Dangerous Creatures

Oh, goody. Yet another thread has grown swollen with the terrible, terrible concern that it’s a mark of sexism for a woman to entertain even a passing thought that an unknown man could turn out to be a rapist. I’ve said everything I wanted to say on the particulars of the situation in the comments there, except for the following. This was originally posted here.

I was sitting down with a very good friend of mine the other day for a much-needed catch-up session. He said, “My mother’s behaving better. I’m starting to think I might not have to kill her and bury her in the back yard.”

He looked down, then back up. “The sad thing is that I could.”

I just nodded. That last part wasn’t news. I’ve got a pretty good idea what my friend is capable of. It doesn’t bother me, though, except to the extent that it bothers him, because I also know the resources and creativity he applies to avoiding the violence he could unleash. I’ve seen it over the last several years that he’s been in this ugly situation.

People who understand their own violence rarely scare me. I reserve my fear for the people who think they “could never do anything like that.” That includes both the “good people” and the ones who preen and posture about how tough they are because they aren’t really sure.

People who don’t understand that they’re capable of violence don’t know:

  • Where their own personal landmines are, those triggers that turn us from the relatively sane and rational creatures we are on a day-to-day basis into creatures churning with adrenaline.
  • How to recognize situations that need to be de-escalated before the momentum of the participants makes violence inevitable, to know which arguments are headed for fights and which crowds are ready to turn into mobs.
  • How to disengage, to shut off their own impulses and egos long enough to get away.
  • How to defuse, to know when to divert someone, concede to them or otherwise manipulate a situation to make it less likely to explode.
  • How to keep their head in a violent situation and shut it down quickly with minimal damage to bystanders.

People who “aren’t like that” also don’t understand how much violence they commit on a daily basis. Damaging gossip, pointless insults, condescension, and aggressive posturing–in person or, worse, in a vehicle–all of these are behaviors that have a victim and the potential to leave lasting marks. The people I know who accept that they’re potentially violent rarely perpetrate any of these petty assaults, and never blindly. They can’t pretend, even to themselves, that these behaviors are anything but violent.

No, there are just too many good reasons to accept that we are violent creatures and to get, not comfortable, but familiar with that violence before it can come into play. This is why part of the discussions around Silence Is the Enemy confused and disturbed me greatly. The general unwillingness to consider the possibility that under certain circumstances one could be incited to rape, particularly in the face of evidence that many, many people do rape under those circumstances, feels very much to me like part of the problem.

Yes, it’s an uncomfortable thing to think about. Yes, rape is a greater taboo in our society than other kinds of assault. But refusing to look at this squarely simply means that we’re not as prepared as we should be to stop the problem before others are victimized, and it needs to stop.

Or as I said to a nice young man at the Quiche Moraine launch party (yes, really, I do this sort of thing to people), “It seems only fair. After all, I can guarantee that you don’t know any women who have never thought of themselves as potential rape victims.”

Dangerous Creatures
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14 thoughts on “Dangerous Creatures

  1. 1

    I cannot speak to the potential for rape. I can speak to the potential for violence – personally. Many years ago, my daughters about 9 and 11, [they are about 50 now] I considered myself potentially a Quaker. We had a small apartment over a store on a Bloor Street in Toronto. And, yes, I kept myself aware of my surroundings at all times. That’s what a single woman did, back then. It may have been Toronto the Good, but it was still Toronto. Sitting, reading of an evening, the girls in bed, I thought I heard a noise at the door to the street. My brain shut off. I found myself standing at my apartment door at the top of the stairs with my butcher knife in my hand and a very clear picture of the extreme inconvenience I would cause the invader. I had a full plan of the mark of Zorro across the abdomen. And I shoved the door open.
    Well, happily for all concerned, there was no one there, and the door to the street was, indeed, locked, as I had thought I had left it. But I had to admit that I was definitely not any form of Quaker.
    I have spent a lot of my life endeavoring to cause no harm. When you are aware of your own potential, you do that.
    By the way, I was, then, the original 5’2″ 100 lb dainty female. I now am twice the woman I used to be (just no taller).

  2. 2

    Highschool very nearly incited me to violence, and one co-worker nearly incited me to violence. I got a heavybag (aka kicking bag) for the express purpose of having a physical outlet when a constructive channel just wasn’t going to cut it.

    I was the bottom of the pecking order in grade school, socially. In highschool, me and my group of friends were the kids people feared would become the next ‘columbine’ kids (I was in 11th grade, I think, when columbine happened).

    I tend to be aware of my transgressions against other people. Cutting someone off on the road, condescending tone of voice, pretending not to hear and walk away from people I don’t want to deal with.

    I could be wrong, but I tend to think if I was going to snap and attack somebody, I would have done so by now. I can imagine situations where I could hurt other people, but those are usually fantasy constructed by the subconscious and have little to do with reality. I have a very firm grasp on the difference between fantasy and reality.

    I hope that made sense, I had to step away to take care of things a couple times and the train of thought may have switched tracks unintentionally. I also hope I didn’t manage to be pointless.

  3. 3

    There is a line from the Wizard of Oz (The book, not the movie), which I found very haunting.

    Thereafter [the tin woodsman] walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.

    “You people with hearts,” he said, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful.”

    I have learned the hard way, that I am capable of much evil. I was a friendly pacifist child, the one who never would. Bullying twisted that to a dark rage-filled core of resentment, but that self-image blinded me to what I was capable of.

    Since then, I’ve learned the hard way that I am not the saint I once believed myself to be. I once thought I could never be a racist; I have since learned many of the hidden nooks and crannies of privilege, and realized all the ways I have hurt people without realizing. In an online world where relationships and sexual adventure came easier, I found myself capable of duplicity and adultery. I found selfish entitlement and bitter resentment festering and manifesting itself in dark and unsavoury ways. Where I once thought myself a pacifist, I found myself dreaming of Columbine martyrdom long before Columbine actually happened. Where I once dreamed I was a hero, I have learned all the cowardly ways where I have gone with the flow, instead of making a stand.

    Still, trying counts. The effort counts. I personally can’t feel like I can forgive what I did as a child or a young man, but I can at least see what I did as mistakes, and not innocent actions. I can try to do better, and try to channel my actions into more constructive ways.

  4. 4

    I actually had to evict my father from my brother’s wedding. He could be a stereotypical Irish drunk at times, and I was able to march him away because we’d been through this before. I’m offering this as an example of a display of merely implicit violence, which only worked because we both knew I could back it up with the real thing, which I learned from him and which, truth be told, we both enjoyed to some extent. We were pretty good friends.

  5. 5

    When my second daughter was a babe, she would hardly ever sleep for more than two hours in a row. Aditionally, her older sister would time her nap to exactly the time when the little one was awake and vice versa.
    Being alone for most of the week (I’m a part-time, single mum ;)) I was seriously suffering from sleep-deprivation and I was losing touch.
    When people hear about parents hurting babies, their usually reaction is that “no normal person would do that”.
    When I found myself crying with rage, anger and agression towards a newborn, who obviously did everything in her power to control and bully me, I found out different.
    It was the moment I realized how those things happen. I got myself together, shouted at my washing machine, had a good cry and got in control again.
    But the moment before, in my mind, there wasn’t an innocent baby and a mature adult. There was a small, cruel tyrant and a victim.

    If we take into ccount that most rapists don’t see themselves as rapists, it shows that we have to start much earlier than with “rape is bad”. Most rapists agree that rape is bad. Only they’re not rapists. She had provoked him, worn those clothes, flirted with him or cut his access to other women by marrying him and so on.
    I’m not excusing them citing my own example. I doubt that they have the combination of hormonal imbalance and sleep deprivation I was suffering at that time.

  6. 6

    Sweeping problems under the rug or hiding them in the closet is almost never the right solution. It’s painful and hard, but self analysis is key to ensuring that you avoid being violent, at least under what you’d rationally consider the wrong circumstances.

    If violence is what it would take to defend loved ones from harm, I would use it, and won’t apologize for that. However, I was once driven to punch someone not in defense of another, and that told me a lot about myself. That understanding has helped me avoid any further displays of the sort for the 20-some-odd years since.

  7. HS

    This is a refreshing way to think of it. I want to add one more thing about each individual’s capacity for violence, I’m sorry if it’s obvious. Recognizing this capacity means not only the emotional capacity (in the case of potential rapists, for instance), but also in the recognition of the individual’s actual physical or social power that could be used to cause harm.

    I was a violent little kid and got into a lot of fights when I was around 7 or 8. I always picked fights with bigger, older kids because I didn’t think I could actually hurt them, and to me it was a game. I was littler so they didn’t hurt me back, they were good kids that went to the adults and got them to make me stop. Some of them showed me the scars I left, 10 years later. A lot of people who make rape jokes, etc. don’t think they’re actually hurting anyone because a) they don’t think they’re emotionally capable of harming someone and b) they don’t recognize their own power.

    Dorothy, I grew up Quaker- it’s not that Quakers don’t have violent impulses, it’s more a practiced form of choosing other alternatives on principle. It takes years to practice peace, it’s an ongoing practice not a personality trait or one-time choice. Some are better than others at acknowledging this (there’s still a lot of repressed violence and anger floating around, usually where people conflate the two) but I learned a lot from veterans-turned-Quaker and the real old-timers. If you still feel drawn to that community, don’t let that stop you. If you decided afterwards that violence really was the best response to that situation and won’t brook discussion on that, then I would agree that maybe Quakerdom is not for you.

  8. 8

    I did take a look into that. A single mother working to support her children can use all the support group(s) she can find. They were quiet, loving people, but I was rather the coocoo in the nest and the fit wasn’t there. I had trouble with their concept of God. But then I had trouble with anyone’s concept of god.
    Time has settled that. T’ain’t none. It’s all just random. Otherwise I have to live with the concept that someone, some entity, inflicted my life on me. And I am just not going there. ‘Cause I would have to do something about that.
    Not that my life has been particularly bad, considering the lives of others. Just not the life I would have chosen or that I strived for. I am now 70, recently widowed, previously retired and back at work. My real hope is that I can find some way to finish my university education – but I have no intention of paying several thousand dollars per year to have someone ask me what I plan to do with it – being seventy and all. Yes, I now live in a University town. It’s a hope. But probably not feasable if I could even get a hearing. I have mildly looked into it (no discount for seniors) – but I would need an adviser who would allow me to sneak up on it. Because circumstances have prevented me from completing anything that I wanted just for myself. And I would rather not die just yet.

  9. 10

    These are conversations I wish people had more often.

    I have a history of violence. I grew up with my family occasionally trying to seriously maim me (my mother would get angry and try to use her hooked fingers to pop out my eyeballs and/or claw my face, and my father just beat me until his arm got tired when he felt I was uppity). They are religious, and for them, those things are intertwined. Beating me made them horny, which also intertwined violence with sex a little for me.

    I’ve been in several fights as an adult which involved knives and looked down the wrong end of two guns.

    I’m 5’4″ in my bare feet and female.

    I have zero doubt about my reactions in those situations; I am still alive, as well, if that says something about me. I also have zero doubt that I could hurt someone I love: physically, mentally and emotionally, in the same ways that I was hurt.

    I’d like to pretend I couldn’t, but I would be lying. I notice the potential for it everywhere, because that’s what my kind of childhood does for people. You see violence very well.

    And like the Tin Man, I step carefully because of it. I ask for consent. I check with people when I do most anything, and they tend to think I’m neurotic. They think I’m weird, or being silly. When I tell them why, they look at me like unexploded ordnance. I lose friends.

    We have this weird association between talking about violence and ‘making violence happen,’ as if you have to wish it on yourself or be a special kind of (bad) person to have violence happen to you. Fucking magical thinkers.

    I have resigned myself to the fact that I will have few friends, and I really treasure the friends I have who understand violence.

    They know what they are capable of and are committed to not getting there.

  10. 11

    Not sure where else to ask this but, is there any suggested reading on this topic for someone who’s interested in figuring out his own violent impulses and in learning more about why people become violent in general? Or is the topic to broad?

  11. wat

    I once read something about existentialism that likened the concept of angst to standing at the edge of a cliff and knowing, in your gut, that you are capable of impulsively throwing yourself off. That same feeling is what I get when I think about my own capacity for violence.

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