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.”