elliot Rodgers, his crime, and the role of culture, I’d like to use a metaphor to clear up my take on it – and how we can help.

Let’s talk disease.


Imagine a society where a disease is extremely common.  People are used to it, and in many cases for a long time didn’t even realize it existed.  The disease had terrible effects, but people kept living and going on with their lives, they were born and died, and in general society went on.  It’s presence was really normalized and not even questioned.

Some were terrible infected, some lightly infected, but it was there and it was passed on.

Over time, people began realizing there was a sickness.  They sought cures or cured themselves, and over time people began realizing that something was wrong.  Folks began speaking up about the effects of this all-too-common illness.

In time it was treated, if in a terribly erratic fashion.  More and more people woke up to the fact something was wrong.  Parents made efforts not to infect their children (or make sure they weren’t as badly infected).  Some people managed complete cures, others managed to put the disease into remission with temporary flare-ups.  In times many people began realizing there was a sickness, though there were arguments over how bad it was, how infected someone was, and so on.

But there were those who didn’t want to be cured.  They thought the disease was normal, or they benefitted from it, or they didn’t know better, or they celebrated it out of a weird contrarianism, or they feared change.  Some of them were so extreme they mostly interacted with other infected people, and their diseases got worse and worse, and some who found them became easily infected.

However, by now people knew enough about the diseases that those who regarded it as normal or even something to celebrate were usually doing so as a choice.  They were presented a healthier world and option, and choose otherwise – some even recruited into their odd worship of the illness.


Misogyny is a cultural disease.  It turns people against each other, limits members of society, produces violence, restrains growth, dehumanizes us, and holds down the members of a society.  It’s out there, it’s out there in force, but people have been fighting it in whole or half-heartedly, and I think we’ve certainly reduced the infections, had remissions, and even had people get cured.  We’re more and more aware of it.

Elliot Rodgers was at least a troubled person if not someone who needed a lot more therapy.  At best he was a person who wasn’t able to cope and chose a dark path, at worst he had the mental equivalent of a compromised immune system.  Either way, the world of misogyny he waded into was a place where the disease was worshipped, and he got infected bad.

Wether he sought infection or was vulnerable, a cultural pathology was a gateway to him becoming a murderer.  It ended up in his bizarre manifesto which seems to be every misogynistic trope and fantasy I’ve seen on the internet, clearly pointing to how he was “infected” by the various anti-women groups.

Elliot Rodgers was infected with a problem of our culture.  Any debate really is about the method and how it could have been prevented, not if it existed.  He became the embodiment of a larger problem, an extreme case of an already extreme world.

So that’s how I view it.  Our culture has a disease that harms us, and we need to address it – and to do that we need to be aware and admit it. #YesAllWomen is a way to say “here are the symptoms, there is a problem, it is real, and it is true.”

In the end, Elliot Rodgers didn’t take responsibility, blamed a bunch of other people, and killed folks.

We can be responsible, fight the disease in others and ourselves.  But we have to listen.

As for taking action? Beyond some of the resources I posted:

  • If you’re male, honestly review your behavior and ask female friends/relatives if you’ve shown any misogyny.  Be open to criticism.
  • Call out misogyny when you see it.
  • Join an organization, donate to one, or otherwise get involved in something that assists fighting misogyny.
  • Support the #YesAllWomen hashtag.  I’m an admitted skeptic of hastags, but this one is getting attention, showing camaraderie, and also giving useful ideas and information.
  • Pay attention to gender politics when you vote, and look for people that support human rights versus those biased against genders.
  • Come up with your OWN advice and post it to get people to take action.  Let me know.


– Steven Savage