Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why The "Stranger in the Bushes" Myth is so Prevalent - and Why It's a Problem

The stranger in the bushes myth is the idea that most rapes are perpetrated by sketchy nutjobs who jump out of their hiding place, drag a woman into a dark alley or a thicket of bushes, hold a knife to her throat, and brutally rape her as she screams. The reality is that you're more likely to be raped by someone you know, inside a house or apartment.

1) It helps women feel safe
It seems so easy to prevent getting raped by the mythical Stranger in the Bushes. Don't walk alone at night, don't wear a short skirt, stay sober, walk defensively, know how to defend against a violent attacker, carry pepper spray and you'll be fine! Sadly, there's no kick or punch that can defend against subtle coercion.

On the flipside, it opens the floodgates for victim-blaming. And there's always victim-blaming. even if a woman is attacked by the Stranger, someone is bound to say "well you shouldn't have . . ." or "but you were . . ." or "why on Earth would you . . ." And if you can blame a woman for being raped by a guy she barely knew simply by walking in the wrong place or wearing the wrong clothing, you can definitely blame a woman for being raped by someone she's actually met before. She should have "known" he was a rapist and avoided him. Because clearly, rapists are always easy to spot and women aren't expected to give people the benefit of the doubt- oh wait!

2) It's the most clear-cut, blameless example
A woman who's raped by the Stranger in the Bushes has never met the guy, so there was no way for her to give any "sign" that she was into him and wanted it, nor is there any reason why she'd want to "get back at him" with a false rape accusation. It's the "least" consensual form of rape, the only situation where a woman is most definitely raped. Even if you do blame her for wearing a short skirt, you'd call it rape - not unwanted sex, not "regret sex," not a drunken mistake, not anything other than rape.

3) It allows for "othering" among men
The Stranger in the Bushes is cold, psychotic, evil, violent human being. The lowest of the low, a criminal comparable to a serial killer due to the nature of his work. Because of this, a guy can easily say he's not a rapist because he's not "that kind of guy."

Just the term "rapist" conjures up an image of a sleeze ball hiding in the bushes with a knife, not a guy acting as though he is entitled to sex because he's in a relationship with the woman in question, or because he bought her dinner; nor does the word conjure up a socially awkward guy who thinks that unwanted touching and constant nagging for sex is the normal way to get laid; nor does the word "rapist" conjure up a guy who thinks that because a woman wears X and does Y, that means she definitely wants to screw him, and thus acts accordingly without actually asking to confirm. You get the point. The truth us, there are many rape situations that don't involve a crazy, knife-wielding psychopath, but you never consider them rape because they don't fit the Stranger in the Bushes mold. You wouldn't consider a guy to be a real rapist if he is well dressed, intelligent,, well spoken, seemingly sane, and well liked.

4) It keeps women in line
Don't party too late, you might get raped. Don't drink or do drugs, you might get raped. Dress modestly or you might get raped. We use rape as a tool to make women afraid to do things that may be toeing a moral line. The Stranger in the Bushes myth also dismisses all date rapes and intimate partner rapes as not "real rape," giving validity to the idea that a woman is an object that belongs to her male partner (or date).

Of course, the Stranger in the Bushes scenario happens. We hear about it on the news, especially when it's the same guy going after multiple women. We only hear about other forms of rape when they're perpetrated by high profile individuals such as athletes and politicians, and of course, articles covering the allegations are sure to mention what the woman was wearing, her sexual track record, and whether or not she may be a sex worker - coupled with a description of how "good" the man is. How innocent he is. How much good he does for the community. How much women like him and his friends, family, and colleagues adore him. How he swears the allegations are not true and he will go to any length to prove that she's just a lying tramp. After all, it's not like that guy to jump out of the bushes and rape a woman.

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