Research

The Danger of the Monster Myth – Tom Meagher

Tom Meagher is the husband of Jill Meagher, an Australian women who was raped and murdered by a complete stranger, Adrian Bayley on her way home from the pub in Melbourne in 2012.

He wrote an insightful essay about the assumptions we make about men like Bayley, who violate women in horrible ways.

By insulating myself with the intellectually evasive dismissal of violent men as psychotic or sociopathic aberrations, I self-comforted by avoiding the more terrifying concept that violent men are socialised by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.

Three days after Jill’s body was found, 30,000 people marched respectfully down Sydney Road. I watched on T.V as the long parade of people reacted to their anger at what happened to Jill with love and compassion, the very opposite of everything Bayley represents… People did care about this, and for whatever reason people identified with this particular case, it was something that I hoped could be universalised… for every instance of men’s violence against women. The major difficulties in mobilising this kind of outrage on a regular basis is that most cases of men’s violence against women:
1)     Lack the ingredients of an archetypal villain and a relatable victim,
2)     Are perpetrated and suffered in silence and
3)    Are perpetrated by somebody known to the victim.

While the vast majority of men abhor violence against women, those dissenting male voices are rarely heard in our public discourse, outside of the monster-rapist narrative. Indeed, the agency of male perpetrators disappears from the discussion, discouraging male involvement and even knowledge of the prevalence and diversity of male violence against women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ sounds like a standalone force of nature, with no subject, whereas ‘men’s violence against women’ is used far less frequently… male invisibility in the language of the conversation can be compounded by masculine posturing, various ‘bro-codes’ of silence, and a belief, through the monster myth, in the intrinsic otherness of violent men.

The monster myth allows us to see public infractions on women’s sovereignty as minor, because the man committing the infraction is not a monster like Bayley. We see instances of this occur in bars when men become furious and verbally abusive to, or about, women who decline their attention. We see it on the street as groups of men shout comments, grab, grope and intimidate women with friends either ignoring or getting involved in the activity. We see it in male peer groups where rape-jokes and disrespectful attitudes towards women go uncontested.  The monster myth creates the illusion that this is simply banter, and sexist horseplay.

The idea of the lurking monster is no doubt a useful myth, one we can use to defuse any fear of the women we love being hurt, without the need to examine ourselves or our male-dominated society. It is also an excuse to implement a set of rules on women on ‘how not to get raped’, which is a strange cocktail of naiveté and cynicism. It is naïve because it views rapists as a monolithic group of thigh-rubbing predators with a checklist rather than the bloke you just passed in the office, pub or gym,  cynical because these rules allow us to classify victims. If the victim was wearing x or drinking y well then of course the monster is going to attack – didn’t she read the rules? I have often come up against people on this point who claim that they’re just being ‘realistic’. While it may come from a place of concern, if we’re being realistic we need to look at how and where rape and violence actually occur, and how troubling it is that we use a nebulous term like ‘reality’ to condone the imposition of dress codes, acceptable behaviours, and living spaces on women to avoid a mythical rape-monster.

He makes it excellent point about “didn’t you read the rules?” – someone somewhere will always find a reason to suggest a woman’s complicity in her own attack. Like The Guardian report Melissa Davey says, “Darkness, clothing, or walking alone can not kill women. But men can, and do. It is up to men not to harm, not women to change their behaviour. The still pervasive attitude is that there are certain times of day and places where women should not go, because men may not be able to control their behaviour.”

It’s a narrative that we hear again and again – if women just did good things, men wouldn’t do bad things, therefore women are responsible for the bad things men do.

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