Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alleged Gay Basher Otherwise a "Good Kid" (Other Than That Time He Allegedly Attacked That Woman Of Course)

Previously, I wrote about how a 23-year-old college man allegedly attacked a lesbian woman coming out of a gay bar in Provincetown while calling her anti-gay slurs. Well, The Boston Herald is now reporting that friends and family from the alleged attacker's "well-heeled, waterfront neighborhood" are simply ShOcKeD by the charges because he's otherwise a "very good kid. Very Respectful."

The way stories about white male violence are framed rarely surprises me anymore. Somebody apparently has a lot invested in continually framing Average Joe Next Door Neighbor as inherently non-violent and incapable of heinous crimes outside of fluke-like circumstances. Personally, I don't find this image all that resonating. I don't think I'm any more scared of people than most women who live in large cities. But as a woman, I do consider most men I meet to be potentially interested in physically harming me. Yes, I see how that statement could be controversial and that some might believe that it's "anti-male reverse sexism" to be wary about possibly getting killed, raped, or maimed by a male. So before the "Men's Rights" crowd comes here and gets its collective panties in a bunch, I am not saying all men are violent; they aren't.

What I'm saying is that it's a survival thing for women to be vigilant and take precautions when we can. In a world in which men are so entitled to women's bodies that women are sometimes blamed for male attacks on themselves, censoring ourselves from saying that men, even those Nice Guys Next Door, are potentially violent is what keeps us unsafe. So, fine, call me "sexist." I am much more concerned about safety than I am about appeasing the egos of defensive guys who don't understand the argument I'm making. See, no matter how people publicly present themselves, we never know what people really think and do behind closed lips and closed doors. If we ourselves have not been attacked, we certainly have close friends who have been. We've all, men and women alike, read enough scary shit on the internet when people, speaking anonymously, make violently anti-social statements that they'd never make if their identities were attached to their words.

That's why when people write articles about how such-and-such dude is usually a Very Nice Guy Other Than That Time He Like Beat The Shit Out Of His Wife/Girlfriend/Child/Stranger/Homeless Person/Rival Sports Fan, I am saddened that so many are evidently fooled by the myth that some people's facades are inherently non-threatening, safe, and "clean-cut."

Exhibit. A man was recently arrested in connection with the murder of a woman he met through Craigslist. Virtually every media report mentioned the fact that this man was, other than being arrested for murder of course, a "nice, smart" boy, "clean-cut," a medical student, in fact!

Exhibit. In Drew Peterson's case, the media was abuzz with the juxtaposition of (one of) his dead wife(s) and the fact that he was set to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in a divorce proceeding. While perhaps establishing a motive for his wife's murder, this information also implies that if he did kill his wife, it was only because he was scared of losing all that money. You can understand, can't you? Other than that, he was probably a really great guy.

In the case of the alleged gay basher, a neighbor of the accused believes that this Nice Guy's alleged actions were an aberration most likely caused by alcohol saying "[A]lcohol is a crazy drug. It does crazy things to people." Yes, alcohol is "crazy." But I tend to be of the opinion that people who are Mean When They're Drunk also tend to be Mean When They're Sober too. With their inhibitions lowered so that they no longer feel the need to put up a socially-acceptable facade, alcohol just gives some people an excuse for their misbehavior. Oh, ha ha, that was just the alcohol talking. Yet the thing is, I know lots of people, myself and my friends included, who like to partake in a little bubbly from time to time and not once can I remember this "crazy drug" ever inducing us to harass and then beat up women outside of bars. But yeah, alcohol. Totally crazy! You never know what sort of crime it might somehow induce a person to commit.

Furthermore, we see that implications are embedded within how these stories are framed. As Renee at Womanist Musings has written, in connection with another "aberrational" act of violence committed by a white man, society constructs violence as Out of Character for white men while ascribing violence as being inherent to certain other non-dominant groups. For instance, just for fun, let's pretend that the accused was a black guy, or a gay guy, or a Latino guy, and that the victim was a white heterosexual woman, instead of a white lesbian. Rather than the accused being presented as An Otherwise Upstanding Young Man, I think we all know that he would be presented as Yet More Proof As To How [insert minority group] Are Inherently Pathological and Violent.

Note that I am not saying men of color and men in other "out"groups are never violent. Patterns of violence in the US are complicated and not at all as obvious as many people think they are. My point is that no matter what category a person falls into, it is not wise to assume you're in safe company even though the media continually presents white male violence as a fluke. Articles committed to the story that some people who commit violent acts are Otherwise Quite Normal demonstrate mostly that looks mean nothing and that stereotypes constructing some people as "clean-cut" and inherently "safe" actually serve to keep us unsafe.

How? For one, as we saw, when a white guy is accused of committing a heinous crime, it is constructed as an aberration. Because of how the narrative of the crime is presented, we are to associate with the white male, try to understand why he might have done it, and ultimately to feel somewhat sympathetic towards him, the alleged criminal. As the white man is usually the protagonist of the story, we are to feel indifferent at best towards the victim. Headlines abound that refer to the actual crime in the passive voice, as though an attack just happened to a woman and not, rather, that someone, a man usually, committed a crime against her.

Secondly, those who are the statistical norm or thought of as Default Human Being, are deemed automatically non-pathological until proven otherwise. As opposed to minority groups, all white men are neither implicated in the crime that one white man commits nor are all white men thought to be particularly violent when we hear about one white man being violent. When people of color and minorities commit or are victims of crimes, dehumanizing headlines reduce them to generic categories of Black, Lesbian, Transgender, Asian, and Other. Unlike white men, minorities are never merely responsible for their own behavior; their actions always say something about the entire group of people to which they belong.

We should always question assumptions about who our culture tells us is and is not Inherently Violent. Rarely, can we tell these things just by looking at someone or knowing what identity a person falls into. Our safety depends on knowing that.

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