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. 13 Comments.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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.

  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. 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!

  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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