Mind of a Rapist: Trying to Bridge a Gap between a Small Self and a Big Man

“I was in control for the first time of my life. I just felt like I had a little more power for once.”

“It could have been anyone. It could have been a guy. I was just mad.”

The first quote comes from Cary Stayner, who raped and murdered three young women in Yosemite. The second is from David Burpee, who raped a 17-year-old after having a fight with his girlfriend over getting fired.

Different rapists have different motives. These two are characteristic of the “Walter Mitty” type.

Walter Mitty is a fictional character. He’s an ordinary, ineffectual man who tries to bridge the gap between who he is and who he wants to be by imagining himself in situations of grandeur: a wartime pilot, an ER surgeon, a killer.

Walter Mitty rapists do something similar. They see themselves as less than the “big man” they yearn to be. And they have limited notions of what men are. To them, masculinity means power, dominance, aggression, violence, virility. They use rape to bridge the gap between their sorry selves and the dominant men they seek to be, whether it’s not-so-powerful Cary Stayner or David Burpee getting a tongue lashing from his girlfriend because he can’t hold down a job.

I was reminded of the Walter Mitty rapist after the Yale frat-boy chants of “No means yes, yes means anal,” near the women’s dorms and the Women’s Center.

What’s the connection between rape-threatening frat boys and the Walter Mitty rapist? The intent is the same: both are trying to create personal identities as superior and “manly.” The process of achieving that goal is the same: expressing sexual dominance.  The degree of harm is the only difference.

But does rape really create superiority? The dehumanized act actually points in the opposite direction.

Georgia Platts

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 26, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. It’s biologically inevitable that our primitive brains can’t disassociate sex and power. Our closest animal cousins, the chimpanzees, the alpha male, the most powerful male gets to mate with any female he wants, and he will often prevent the females from mating with anyone else. There’s a billion years of evolution going on here. Power equals sex, and sex equals power. Men strive for success to obtain women, but also men take women to feel power. There’s barely a distinction in the male brain when you get right down to it.

    And that’s why so many sexual perversions gain traction. The more perverse the sexual act, the more one has obtained power.

    • Nope. Our closest ancestors are actually bonobos, which physically resemble us much more. Completely different situation with them.

      • “Our closest ancestors are actually bonobos”

        As I’ve said before. Bonobos and Chimpanzees split apart AFTER they split off from us. So it’s not possible to make the statement that one or the other is closer to us. So I affirm my original statement.

        In any case, male dominance is MORE skewed in Bonobos than Chimpanzees. It’s MORE important to be the alpha male if you’re a Bonobo, than if you’re a Chimp, in terms of gaining access to females.

        Being a powerful Bonobo male is more significant in gaining access to females than being a powerful Chimp.


      • If “Bonobos and Chimpanzees split apart AFTER they split off from us” Then none of your point makes any sense because Neither was a precursor to us.

        Neither was a precursor to us.

        And all you have established is that some male bonobos dominated other male bonobos, not that they dominated females.

      • I didn’t say they were precursors. No living thing has living precursors because evolution never stops, and everything older than a hundred years is dead. Still, bonobos are close cousins to our ancestors. Where all our close cousins exhibit traits, it’s a reasonable starting point to assume we have them too.

        “all you have established is that some male bonobos dominated other male bonobos”

        Think about the logic of what you’re saying. Males dominating other males gives access to females according to that study. If the females were choosing nice cuddly beta males for mates, then being the dominant male would be pointless. The fact that dominant males get all the access to females means that power = sex. Whether that’s because the males “dominate” the females, or because the females just love the dominant males is neither here nor there. Male dominance leads to sex either way. And that’s the thesis I put to you that power = sex in our brains, so it’s hardly surprising we see them intermingled in our behavior.

        In any case, much of mythology you promote about Bonobos is likely bogus anyway. If you look harder into the literature, the differences in sexual dominance in Chimps vs Bonobos may not be as much as you think. For example: “However, Wood and White (1996) have shown that at Lomako females are dominant only in the arena of feeding priority. If social dominance is considered separately from priority of feeding access, the pattern of dominance in bonobos more strongly resembles that of chimpanzees…. .The chimpanzee resolves sexual issues with power; the bonobo resolves power issues with sex’…. if we look beyond feeding priority the relations between the sexes in bonobos and chimpanzees are more similar.”

        Click to access White-et-al-comment-on-Stanford-2ayc6u2.pdf

        “A recent account of the evolutionary continuity of human violence from an ape ancestor makes a strong case for chimpanzees as the referent models for the behavior of modern human males (Wrangham and Peterson)”

      • I like this part:

        Bonobos have been seen as sharply contrasting with chimpanzees, displaying fe- male dominance over males, richly elaborated sexual behavior that often occurs in a nonconceptive context, and a general lack of aggressiveness.

        And even in species where males compete for access to females they’re dominating other males, not the females.

        By the way, I’m protective of posts of my students write and I don’t post negatively tinged comments on them.

      • “I like this part: Bonobos have been seen as sharply contrasting with chimpanzees….”

        Yes, you like it, and if you continued past skimming the first page you would see that the paper goes on to argue that this is actually garbage. “In this paper I examine behavioral differences between chimpanzees and bonobos and argue that the social behavior of these two great apes, while distinct in some respects, is more similar than is often claimed.”

        In other words you blindly accepted the mythology that the paper was designed to refute.

        “And even in species where males compete for access to females they’re dominating other males, not the females.”

        Think about what you’re saying. If a male gets access to females by dominating other males, that implies that they are depriving females of choice of sexual partner. That would be rape in human terms.

        “By the way, I’m protective of posts of my students write and I don’t post negatively tinged comments on them.”

        Sounds like you are engaged in student abuse to me, if you have to protect your students from mild milktoast commentary on their statements. Read this book for a detailed explanation of why coddling your students in this way will set them up for devastating failure:

      • So this one guy says that all of the other research is wrong and I’m supposed to believe the one guy instead of all of the other research?

  2. Alessandro Tinchini

    Reblogged this on alessandro tinchini and commented:
    I seldom reblog articles. In fact, this is the second time I do this, but the first time I do it quite intentionally. I’m reblogging this, because urgency demands me to do it. I have recently posted an article on my “Closer to a Higher Self” category, titled “We cannot avoid being men, but we can avoid being rapists”, where I talk about an episode I read in the news some three weeks ago, regarding a couple of young tourists from Northern Italy being abused by a group of immigrants. The article on the newspaper spawned, apart from my blog post, also a lot of chain reactions in the women of the Left Wing Party, the Northern League representatives and a cultural mediator (also an immigrant) who exposed himself by saying that “women love to be raped”.
    Given my explicit hate towards men who rape women, I couldn’t hold back and I gave my version on the topic. I know it is not good to write the word “hate” on a blog post, since I don’t want to promote any kind of negativity or bad publicity and I am basically a very good and kind person. I am just sick of seeing people being hurt and abused.

    I want to thank all who responded to this article via comments on WordPress and Twitter. Keep those coming!

    And a special thanks to Aquileana who highlighted this post by Georgia Platts about the psychology of a rapist.

    We should all talk about this topic more than we already do.

    Please enjoy the post:

  3. A most interesting post…. It is all about the need to be in control and somehow try to validate their virility. I like what you say in the last line and completely agree with you: “But does rape really create superiority? The dehumanized act actually points in the opposite direction”. We´d define Superiority as an expression of violence. And even if that measure entails a quantitative dimension, the way to expresss that “Superiority” is clearly qualitative. Violence, above all.
    I also checked out a related article concerning rises in sexual assault In India, in which you highlight that there is an inverse correlation between women gaining freedom and empowerment, and the rise of rapes over there. Hence, misogyny is clearly a component of violence linked to sexual assaults. Sometimes it is not just an attack over certain particular woman, but over all Women.
    Thanks for sharing, dear Georgia. Love & best wishes ⭐

  4. Just discovered your blogs for the first time. I’m glad to have a woman’s perspective on the subject matter that you address. Objective information is not the easiest to find. Keep up the good work!

  5. Alexis Gulcher

    It’s unfortunate, and deadly, that masculinity is depicted and commonly portrayed as being extremely aggressive and forceful. However I think it’s also significant to point out that not all rapists are the forceful and angry men you hear about. Rapists could be a spouse you’ve been married to for years, someone who might expect sex as a reward for something or expect it naturally, but not understand that “no” means “get off of me, I don’t want this.” Not all rapists are boogeymen, some are once friendly faces that turned dark. Unfortunately it’s all caused by male entitlement and male privilege, who think that women’s bodies and women’s attention belong solely to them. The cause of this is because of the hypermasculinity that plagues men of all ages and all personalities. It’s so stupid because there’s literally no reason for them to think this way and act this way, and it’s even more awful because men treat it so lightly. Like “Yeah so what if I teach my wife a lesson? So what if I hit her?”, when in reality this hypermasculinity is extremely deadly.

    • I pointed out that not all rapists have the same motive. But the types of rapists you were talking about could have this particular motive. Actually it’s quite common for spouses and boyfriends to be motivated by feeling disempowered in their lives, and raping their girlfriends and spouses in an attempt to get their power back. Some men beat their wives or girlfriends instead of rape them. Same motivation.

  6. Amy (Hojung) Park

    I agree to the assertion that the Walter Mitty rapist and rape-threatening frat boys are trying to boost their ego by expressing dominance and control over women. Since they don’t satisfy with their status quo, I mean, women saying no to them or behaving out of their control, they want to dominate girls by force. By making girls subordinate to them by force, they might feel superior. The same mechanism is found in negative stereotyping; when people try to degrade other groups they feel like their identity is boosted. In case of the rapist and rape-threatening frat boys, they want to maintain higher status than women by dominating girls.

  7. What about South Asian and Black rapists? They are perceived to be compulsive rapists !!

  8. you can agree to have sex with someone and still be assaulted. thats how most rapes happen, and you can never prove it. I was attacked, he tricked me. us women should know the warnings signs of an abuser.

  9. From my knowledge rapists’ motives, studies have shown that men subconsciously rape for power and control and whether they know what they’re doing is wrong or not is another issue. The Walter Mitty stereotype of rapists are individuals who have premeditated intent and are predisposed to commit the rape. They have sexual fantasies that they want to fulfill or “close the gap between their sorry lives and the assertive male they seek to be.” When Walter Mitty rapists commit and accomplish their rapes, they feel a self gratification for acting like a man. The consent of a woman during the sexual act is irrelevant to them. On the other hand, Yale frat-boys appear to be peer-pressured into committing involuntary rape crimes because they have to prove their manhood to other frat boys. They have the same motive as the Walter Mitty rapists: power and control. However, the attitudes that they possess differ from the Walter Mitty rapists. The degree of harm frat-boys commit is more profound because their aim is sexual gratification and their goal is anal intercourse. Walter Mitty rapists might not have the same sexual location goal, they just want to assert their superiority over women. Personally, I perceive rape as a dehumanizing and passive-aggressive attic to promulgate a man’s sexual desire. Instead of asking a woman to have sex with him, he feels the need to force sex on her because he feels it’s his inherited gender right to do so. When a woman rejects a man, he sees and uses it as a sign of weakness so his attitudes to successfully commit the crime is amplified. From my perspective, using violence and force are signs of a coward because he personally feels inept and masculinely inferior compared to other men.

    • Thanks for your comment. Whether frat boys are motivated by sexual gratification or proving manhood varies from situation to situation. Often, it’s only about creating a sense of manhood and superiorty. I’ll write more on that later.

  1. Pingback: Mind of a Rapist: Trying to Bridge a Gap between a Small Self and a Big Man (via BroadBlogs) « Every Voice Matters, Including Yours

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