How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How do you expose an undermining, but insidious, practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?
The enigma – millions of survivors of sexual assault with few incarcerated offenders – begs the question: where are all the rapists?
The legal definition of violence is changing, but is our legal definition of violence our best choice for guiding us in living wholesome lives? Historically, our culture has afforded greater power, material gain, and informal benefits through power structures, cultural practices and systems that favor the idea of masculine superiority over feminine competence.
Masculinity, like femininity, is a social construct. Both identify themselves through manner of speech, behavior, gestures, social interaction and defined roles that include divisions of tasks. While these constructs have widened in definition over time, their mere existence supports a defense of one in favor of the other, and ultimately has produced hegemonic masculinity which shelters the practice of rape and rapists.
Hegemonic masculinity is a cultural idea that is impressed and internalized by the population as the ideal masculine expression. It includes such attributes as heterosexuality, emotional restraint, toughness strength, aggressiveness, competitiveness, and achievement-orientation. Hegemonic masculinity has allowed these attributes to dominate the cultural idea of man and, therefore, woman. A hegemonic picture of a man might look like the easy-going all-star football player, or the select all American ivy league with academic excellence, or the high-powered executive with social privilege. While only a small percentage of the population will embody this picture, it nonetheless becomes the cultural ideal and is reinforced more symbolically then literally. Such symbols have great authority and inform decisions such as how a person who has acted in violence shall be treated informally and formally, as well as how one on whom violence was perpetrated will behave informally and formally.
Therein lies the answer to the question: where are all the rapists? They are among us. Sheltered in our cultural construct that supports gender hierarchy, emphasis on the agency of one gender over the others, and high recognition for stereotyped masculine behavior that leads to privilege and power.
Won’t you consider gender democracy for the sake of a safer, saner world?
Tami Boehle-Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBBCH, HTP, a licensed psychotherapist in Boulder Colorado at attentiontoliving.com has challenged herself in 2016 to post weekly about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at attentiontoliving.com