Movie tropes are a strange thing to think about when it comes to the #MeToo movement and sexual violence, but it’s come to mind as I’ve watched the unending denial and excuses surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation: the “well, he didn’t rape me,” “should someone be held responsible for something that happened when they were 17-years-old?” and the crowd favorite “why didn’t she come forward sooner?” defenses and victim blaming are endless yet entirely predictable. What people are ultimately saying is “he isn’t the *kind* of man who does things like that!” Because Rapists are always some swarthy stranger out there –some man with a knife who jumps out of the bushes — and never the boy next door — never the boy you call friend or the one the teachers believe has a bright future ahead of him. Yet, if you talk to any survivor of assault, most will tell you that they knew their attacker, that he/she didn’t come from some strange place outside — he/she was already in the house. And that is what makes me think of the killer inside the house. You know that trope, right?
There comes a moment in almost every scary movie where the camera pans in for a close up of our frightened protagonist. She is sobbing as she frantically paces about the cabin or house where she’s been stranded, bemoaning her fate or the recent demise of her best friends. The phone rings and the terrified heroine brings a cellphone or remnant house phone to her ear.”He..he..hello?” she gasps. A man’s distorted voice, low and gravely, responds. It’s the killer himself!
“Yo — You leave me alone!” she screams. But to no avail. The man has a plan and much to discuss. His laugh is a dark growl. She threatens to hang up — maybe she goes through with it. But the phone will ring again…and again…and again. And when the tension is as high and taut as a tightrope, the killer will plunge us into the beginning of the end (of this movie and perhaps, the heroine). You see, he’s not lurking outside in the storm, waiting for the right moment to strike. He’s not barred from entry by an alarm system or a menacing house pet. No, the killer is already *in* the house.
The problems that we as a society face, the ones that are quite literally destroying lives and killing us, aren’t caused by some wicked group of evildoers who can be easily detected and isolated (see Solzhenitzyn quote). The problems — the killers — are already inside the house. The roots are dug deep into every one of us. We are all — yes, even you — affected by, indoctrinated in, and complicit in these systems of oppression, whether we are discussing patriarchy, racism, or homophobia. Nobody grows up unscathed and unaffected.
I know this and you know this too. It’s why my father (and probably yours) was so strict about his daughters dating boys. “I was a boy once,” he would say, “I know what boys want; I know how they think. They only want one thing.” The disturbing dad-with-a-shotgun-first-date/prom-pictures tell me that this isn’t just a personal anecdote. Fathers are very particular that *their* daughters be careful around men. The thing that we fail (maybe purposely) to acknowledge is the reason behind all of these warnings to daughters. Fathers in specific, and men in general, are tacitly acknowledging that there is a way that boys are raised — a culture that encourages and praises men to be sexually promiscuous and dominant while simultaneously devaluing women and requiring chastity (I mean how many FB arguments have you had about women with multiple sexual partners being called hoes?). We make a grave mistake by believing that any of us can grow up unaffected in a world that objectifies women, devalues their work, and rewards men for anger, sexual conquests, and toxic masculinity.
Here’s the thing friends — men friends especially: our minds, psyches, motivations, desires, and actions aren’t formed in a vacuum. You – we all — are a product of the society that we grew up in. No matter how “Christian” your parents were, you can’t escape it. You are affected by the subtle and not so subtle advertising, movies, and music that indoctrinate you into rape culture and the patriarchy just like I am. Do me a favor and stop pretending that you as an individual are immune. None of us is.
Which means if we stand any chance at a better future, it will require each of us to start with ourselves – to recognize and dig out the roots that are so embedded in us. If we do not get rid of the patriarchy that lives in us then we’ll keep replicating the system that currently orders our world.