No matter what else transpires in our relationship, she knows this.
I can hold her down.
In a long ago online discussion, Lenny insisted that government power always came down to the potential for violence. I argued otherwise, insisting that people could self-organize, agree to compacts, and generally overcome such dictatorial insistence.
“Ah, Steve,” he replied. “What happens when they don’t?”
A “train” of men – boys, really – performing a gang rape has a very explicit message. It isn’t a message of sex, though both the boys and their victims might think it is. One type of person is restrained, powerless. Another is not, despite their own uncertainty and insecurity. Or rather, perhaps because of that.
Long ago, we were social animals. It doesn’t matter if the mechanism for that is passed down socially or biologically; the end result is the same. We have a tendency towards chimp hierarchies – power structures based on social status that inform our sense of our own self worth. Those who manage to short-circuit it are either revered or cast out. In the meantime, the rest of us keep perpetuating the same old social contract. And sometimes, they don’t.
The reinforcing structures are so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible. Women are chopped up metaphorically in advertising and (visually) literally on film (Dreamworlds 3). The threat of rape hovers over each woman (Beneke), and solidarity with survivors is brutally discouraged through hysterical fascination and skillful deployment of defensive attribution or the Just World hypothesis. Whether intentional or not, the mythology and violation of the veneer of a just world then ties in to create the fear of stranger rape and serial murder in women (Caputi). In this, the directionless, faceless, leaderless male patriarchy has been more effective than most dictators; it is not actual violence, but the imagined threat of violence that keeps people in line.
Through the images of violence and degradation that can be easily seen permuting our culture, the mindset is set up (MacKinnon). By making violence sexual, such as with the rape lynchings in the South, the power structure is maintained (Hall). Even well-meaning people, trying to simply protect those they care for, can be sucked into this pervasive power structure. Even if we actively fight against it, even if we know better, it still lurks in the back of our minds.
This is not an ideal world. This is not a world where we can ever start afresh, where we can start anew. This is a world with context and history.
This is a world where, in her bones, she knows.
I can hold her down.