|Photo credit: Lindowyn Stock|
I've been seeing a common underlying idea lately in a lot of discussions about violence against women. It's an idea that explains a lot of what appear to be blindingly sexist--or just baffling--ideas about why violence happens, what it looks like, and what steps society should take against it. I'm going to call it the Slavering Beast Theory.
In the Slavering Beast Theory, there are two kinds of men. Two species, nearly. (I've seen people go so far as to claim that Slavering Beasts are the result of evolution, which might make them literally a subspecies.) There are ordinary guys and there are Slavering Beasts. And they are very, very easy to tell apart. They act different, even look different, to the point where any adult should be able to distinguish them in any casual social setting.
You don't have to have a PhD in Racismology to sniff out one idea often lurking beneath the surface here, but "frat boys" and "dudebros" are often suspected of being Slavering Beasts too, along with a lot of mentally ill people, counterculture members of any stripe, and sometimes even geeks. But I don't want to make too much of this, because Slavering Beast diagnostics are almost always ex post facto--he committed violence? Well, no wonder, he's a Slavering Beast! You should have seen it coming!
Slavering Beasts have a couple other characteristics, besides being dangerous and easy to spot:
•They are brutal. If they want to hurt you, they will physically beat you and leave marks.
•They are isolated. Nobody's son, father, best friend, favorite teacher, or golf buddy is a Slavering Beast.
•They are consistent. They are cruel to everyone, and have no history of positive relationships.
•They are inarticulate and bad liars. They never have a convincing alibi or a genuinely sympathetic personal story.
•They are useless. They never have any impressive life accomplishments or any exceptionally good qualities.
•I am not one. I'm here talking to you, right? So obviously I'm not a Slavering Beast.
If a person does not meet these criteria, they are not a Slavering Beast. Which means that they would never commit violence. Maybe if they were pushed to their absolute limit for a very good reason, but they would never be predatory. That's a Beast thing.
This dichotomy is how someone can simultaneously believe that women shouldn't go out after dark because rape is such a big problem and believe that tons of rape accusations are false. It makes perfect sense if you believe there are Slavering Beasts out in the dark, but if an ordinary guy is accused of rape, there must be more to the story. It explains why people are angered by rape prevention tips aimed at men--those are insulting to ordinary guys, and Slavering Beasts won't listen. And it justifies the belief that abuse victims had it coming: either they were abused by a Slavering Beast and should have known better, or they were abused by an ordinary guy and must have done something terrible to provoke him.
More than anything, it gives people a way to say "I'm not a Slavering Beast, so none of this applies to me." Learning about gaining consent or recognizing abuse is pointless--Slavering Beasts will always be violent for no reason and ordinary guys never will.
Fighting this attitude without looking paranoid or accusatory ("any guy could be a rapist" seems to hit some ears as "every guy is a rapist") is tricky. But it's necessary. It's necessary to prevent rape--to teach people that they do have to worry about whether they, personally, are getting consent, even though they are nice people. And it's necessary to punish rapists--to break down that mental barrier protecting Julian Assange and Roman Polanski and umpty-zillion sports players, the one that says "a likeable person who's done good things can't possibly commit rape." Finally, it's necessary to stop blaming survivors for not having the psychic powers to know they were going to be assaulted.
This is personal to me, because I just found out that someone I knew well--someone I would never have suspected of it, a guy who was the absolute opposite of what you think a "ticking time bomb" looks like--had the cops called on him for beating his girlfriend. But I'm resisting the knee-jerk response of insisting there must be some mistake, some extenuating circumstance, some "other side of the story." The story is he was a jokey friendly guy and he beat up his girlfriend. Rape and abuse are acts, not people, and it's impossible to know a person so well that you know exactly which acts they can engage in. (ETA: There were outside witnesses and she was injured; this was not a he-said-she-said case.)
This is why I don't like the statement "she didn't get raped because of something she did; she got raped because she was in the presence of a rapist." I think we need to say "she didn't get raped because of something she did; she got raped because her attacker decided to rape her.
Edit: I deliberately didn't include female or queer perpetrators of violence here because I think they don't get fit into the same stereotypes, and a friend pointed out on Twitter that this is another harm of the whole "bad men do bad things" myth--it casts straight men as the only possible Slavering Beasts.