Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger’s lengthy manifesto and digital footprint shed some light on his beliefs. Rodger used the terminology and ascribed to many tenets of so-called "men’s rights activists," or MRAs.
So what are MRAs? What is it about these groups that attracts someone like Elliot Rodger?
The roots of the modern Men’s Rights Movement, or MRM, dates back to the 1970s. The men’s liberation movement was a group of men who read feminist theory and critiqued the existing structure of masculinity. The group quickly split into two branches: The pro-feminist men’s movement and the MRM.
The MRM was a counter-movement to feminism: As women gained expanded rights and liberties, men felt threatened. They decided they needed an advocacy group to protect their rights and prevent women from oppressing them. The original Men’s Rights Activists, or MRAs, believed in traditional gender roles and a family unit where the father worked and the mother stayed home with the children. They saw feminism as a direct threat to those things.
Men’s rights websites are part of a larger corner of the Internet referred to as the "manosphere." It includes MRM outlets and forums and pickup artist (PUA) sites. Rodger was an active poster on the now-defunct PuaHate.com, which criticized the PUA movement for not being effective enough to get them laid. He also subscribed to a number of PUA channels on YouTube.
Not all pickup artists are men’s rights activists—and vice versa—but there’s a lot of overlap in their ideals and attitudes. In his videos and manifesto, Rodger used the phrase "alpha male" repeatedly and called other men "betas"—terms that are used by MRAs and PUAs to describe themselves and other men. Rodger’s overwhelming misogyny and deeply rooted hatred of feminism are characteristics any MRA would appreciate.
So while Rodger may not have actively identified as a men’s rights activist—he seemed too preoccupied with his own life to care about other men, beyond whether or not they were having sex with women—he most certainly behaved like one.
The MRM is largely anti-feminist and a number of mainstream MRM websites are classified as hate sites by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The men’s rights movement of today focuses primarily on issues like divorce, fathers’ rights, false rape reporting, domestic violence and instances in which they feel women receive superior treatment compared men, including in education, reproductive rights, and health care. Here’s a quick breakdown on their opinions on these issues:
Divorce: Women are still eligible for child support payments and alimony, and according to MRAs, they receive too much of both. They say women overwhelmingly "win" divorces because of a radical feminist agenda.
Father’s rights: In divorces, MRAs allege women receive a disproportionate amount of custody and that fathers are prevented from seeing their kids as often as they’d like. Conversely, when an unplanned pregnancy occurs, men cannot legally force the woman to have an abortion or protect themselves from ever having to pay child support. Women who get pregnant may give the child up for adoption without the consent of the father in some states.
False rape reporting: Many MRAs believe women file false rape reports to punish men. (MRM site A Voice for Men has a page solely dedicated to "false rape culture.") They estimate that up to half of all rape reports filed are false, and that women "cry rape" to get attention or to get back at someone. (In reality, a number of studies have shown rape has the same percentage of false reporting as any other crime—roughly 2-8 percent.) Online, MRAs are quick to bring up false reports any time someone talks about rape.
Domestic violence: MRAs say domestic violence against men is not taken seriously enough by law officials or judges. One site said courts are beholden to the "Domestic Violence Industry." The fact that most law officials and state court judges are also men tends to be left out of these discussions.
A large segment of the MRM believes in rigid gender roles, and they look down on men they consider effeminate or homosexual. Feminism and women’s liberation are part of a scheme to undermine men and masculinity and feminize male children. Overall, MRAs distrust women and their motives, and encourage others to do the same—or as they call it, "take the red pill."