When it comes to mitigating risk for women within the context of inter-gender relationships, messages tend to be skewed. A substantial amount of cultural dialogue tends to focus on sexuality, difference, or violence. For example, martial arts classes tend to focus on training women how to prevent rape and assault from men. They rarely focus on broader means of strength training or dangers from other women. The message seems to be “some men are dangerous and out to get you, so your main concern should be on how to deal with that”. When I recently changed martial arts instructors, one of the first things that came up was rape prevention. I stated that I had been training since I was a child, long before I was aware of sex or sexual threats, and that martial arts was a form of self-discipline and strength training that helped me be a better person. It’ll still come up, such as when my coach has me in a head-lock on the ground: “If he lets up the pressure or lets go to undo his pants, this is how you can get out of this lock…”. No matter what my goals are, how hard I train, or the context, masculine threat is always present and intrusive.
Slowly, the concept of a strong woman is gaining momentum in the United States. After Pantene launched their “Strong is Beautiful” campaign, numerous other companies and organizations took up the idea. But we still have a long way to go regarding how we as societies and cultures deal with masculine danger. There is an immense lacuna of dialogue about how women and men are supposed to deal with that threat positively rather than reactionary, and what it signifies for inter-gender relationships. While reading Peter Vronsky’s Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters (2004), I came across this passage entitled “Verbal Nonconfrontational Dissuasion” in his chapter “Surviving a Serial Killer”. It gives the reader advice on the best way to survivor an encounter based on criminological evidence:
In many cases, serial killers “depersonalize” their victims – they are substitutes for other people or props in their fantasies. Ted Bundy stated that he avoided getting into any extended conversations with his victims because that might remind him of their personal characteristics. The FBI suggests that talking is probably the most effective and promising way to defuse a violent situation.
Tell the rapist that perhaps you and he could go for a beer first, suggests the FBI. This is not as stupid as it sounds. Any kind of unanticipated reaction can stall the rapist and give the victim time to set the stage for an escape. Focus on personalizing yourself in the assailant’s perception: “I am a total stranger. Why do you want to hurt me? I have never done anything to hurt you. What if I were somebody you cared about? How would you feel about that?” Keep the dialogue in the present tense, the FBI suggests – serial killers rarely think too far into the future. Do not use lines like, “You will end up in jail if you do this,” for you might only remind the assailant of the necessity of killing you as a potential witness – even if he has come to like you. Above all, do not use the popular feminist appeal, “What if I were your mother, sister, or daughter?” The assailant might be precisely fantasizing that he is raping and killer his mother, sister, or daughter when he is attacking you. Such statements as “I have VD” or “I am pregnant” should also be avoided, as they may reinforce the assailant’s fantasy that you are somehow “bad” and deserving of rape and death (376-377).
Monsters are steeped in a long tradition of murder and rape. From incubus and succubus, to siren and centaur. The representation of the worst aspects of humanity are embodied in creatures that violate the body and spirit of unlucky victims. It’s no coincidence then that serial killers and rapists are themselves labeled monsters. But to just cut them off from the rest of humanity belies the traits they share with us, and the traits we share with them. Yes, they are deviant but the social and psychology foundations are the same as ours however far they may have gone awry. Criminologists and psychologists study criminals looking for the reason why someone would do horrific things, as if by finding that one thing we as a society could oust them from the human species and save ourselves: “See? They aren’t really human, they were a horrible aberration that doesn’t really count. Humans are amazingly wonderful and couldn’t possible do those terrible things.” By denying them their humanity, we ignore the monstrosity in each of us. Those deviances are shades of gray on a relative scale. The misogynist who believes women are merely breeding cows holds the same view as a killer who views women as animals. They difference between the two is very real, one kills and the other does not, but the foundation from which they hold their beliefs is very much the same. Could Vronsky’s advice of “Verbal Nonconfrontational Dissuasion” be useful in broader encounters of masculine threats, such as from misogynists? Could it be used to enact cultural change on how masculine threat is treated? Or must women always take the burden of mitigating and dissuading “monsters”; knowing that they are out there looking for victims?
Note: I do not claim to agree or disagree with Vronsky’s methods for evading serial killers. His work is his own. Should you be unfortunate enough to find yourself in such a situation, use your best judgement and remember that your life is worth using every ounce of strength, wit, and grit you possess. Don’t give it up easily. Though you’re in a dire situation, you are still in control of your choices, and once you give in to helplessness you’ve lost. Good luck and God be with you.
Vronsky, Peter. Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. New York: Berkley Books, 2004. Print.