Rage in a time of confusion, when actions overwhelm words and words overwhelm thinking. I’m thinking about these forces in our society, mostly because it’s pushed in my face. The newspaper says Krakauer is still in pursuit of more documents in the Missoula rape cases he described in his book. Netflix is pushing a documentary about girls being raped. And Trump is literally stripped and minimized by art but goes right on raging. The strange part is that people I respect as sensible do not see this as strange. Somehow it is the norm.
I’m only partway into Krakauer’s book. In spite of Valier girls attending in Missoula, this library didn’t have the book. We had to get it through Interlibrary Loan, but discovered that most of the neighboring county libraries had it. Krakauer tells us right up front that the rape rate in Missoula is not higher than in comparable towns. What justifies a book targeting a town that in Montana is supposed to stand for “elite.”?
Not that I’m a Missoula fan. I went to in-service teacher’s conventions there in the Sixties, attended the Montana Festival of the Book in the Twenty-oughts, served as the Unitarian-Universalist minister there 1982-85. I knew students and profs there, Rollie Meinholtz (drama professor) was a classmate at NU, and Jim Welch (the writer) was a family friend. Kim Williams, the NPR personality, was often with us. But I didn’t know any football players and until the last decade or so the school was quite different. It was the “intellectual” capital of the state and that meant in the public mind professors more like Norman Maclean (who taught at the U of Chicago) than Richard Hugo, that much loved but often depressed barfly.
Missoula is, as Krakauer describes, a two-tiered place. On the one hand is the illusion of an archetypal New England campus and just under it is economic suffering, drunkenness, drugs and rage which sometimes leaks into the rez world — or is it that the rez rage leaks into the campus? At the same time I served Missoula, I was circuit-riding to Bozeman where those forces were NOT in the air. It was the ag school with a cowboy vibe, and a strong scientific bent. People were busy and athletic.
So far I’ve only encountered the cases of Keely Williams and Allison Huguet. Tonight I’ll watch the Netflix documentary. But one thing strikes me and it is not about the girls. In fact, I haven’t run across any mention yet of what to me is most obvious. These cases are NOT about whether or not the male had consent. They are outright assaults in which big muscle men forced their FINGERS, two and three at a time, into the women with such rage that the tender vaginal walls were torn by fingernails, possibly also rings, with such force that one of the girls’ beds was soaked with blood. That’s not sex, even if you “like it rough.” It’s almost vengeance, irrational as road rage, an act of war, regardless of how long or how well the rapist knew the woman. The fact of gang rape, far more cold-blooded, is even closer to an act of war. Police are not capable of responding adequately. Female officers only complicate the matter. In another era, those young men wouldn’t even be tried — just tossed into the army.
CONSENT is a non-issue in these cases. The girls were dehumanized, their brains disconnected by booze and drugs — they were only inert bodies with fleeting hallucinations and no power to act. The CONSENT was given by themselves, voluntarily, when they arrived at the party with no protection other then a girl-friend. Two people getting into bed together have removed the line between consent and permission.
Incidentally — so far I’m only on p.79 — Krakauer has not addressed the fertility issue, although he’s focused on the female side. Maybe because he’s focused on the female side. In some times and places the point of rape was illicit fertilization of someone else’s woman. Thus the questions about boyfriends. Not about jealousy, but about “ownership.” To be someone’s girl friend is a pale version of being his chattel. This might be more compelling to a potential rapist than the wishes of the woman.
We have not settled the rule changes derived from the Pill. Big questions about inheritance and responsibility for raising a child still pertain, though these days we don’t argue much about who inherits the throne. So far in the book there’s no discussion of sex education. One of the rapists was a male virgin who clearly needed to learn to distinguish between seduction and entitled force. None of these people seem to have smarts about emotion.
The law about such matters often lags behind the reality of what happens these days and this confuses the prosecutions even more than when morality was simpler. We haven’t even settled the legality of abortion. On the emotional side, the latest neurology would not so much propose that these men were reverting to the neanderthal state, as that they were lost in a vortex of conflicting brain commands — bull-riding with themselves as the bull. We’re not clear about how much men are accountable for themselves nor for each other. Do brothers let brothers rape? If they’re too drunk to drive?
What struck me even harder was the similarity to the rape of boys, often as young as eight, both those who do sexwork for survival and those who are simply members of abusive families (as they are loosely defined now) or available in such settings as migrant camps. How often their abuse is connected to that same kind of violent rage and destruction, with the same kind of damage to the rectum as the women suffered to their vaginas, and both sometimes suffered to their mouths. It seems not just sexual rape rage, but a truly vulpine urge to “eat” their victims, to get inside of them, to penetrate the mystery of them and punish it. Sometimes to beat their faces as though erasing identity, or beat their backs as “whipping boys,” displacing punishment that belongs to the beater.
If I try to imagine why men would be so enraged, I think about our Prussian-style schools (ranked and graded), burdened with war-like “games” that destroy brains and knees, giving the good grades to women, and hiring women as “counselors” though some play out as “enforcers”, gate-keepers. I watch my cop shows and see how the men get scolded and outwitted even in a script.
A few times I was in a situation where I was the scolder and used the teacher’s weapon of preventing boys from competing because of bad grades or bad behavior. The rage that came at me was not from the boys, but from the male athletic directors, principals and superintendents. When their faces contorted and they sprayed spit, I wished I were wearing my sheriff’s uniform and badge. I saw the same thing on the street when I interfered with some guy’s dog, his alter ego. (Some dogs were their owner’s rage and legally defined weapons.) In the end the school officials who had hired me with the expectation that because I’d taught on the rez (where they assumed the athletes were animals) I’d be able to control a class of boys no one could manage except the coach — who WANTED them to be animals and slipped them steroids. These guys were not big on strategy.
In confusing times, people have trouble sorting out what to do, but the worst things don’t happen with time enough to pick through the evidence or the options for redress. Combat decisions. That means polarization so that only the extreme opposites are in mind— black or white, male or female, rich or poor, smart or stupid, employable or loser, puritan or hedonist.
Knowing I was going to either quit or be fired, I spent some time talking frankly to this bunch of players. As soon as I started in that school, girls had come to me privately to complain about the way they were forcibly treated and “slagged” if they didn’t accept their assigned roles. (I never figured out how to help them, which is shameful.) It took some time before the boys began to discuss how they were being gamed and betrayed — not by girls, but by older men.
This is not Pat Williams talking about the university admitting “thugs” instead of real students, although that’s related. This is school administrators and town officials trying to inflate status through boy gladiators because local older suits and greed-heads knew it would increase business and alumni contributions. It’s become the American Way. Justice has little to do with it, and it’s not just college towns. Individuals are not as important as the system, which sometimes renders “justice” a misnomer.
But, as a local prominent businessman told me at the library yesterday, universities are just for partying. For real success, you’ve got to learn on the job. We thought that computerizing everything would mean more people would need college educations. They forget that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were both dropouts.
More later when I finish the book.