This is going to be one of those theory-heavy posts where I talk about patriarchy a lot, and also LOTS AND LOTS OF DISCUSSION OF RAPE AND ABUSE AND SUCHLIKE THINGS. Skip if you don’t want to read it.
Okay! I came up with a totally clever concept I’m super-proud of a while back, called the Knight-Beast Dichotomy. Basically, it divides male sexuality into two archetypes (the same way that the Madonna and the Whore are archetypes of female sexuality). The Beast is the rapacious force of unleashed male sexuality; the Knight is the noble man who pedestalizes women and (crucially) protects them from the Beasts.
Here’s the interesting thing though (and credit where credit is due, I stole this entire idea from the fabulous Ami Angelwings, who messaged me about it a few months back): they’re both abusers.
Patriarchy is not really very good at non-abusive relationships. For instance, every time it tries to imagine an equal relationship, it ends up accidentally portraying men married to emotionally abusive wives. Of course, non-abusive relationships happen under conditions of patriarchy; most people are kind and non-abusive, after all. But it doesn’t change the fact that patriarchy encourages and perpetrates abuse.
How the Beast is abusive is kind of obvious. After all, that’s literally his definition: he’s the Scary Dude That Beats And Rapes And Murders And Abuses Ladies. There are lots of people slotted in the category Beast who are, of course, the kindest people one could ever meet– just ask any black guy who has had white women pull away from him on the street. And so women invent precautions to keep themselves safe from him (anyone ever get those email forwards that tell you not to wear a ponytail because they’ll use that to rape you?), most notably not acting like the Whores in the Madonna/Whore Dichotomy.
How the Knight is abusive might be a little bit more confusing. After all, his whole thing is about protecting you.
[Video: Mother Knows Best from Tangled. Lyrics here. Also, some of my friends have informed me that this is actually scarily accurate about the dynamics of parental emotional abuse, so watch at your own risk.]
Mother Gothel knows the score.
“All the scary people are out there and you’re too weak to fight back. But it’s okay, I’ll keep you safe… as long as you do what I want.” Add in female economic dependence on men (fortunately lessening, but still a force), the idea that he’s so romantic and treats you so well so you’d be a fool to break up with him, the all-too-common dynamic of “he’s only mad at me when I do things wrong and he’s being so sweet and putting me up on a pedestal now, maybe this is the last time and anyway it’d be wrong to hurt him when he’s so good to me.” And then– as happened before the second-wave feminist movement– consider the effects of legal marital rape, divorce difficult if not possible to obtain, the risk of leaving one’s children with an abuser with no way to protect them, the high chance of living in poverty if one didn’t have a husband, and little to no social recognition of the existence or importance of abuse.
…I’m just saying. It’s a fucking perfect setup for societally condoned if not outright approved of abuse.
(Side note: I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not saying that women never abuse. Of course women abuse, and women take advantage of many of the same dynamics to perpetrate their abuse. But I am just talking about male abusers now.)
Also, it gets into this whole idea that there are Good People and Bad People. Good People are people we know, and they could never commit abuse or rape! The only people who abuse or rape are the people who are Out There. That’s how you get the dynamic which many, many people socialized female have experienced: “don’t go out late at night, don’t get drunk, watch your drink, don’t meet up with Internet Strangers, don’t have casual sex, because you will get rapemurdered… oh, come on, stop freaking out because Uncle Joe keeps making jokes about how hot you are and trying to kiss you on the lips, he’s a harmless old creep, don’t make a fuss and ruin everybody’s vacation.” That dynamic’s bigger than the Knight/Beast dichotomy, of course, but it does play into it, I think.
Basically: men, you should be really super-offended by both halves of this dichotomy, because either half is saying that you’re basically an abuser. People, we should fight against this because it leads to a whole fuckton of victim-blaming and rape and abuse apologism.