Hiding in Plain Sight

I never saw Kobe Bryant play, mostly because basketball is not my sport. The only things I knew about Bryant is that he was considered one of the pre-eminent basketball players of his generation, and that he most likely used that position and prestige to rape at least one woman and get away with it.

But in responses to his death, all I saw was the first part, laudatory paeans to how great he was at playing a game, how wonderful a man he was, and that he would be missed by his wife. On those pages, I don’t remember seeing anything about the rape case. Then there were the other pages, that were all about the rape case, about what a monster he was and that more than one woman had most likely been assaulted.

That’s it. He was either a hero or a monster.

I am so sick and tired of men like Bryant getting away with rape. They can do it, in part, because we want the simple answer and so we use this term: monster. When we do, people – or maybe just men – look for monsters when they look for rapists. They think jump-out-of-the-bushes rapists; they picture leering, snarling, knife-to-the-throat rapists. But they refuse to see a rapist if what they find are sportsmen in hotel rooms.

Or comedians offering a drink.

Or movie producers who say they will help a career.

Or a businessman.

Or fathers.

Or devoted husbands.

Not realizing that the accused man is probably both.

“That man’s a father and devoted husband!” such people (mostly men) say. “He therefore can’t be a rapist!” And the sportsmen and the comedians and the movie producers and the businessmen and the fathers and devoted husbands get away with assaulting and raping for so much longer than they might otherwise if we (not just men) could think of the term rapist with some nuance.

Bryant was a basketball great. He was a father and may have been a devoted husband. But he may also have been a rapist, someone who committed a monstrous act. The one set of actions neither negates the other nor makes it impossible to be both.

I know that the #MeToo movement has been eye opening for me and many others (just men. Women already knew) about just how often this goes on in plain sight. I’m hopeful that we’re moving towards that more aware view of the rapist that he can be in more than one category in the public imagination at the same time: basketball great AND rapist. Comedian AND rapist. Devoted husband AND rapist. President AND rapist. Because then there’s hope that those men doing monstrous things but who don’t seem to be monsters, will get caught that much sooner and the women who bring the accusations will be believed that much more fully.

It is so much easier for people to believe that their hero isn’t also a monster, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. But as long as the monsters can use that desire for the simple answer, the either/or, they’ll be able to hide in plain sight and keep getting away with rape.

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