A young college woman is raped by a man. No justice is found because the rapist is an otherwise “promising young man” with a future ahead of him. His victim is merely a blip on his sterling professional conduct. Those who witnessed or were aware of the rape pretend as though it never happened. This is the catalyst for the plot of the movie, Promising Young Woman. The victim commits suicide and her friend seeks revenge. The film’s title is a play on the phrasing used anytime some young men are accused of rape, as though masculine potential is an important assessment of worth when weighed up to what they may have done. The movie is an indictment on culture and systems as they are experienced and understood by some women, particularly those who have suffered and witnessed such injustice. The film uses actors that depict “nice guys,” an important aspect when the victim is twisted as being considered “willing” or “deserving” of her trauma.
The film asks whether when a person of importance or with a likable personality rapes or assaults a woman, are we able to overlook this “flaw”? Norman Mailer is considered by many as a terrific writer, but also an abusive man with bigoted views which he was not shy about expressing. Mailer also nearly murdered his wife when he stabbed her with a pen-knife. This vicious attack did not minimize his frequent guest appearances on television shows or his esteem as a writer. As a literary institution, such an assault is often viewed as quirky charm. (His wife did not think so.)
In a 1967 television appearance discussing his book Hells Angels, Hunter S. Thompson is challenged by one of the gang members whom he had spent time with for research. During the exchange, the bikie mentions an incident where Thompson was beaten by a member. “You got into a man’s personal argument…this is what happened, Junkie George was beating his old lady…” The audience broke out in loud laughter and continued to do so as the story was told. Thompson in this instance was the outlier, the man who found domestic violence horrible. The laughter could have been from an episode of The Honeymooners as Jackie Gleason threatens his wife, ‘One of these days Alice…” Back when men “ruled” the household.
In the article “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too,” author Alyssa Royse centered on the defense of one of her friends who admitted to raping a sleeping woman. Because the rapist is a “nice guy” and a familiar among her friend group, a defense is rallied and moral exceptionalism is conjured. The piece is written as an attempt to validate and justify the actions of a rapist, because he is a friend. The victim’s status is secondary; they are a stranger. It’s a telling example of how many are able to dismiss the deeds of a celebrity, a colleague, or a family member regardless of what horrible actions they have committed. For promising young and important men it is an exemption that at times has concealed deeds and flushed their victims away. When someone likable does bad things, few want to believe that they are capable of doing them. Women have made false claims (though not as frequently as is often believed), but rape and assault also goes vastly unreported.
Recently, Cindy McCain has admitted that many around her knew the real nature of Jeffrey Epstein and his exploitation of girls and women, including her deceased husband, senator and presidential nominee John McCain. Now that it can no longer harm her husband’s career, the admission is safe to share. Many were well aware of what Jimmy Saville and Bill Cosby had been doing for years. It was only after he was dead that Saville was outed, and for Cosby after he was a faded star. Fame, status, and importance is a power in itself that allows such men to get away with committing terrible deeds.
Among some conservative and apparently libertarian elements, there is a belief that culture needs to restore a certain fundamentalist traditionalism, a depiction of the nuclear family structure led by a God-fearing male figurehead. Anything outside of such is considered an aberration, and some have argued anti-liberty. Just like the New Right’s reactionary anti-feminism in the 1980s, mostly American conservatives have raised their phalluses again in a call to arms to stop the threat of women’s liberation. No room is left for nuance, and anything outside of a romanticized traditionalism is pariah.
Leaked footage of conservative commentator Steven Crowder’s conversation with his then-pregnant wife Hilary unveiled a man who is abusive and domineering. Hilary has since filed for divorce, with Steven complaining about her right to do so (Texas is a “no fault divorce” state). Most grown ups understand that in a relationship, one party is not a prisoner to the other. Some however feel that a woman is obligated to remain married unless in extreme circumstances. There is no shortage of “bros” coming to Crowder’s defense.
There is a growing danger in a narrative that determines sex and gender roles based on selective segments of history. It is a collectivist logic that imprisons individualism and steers away from merit and ability, let alone desire or aspiration. Individual liberty assumes a diverse landscape. It can be both feral and orderly. The 1950s Telly family and those found on advertising pamphlets from the days of President Eisenhower are fictions. Living that caricature may be some people’s dream. But it’s also a nightmare that many had to endure. Not all women wish to be subjugated to this life, and should they choose a different path this does not make them an enemy or a threat to the family as an institution. A young woman’s promise is not in the fertility of her womb. She may have other ambitions and preferences.
If strangers generating memes are the motivation to have children and get married, then one needs to question their own moral framework. If men who preach familiar units are themselves incapable of non-abusive relationships, it reveals a reality that exists outside of the illusion. The strange marriage of libertarianism and American conservatism is a dangerous rejection of individual liberty and hinders the international potential for the philosophy of freedom. Inviting a particular type of American conservatism to bed is globally prohibitive and reactionary in a brief moment of “woke” hysteria. The Culture War has become one that burns with reckless disregard, alienating individuals who seek liberty and the antiwar message while simultaneously embracing those who do not. It also seems to ensure that insecure men gain a status that any free market of merit and deed would otherwise deny them.
Women are not servants or second class creatures. It’s not a lefty, feminist ideal to acknowledge this. Intelligent, independent and capable women are not a threat to masculinity. In fact, the existence of such women can inspire one to be a better man. It’s the desire to suppress, bully, and ridicule women and condemn them to a place of marital type-casts that exhibits a lack of positive masculinity. It does not make one an “Alpha” to gang up on OnlyFans “Thots” or dismiss a woman’s views on social media’s by giving her a “rating” based on her physical appearance. This shows both cowardice and weakness. The belief that certain roles and relationships are unnatural come from a place of bias and lack of imagination. Women’s liberation has a different meaning to a lady in rural India than it may for a female in Silicon Valley.
Culture is not something that needs to be mandated by government or laws. It’s oftentimes inspired by example. Masculinity is a utility of being accountable, reliable, tough, and consistent. It’s not an aesthetic of cigars, suits, and denigrating others to enhance status. Masculinity is also Ted Bundy, My Lai massacre, the Rape of Nanking, and Epstein Island. Masculine and feminine are neither positive or negative. Being a male does not make one manly or the most capable in every and any given situation.
The advent of women’s liberation has not destroyed the family unit. If your family unit required a woman to be obligated or trapped, was it worth saving in the first place? A free market will reveal where women, or any gender or sex for that matter, should go in accordance to individual capability and ability. Laws and regulations only maintain a status quo and create imbalances.
To challenge those who would protect rapists and abusers is not a whimper into feminism, it’s a moral position. One can understand that masculinity can have a ‘toxic’ element to it. Many women are aware that there is a “female curfew,” not because of any law but because experience and awareness guides a decision to avoid walking alone at night. This does not mean that those women adopt an “all men are evil” logic. It does however provide a wider understanding as to how some individuals experience the world because of who they are. For many females, this is the world that they live in and they are becoming wary of a push for a fundamentalist culture that breeds a male entitlement to their bodies and minds.
In a social media age where Andrew Tate and other manosphere social media accounts surge in popularity, comment sections gorge with males celebrating the narrative that non-virginal women or those with a “body count” (number of sexual partners) are tainted, sluts, inferior, or soiled. Sharia Law, once a pariah and moral panic on the right, is now praised as “based.” There is an entitlement of claim by these kinds of men over female autonomy, physically and spiritually. It seems that the “promising young woman” only exists so long as she’s virginal, servile, and with a fertile womb for men of a certain demographic to possess.
“The issue that united the anti-slavery and feminist movements was a demand for the right of every human being to control his or her own body and property.”- Wendy McElroy
In the coming years, those inside the American-influenced realm of political philosophy will become ensnared in an ill defined Left vs. Right tug for power. Usually focused on party politics, the same voices will claim that pragmatism will save the day and for now the rightwing are allies in the cause of liberty. The Right has never been right on liberty. But that is not praise of the Left either. Liberty should not be a Left vs. Right scale, it should not be linked to any political party, and it certainly is not the domain of the United States and what is trending there. It’s dangerous to elevate a man above a woman based upon myths and tradition.
Liberty is diverse; not all women want or need a man. Not everyone wants marriage or a family, let alone are suited to have one. How you may view the world differs from how others may see it. It should not need saying, but no does mean NO, and that includes a right to say no to a certain rigidity of relationships. Freedom does not just mean “free from government,” but also freedom from overbearing men.