Monday, May 07, 2018

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Dick Wolf

White women have a terrible record with lynching in America.  We stand by and pretend that being looked at funny by a man of color is the same as being assaulted.  We call the police if a man seems out of place. 

We also are really into horrible stories of true crime, which put us on edge.  Older women pass on stories of mean men going after tantalizingly innocent little girls, supposedly as warnings, but it really works out more like titillation.  I remember listening to a song about sexual abuse over and over again as a kid, mostly for the sake of titillation.  When I look back on it, I'm embarrassed, but it was the most accessible outlet I had for sexual curiosity, so I'm ultimately just thankful I'm not very screwed up in that arena.

I never grew up with much of a sense of stranger danger, and ever since I heard a This American Life about people whose family members have been murdered, I've mostly stayed away from murder as entertainment.  But a lot lot lot of women spend their free time absorbing true crime stories.  Investigation Discovery isn't helping people avoid becoming victims, it's helping them fantasize about what it's like being a victim (or even a hero).  Add that to victim-blaming narratives and there's a toxic culture of sexualized fear among women where you might call the cops if a Native American kid is someplace you don't expect him to be. 

I always thought the culture of constantly guarding against rape was strange and melodramatic. Lone women are rarely just grabbed off the street by a stranger. But when I learned about the fabricated charges of sexual assault in lynchings, it became clear to me how harmful the old wives' tales can be.  Who else got that e-mail forward about how to check your car for a bad guy at night, and not to have your hair in a ponytail because it's easy for an attacker to grab?

Dick Wolf's fairy tales make us feel like we're wise and safe, but I think we've learned bad habits from them, and the wrong lessons.  I haven't  read Gavin DeBecker's The Gift of Fear, but I hate its thesis that if you feel unsafe, you're probably right.  Ultimately, this is just permission to act according to your stereotypes.  Add this to unconscious biases that make you more afraid of people from unfamiliar groups, and you have a recipe for racist, fucked-up policing. 

I don't have a shred of "a woman's intuition," so The Gift of Fear sounded like a dumb book to me, but I have known a person or two to be afraid of "weird-looking" men, and noticed that the men often just look more poor than scary.  To be exceedingly fair, the class and race related fear triggers could just be random leftovers from a traumatic experience, but they get reinforced if they fit a stereotype we have about deviance, or deviants themselves. 

A lot of the horrible racist, fascist stuff my country does or has done is in the name of protecting the purity of white women (as possessions, mostly).  We don't generally feel like we have a lot of power in society, but with a 911 call and the help of the police we have the power to segregate spaces, and we need to take it seriously.   

It's naturally fascinating that people hurt each other in the ways they do, but those weird edge cases don't say much about that group of teenage boys at the gas station.   I've been stuck in a serial killer Wikipedia hole from time to time, but I am actively avoiding turning into Nancy Grace.   

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