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April 18, 2014 11:28 AM   Subscribe

The Dangers of the Monster Myth In 2012 Jill Meaghar was murdered. Today, her husband, Tom Meaghar speaks out about the dangers of the "monster myth". "I dreamed for over a year of how I would like to physically hurt this man, and still often relish the inevitable manner of his death, but wouldn’t it be more beneficial for Jill’s memory, and other women affected by violence to focus on the problems that surround our attitudes, our legal system, our silence rather than focusing on what manner we would like to torture and murder this individual? Adrian Bayley murdered a daughter, a sister, a great friend to so many, and my favourite person. I am the first one who wants to see him vilified and long may he be one of Australia’s most hated people, but it only does any good if this example highlights rather than obscures the social issues that surround men’s violence against women
posted by Fence (26 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of the most dangerous things about the media saturation of this crime was that Bayley is in fact the archetypal monster. Bayley feeds into a commonly held social myth that most men who commit rape are like him, violent strangers who stalk their victims and strike at the opportune moment. It gives a disproportionate focus to the rarest of rapes, ignoring the catalogue of non-consensual sex happening on a daily basis everywhere on the planet.

I thought that this article was really well-articulated, and it deserves wider circulation. I see my male friends and family wanting to be able to protect their loved ones with the most well-meaning sentiments, but by and large they too subscribe to the idea that the threat will come from an outsider, an "other," a monster. Not someone who looks or acts recognizably "normal" to them.
posted by desuetude at 12:51 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


His deconstruction of the illogic of the idea of prison rape as proper punishment for rapists is excellent.
posted by larrybob at 1:26 PM on April 18 [7 favorites]


Not someone who looks or acts recognizably "normal" to them.

This is, of course, completely true, and is also true in regards to child abuse. However, it leaves me feeling completely hopeless. What am I supposed to do about it then, if any random male I know could be "the problem" and yet offer no evidence of it? When my father phones me to tell me about the goings-on in the retirement villiage, and his latest caravaning adventure, do I say "That's great, dad, now you didn't rape anyone, did you?". When I get into work in the morning, do I greet my colleague I share an office with and say "Morning Simon, I hope you're not beating your wife!"

I'm being fascetious, but simply because I feel hopeless in the face of this - what am I supposed to do?
posted by Jimbob at 1:30 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Jimbob--you're not supposed to be ferreting out bad guys; you're supposed to be trusting women who say they are threatened. You're supposed to listen to women who express fear or distrust of men you know. You're not supposed to ask "were you drunk?" or "but what were you doing there, alone at night?" First, you trust women who indicate there is a problem.

Then, you refuse to tolerate rape culture. Frown at rape-jokes or call them out. Refuse accept dehumanizing remarks about women from the men you know. Question why a man would think it's okay to catcall a woman on the corner; not why she would walk there.

It's not about trying to suss out who is the monster among you. It's about creating a world where women feel they can call-out the monster in their life. It's about creating a world where men know that they will not be tolerated making rape-jokes, or pulling that but-I'm-a-nice-guy-badgering, and will not be allow to generally fail at recognizing the women around them as sovereign people first before they are women.

If you do that--if you treat women's assessments of the threat to their autonomy as accurate, if you make it clear that dehumanizing women is never appropriate, the women who are assaulted by the men close to them will be able to report it. The men who do it will know that no-one has their back.

That is going to be what fixes it. Teaching boys that rape culture is intolerable, not trying to figure out who is hiding his inner "monster" from everyone but the woman he is hurting.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:40 PM on April 18 [93 favorites]


Jimbob, he makes several suggestions:

The monster myth allows us to see public infractions on women’s sovereignty as minor, because the man committing the infraction is not a monster like Bayley. We see instances of this occur in bars when men become furious and verbally abusive to, or about, women who decline their attention. We see it on the street as groups of men shout comments, grab, grope and intimidate women with friends either ignoring or getting involved in the activity. We see it in male peer groups where rape-jokes and disrespectful attitudes towards women go uncontested. The monster myth creates the illusion that this is simply banter, and sexist horseplay. While most of us would never abide racist comments among a male peer-group, the trivialisation of men’s violence against women often remains a staple, invidious, and rather boring subject of mirth. We can either examine this by setting our standards against the monster-rapist, or by accepting that this behaviour intrinsically contributes to a culture in which rape and violence are allowed to exist.

Challenge the often uncontested sexism that happens around everyone on a daily basis.
posted by jaguar at 1:41 PM on April 18 [11 favorites]


I guess I feel hopeless then because I never find myself in a position to act, and the probelm just seems to be an amorphous thing that's happening out there. No woman has ever told me she's facing violence, and I don't think anyone I know has made a rape joke in 15 years. I guess I just have to be vigilant.
posted by Jimbob at 1:56 PM on April 18


Jimbob: read Robert Jensen on this feeling of powerlessness. I don't agree with all his points, but there is something deep and true here about being a man in a rape culture:

.......then take seriously your own pain, your own hesitations, your own sense of unease about masculinity. You feel it; I know you do. I have never met a man who didn’t feel uneasy about masculinity, who didn’t feel that in some way he wasn’t living up to what it meant to be a man. There’s a reason for that: Masculinity is a fraud; it’s a trap. None of us is man enough.


In a world full of the pain that comes with being alive -- death and disease, disappointment and distress -- being a human being is hard enough. Let’s not add to our troubles by trying to be men. Let’s not add to the suffering of others.

Let’s stop trying to be men. Let’s struggle to be human beings.

posted by lalochezia at 2:13 PM on April 18 [5 favorites]


That was a well-stated OP. That poor man, and his poor wife.
posted by postcommunism at 2:16 PM on April 18


This is a very thoughtful and touching post.

This passage near the end is one I think bears repeating:

It would be tragic if we did not recognise that Bayley’s previous crimes were against prostitutes, and that the social normalisation of violence against a woman of a certain profession and our inability to deal with or talk about these issues, socially and legally, resulted in untold horror for those victims, and led to the brutal murder of my wife. We cannot separate these cases from one another because doing so allows us to ignore the fact that all these crimes have exactly the same cause – violent men, and the silence of non-violent men. We can only move past violence when we recognise how it is enabled, and by attributing it to the mental illness of a singular human being, we ignore its prevalence, it root causes, and the self-examination required to end the cycle.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:57 PM on April 18 [7 favorites]


Here is the wiki on his wife's death (though apparently highly publicized, I had no knowledge of the case).
posted by triggerfinger at 4:04 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that this is a largely incoherent article.

For example:

While the vast majority of men abhor violence against women, those dissenting male voices are rarely heard in our public discourse, outside of the monster-rapist narrative.

It's virtually impossible to maintain that that "vast majority" are dissenters...

It seems pretty unlikely that the problem with the perpetrator in this case is his "social context." And the facts in this case do nothing to support such a claim. The form of this story seems to be roughly: despite the fact that this rapist doesn't fit the theory I'd like to push, I'm going to push that theory anyway.

My heart aches for the victim and those that survive her... But I don't see anything very valuable about this piece...unless you count confirming certain locally-fashionable presuppositions as valuable...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:11 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


But I don't see anything very valuable about this piece...unless you count confirming certain locally-fashionable presuppositions as valuable...

I don't know what you mean by locally fashionable, but my opinion about this piece differs vastly from yours. It would be easy to slot the murder and rape of Jill Meagher into a narrative that says that women are raped and abused only by vicious men ('jabbering madmen) who stand completely outside normal society. But that's not true: many women are abused by people who would not even see what they are doing as abuse and our society is frequently set up to validate certain types of behaviour that feed into the abuse of women. By acknowledging this and by working to correct these issues at their starting point, we can hopefully see a world where it's not okay to, for example, try to grope a woman at a bar and get pissed because she objects. Yes, that person may not end up raping someone, but they're still contributing to a world where women's wishes and voices are discounted.

From the start Tom Meagher has been determined to ensure that his wife death is not just seen as the act of a jabbering madman. When the case was just finished I remember him talking about how Bailey had been released after raping several prostitutes: a lot of people might have focused solely on how that led into their personal tragedy; he objected because the original sentence and Bailey's early release was a testament to how violence against certain types of women is either seen as not really violence or a lesser form of violence because they're seen as fair game to some degree.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:35 PM on April 18 [16 favorites]


Fists O'Fury, the murderer and rapist of Jill Meagher was a very archetypal 'monster': the attack was random and the crime was horrific, and the Australian media used this as a rallying cry to find and punish him. The author takes this as the basis of a discussion about the fact that this is how men are conditioned to see sexual violence, as something perpetrated by 'monsters', rather than the insidious pervading evil it really is, perpetrated by friends and family as well.

On preview: what lesbiassparrow said.
posted by Quilford at 4:39 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Jimbob: "I'm being fascetious, but simply because I feel hopeless in the face of this - what am I supposed to do?"

The vast majority of sexual assaults are alcohol-related. Here is a great video from New Zealand which has some helpful advice on what kind of steps we can take individually to prevent them.

from article: "While the vast majority of men abhor violence against women, those dissenting male voices are rarely heard in our public discourse, outside of the monster-rapist narrative."

Fists O'Fury: "It's virtually impossible to maintain that that 'vast majority' are dissenters..."

The article is saying that most men hate rape, but don't talk about it unless they're talking about monstrous criminals who are more comfortably distant caricatures than images of real rapists. This seems true to me; I think most men really do think rape is terrible, but it's not really something we are comfortable discussing unless it's that sick sadist who hides in the gully and grabs women and drags them off. But that is not what most rapists are like.

"The form of this story seems to be roughly: despite the fact that this rapist doesn't fit the theory I'd like to push, I'm going to push that theory anyway. My heart aches for the victim and those that survive her... But I don't see anything very valuable about this piece...unless you count confirming certain locally-fashionable presuppositions as valuable..."

The idea that most rapists are not greasy old men with hooks for hands and basements lines with doll heads and disturbing newspaper clippings is not a "locally-fashionable presupposition." It is a statistical fact: most rapists are people their victims know already, and most rapes occur in the context of social situations.

I'm really not sure why you're pushing back on this particular point, to be honest. Does it seem questionable to you?
posted by koeselitz at 5:46 PM on April 18 [6 favorites]


Here is the wiki on his wife's death (though apparently highly publicized, I had no knowledge of the case).

It was highly publicised locally and nationally, in part because she worked for the ABC, moreso than a lot of other disappearances. I'm not surprised it didn't get much attention overseas anywhere but Ireland.
posted by Mezentian at 6:28 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


This was a powerful piece.

I connect very strongly to the parts in which Meaghar points out that his wife's killer was not stopped before he attacked her in part because the man's earlier victims were prostitutes who either didn't report their attacks or did not lead to serious punishment for their attacker. Because the rape and murder of women by men is perceived as an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of prostitution. This is not okay, and there is no other profession for which it is thought to be okay. Even in other illegal professions, even in potentially deadly ones—theft, drug dealing, smuggling—there is not that expectation that at some point in your career, men will rape you.

I could go into a long spiel about legalizing prostitution and such, but it would actually be a distraction from my main point: This Is Not Okay, and it has to change, and it can change. Not too long ago there was no such thing as workers' rights, and anyone who had a job was supposed to be grateful for it no matter how awful it was and how many people and children died or were maimed for pennies or nothing. And God knows we're not living in worker utopia and it's still awful for many workers around the world, but better working conditions are possible, they exist, they are understood as a comprehensible Thing That Can and Should Happen because the harmful status quo was/is Not Okay. And the same is true for better conditions for women, specifically the treatment of women by men.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:01 PM on April 18 [5 favorites]




Here is the wiki on his wife's death (though apparently highly publicized, I had no knowledge of the case).

It was highly publicised locally and nationally, in part because she worked for the ABC, moreso than a lot of other disappearances. I'm not surprised it didn't get much attention overseas anywhere but Ireland.


I'm American and we didn't hear about it here, but I have Australian friends who were a few degrees of separation from her and were really devastated.
posted by sweetkid at 7:45 PM on April 18


I could go into a long spiel about legalizing prostitution and such,

It is legal in Victoria, by the way, as long as you are a licensed brothel owner, the idea being that such a structure keeps people off the streets and out of the danger you describe. Apparently it just doesn't work that well.

Bayley's criminal history was especially awful, and it's no surprise Victoria has changed its parole system.

He was jailed and served the minimum eight years for the St Kilda rapes (I assume they were all street walkers).

The problem is, by that time he had a significant record and no one thought to do anything much about it.
posted by Mezentian at 7:46 PM on April 18


But I don't see anything very valuable about this piece...

Thanks for letting us know!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:48 PM on April 19


The form of this story seems to be roughly: despite the fact that this rapist doesn't fit the theory I'd like to push, I'm going to push that theory anyway.

My heart aches for the victim and those that survive her...


Yeah, I certainly can't judge how a person deals with the loss of their partner, but this piece did seem like a ghoulish exercise in platform grabbing. Regardless of the worthiness of the agenda, the shoving of an ill-fitting set of facts into this bag is uncomfortable---"My husband died in the world trade center which is why we need to restrict immigration from Mexico." If he wanted to speak about the parole system, that would fit the case, but that doesn't seem like his sort of cause, and I'm rather squicked by the use of his murdered partner to push a cause unrelated to her tragic death.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:53 PM on April 19


A much better, more genuine, more personal version of this all-too-common story is here. Be forewarned that the article is covered in potentially triggering material.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:55 PM on April 19


What this heck are you on about, honestly.

His partner was murdered in an act of grotesque random sexual violence. All the outrage was about the monstrousness of the act. The author worries that this is a symptom of how people are taught to think of sexual violence: as something only monsters commit, as opposed to fathers, husbands and friends.

Dismissing this man's very lucid writing about his horrible experience as not genuine or personal enough is incredibly insensitive and accusing him of using his partner's death to push an unrelated cause is not just wrong but horribly horribly rude?
posted by Quilford at 2:11 AM on April 20 [17 favorites]


... and I'm rather squicked by the use of his murdered partner to push a cause unrelated to her tragic death.

His partner was strangled during brutal sex: raped and murdered in an alley; we don't know if Jill was dead before the sex ended but we order the two events when they co-occur: raped and murdered.

You leave out the word 'rape', and fail to mention 'violence against women' when you write of what squicks you. Both your omissions are totally related to Jill's death, Tom's loss, and represent totally your silence which is what now squicks Tom.
posted by de at 3:05 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


De, her partner was not "strangled during brutal sex." It was rape, not sex, and I would expect you to know the difference.

But if you like this better: " I am squicked by how he uses the rape and murder of his partner to push an agenda unrelated to her actual death." He's not wrong that rape and violence against women are more often committed by acquaintances or family members than strangers. But hers wasn't. Hers was exactly the sort of stranger-in-a-dark-alley scenario that people like yourself keep insisting doesn't happen, or isn't relevant.

That he is trying to use her terrible story to stay in the spotlight while pivoting to a different narrative, and that you are eager to brush over the actual rape and murder of this woman to talk about a different set of events, is gross.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:46 AM on April 20


ThatFuzzyBastard: "Hers was exactly the sort of stranger-in-a-dark-alley scenario that people like yourself keep insisting doesn't happen, or isn't relevant."

No one is insisting that it doesn't happen. But when you call it "all-too-common" - well, it is certainly too common, but it's very far from common in itself. And I find it very, very strange that you're apparently insisting that it is both common and under-discussed.

Since I was very young, this is how I've been taught to think about rapists. Rapists are scary, creepy strangers. Rapists hide in gullies and leap out, dragging women off by their hair. Careful walking home, because rapists are hiding in corners waiting to grab you.

That's still the narrative - and it's a very, very common narrative. It makes us distrust strangers in public, particularly if we feel they look "creepy." Meanwhile, although this fact seems to be little-known, it's long since been proven that those highly-visible cases of strangers jumping out and raping people are extraordinarily rare.

But "violent stranger abduction" rape is still how we talk about rape, apparently because it's easier than dealing with the kind of rape that actually happens much more often in the world. So this man is taking an opportunity to voice that concern, and say: my partner was raped; people are raped every day, and yet we don't talk about it because it's usually not as theatrical as my partner's rape was; maybe in her memory we can start to try to talk about why, and hopefully try to prevent rape in all cases, not just the cases we're comfortable talking about.

Is there some disagreement about facts here? I get the feeling you disagree when we say that violent-stranger-abduction rape is vastly overrepresented in the media, and that more mundane forms of rape - date rape, she-got-drunk-and-he-took-advantage rape, etc - are hardly ever discussed. You implied above that some of us are trying to stop the conversation about a certain type of rape and ignore it; do you really think that, or is it just that you worry that will happen inadvertently?
posted by koeselitz at 8:31 AM on April 20 [8 favorites]


> It was rape, not sex, and I would expect you to know the difference.

TFB, my understanding is rape is non-consensual sex.

> [Jill's rapist] was exactly the sort of stranger-in-a-dark-alley scenario that people like yourself keep insisting doesn't happen, or isn't relevant.

Oh it happens and it is relevant. Tom Meagher's not insisting otherwise, and I certainly haven't. Tom Meagher's insight was that Bayley wasn't a monster, he was a violent man, a son, brother, partner, father, the guy in the gym ...
By insulating myself with the intellectually evasive dismissal of violent men as psychotic or sociopathic aberrations, I self-comforted by avoiding the more terrifying concept that violent men are socialised by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.
Is he wrong? Tom Meagher wants the conversation. He wants all cases of men's violence against women called for what they are. He doesn't want to hear comparisons to Bayley that render some cases minor; he wants the cycle to stop.
We cannot separate these cases from one another because doing so allows us to ignore the fact that all these crimes have exactly the same cause – violent men, and the silence of non-violent men.
> That he is trying to use her terrible story to stay in the spotlight ...

Fair go. What spotlight? He's involved with the 2014 White Ribbon Campaign and the Men's Development Network, (sorting himself out).

> and that you are eager to brush over the actual rape and murder of this woman to talk about a different set of events, is gross.

Jill Meagher's rape and murder are right in there along side the universal set of events that are men's violence against women.
posted by de at 4:19 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


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