By: Ginger Mayo
During the Superbowl, my mom and I did what any uninterested American would do on such a momentous event – watch the Law and Order SVU Bensonbowl marathon and read periodic live-tweet updates to see if the Patriots had clobbered the Seahawks yet. Truly patriotic.
Although, I can’t mock myself too much, because I do love SVU, and I do think it’s a wonderful show addressing the depth and breadth of sexual assault cases that are inflicted. I love Olivia Benson and her fierce passion for justice. I love that she is strong willed and independent, and totally unafraid to cross lines in the pursuit of finding the ‘perps’. So perhaps it was the best choice for my mom and I on that sunday evening.
The marathon featured a three-part episode, where Olivia deals with a particularly violent and horrendous perpetrator, Louis Williams, who uses wit and humour to needle himself out of the law. He was also handsome and charming. He was manipulative and macho.
He was a rapist.
The story-line followed Olivia’s relentless pursuit of his crimes, and her subsequent capture once he was acquitted for rape and murder in the first degree. He breaks into her home, kidnaps her, sodomizes her and rapes her. He brutally intoxicates her, giving her only Vodka when she’s thirsty, beating her and forcing oral sex onto her. He takes away her dignity and brutally shreds every sense of hope she can grasp.
The episodes made me more revolted than the normal heinous SVU crimes made me. It was something specifically about the story line that haunted me, picked at me and provoked me. There was a haunting feeling that I refused to recognize, because of how troubling it was. I realized, after watching the sodomization and rape of a character i’d grown to love, I was attracted to this man. This realization came at me all of the sudden and with much resistance. How could I possibly think this villanous, murderous, pillaging, misogynist attractive? How was that even possible? I attempted to disregard the feelings, acting as if they were unscrupulous thoughts that simply bubbled up out of sheer curiosity or boredom. But it wasn’t. It was real attraction.
I knew where it came from, too. I kept thinking that if he knew me, if he met me, then perhaps he would change. I could convince this sociopathic rapist to undo his actions, to see normality. I was attracted to his brutality, a hugely troubling fact that is so common for young girls like me. I kept thinking that he was simply misunderstood, making excuses for his blatant and violent exploitation. The worst part was I saw Olivia being ripped apart psychologically, yet all I wanted to do was change this man.
This was so troubling and upsetting to me because I realized the extent of my own internalized misogyny. That even after working tirelessly to educate myself and others on rape culture and feminism, I fell victim to a trope that is so typical and toxic. How could I even think of this man as human, when the show portrayed him as a demon? His crimes were beyond wrong and exploitative. Yet somehow I felt an anxiety to change him. This lead to a series of difficult, but real, questions I had to confront – why am I attracted to abusive figures? Why do I feel I will be the exception to their rule? This abusive mentality stems from my perpetual struggle with proving myself to men, and proving my worth. Somehow if i’m exceptional, then perhaps I will never be left.
I am afraid that this is all too common. The justification of misogyny, and the internalization of these problems. The only thing we can do is fight these and try to unriddle the problematic stereotypes we accept to be normal. It was good that I was disgusted with myself – and it was healthy that I wrote this down and unwound the ethical and emotional issues that are connected to the issue. I am not a perfect feminist. But I can work to try to be the best feminist I can be.