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Why Has Humanity Always Fantasized About the Capture and Rape of Women?

Misogyny’s deepest roots are exposed in the endless repetition of stories about capture and rape.

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There is no telling how many souls sit in darkened rooms consuming these flickering fantasies, which reflect the whole pantheon of sexual taboos and repressions. It’s not only men; women, too, have fantasies associated with capture-and-rape, for a variety of reasons, among them the need to erase culturally prescribed guilt about initiating sex. For a reasonably well-adjusted adult, consumption of violent porn may be a way to process common human fears and desires in a way that doesn’t actually hurt anyone. For others -- it’s impossible to know how many -- the images may become haunting demons that taunt the watcher into action.

In any case, the fantasy of capturing a woman and getting away with it is nothing if not pervasive. But how exactly does the fantasy come to be acted out? Would it happen, or happen as often, without the images and the narratives pointing the way?

We don’t yet know what combination of elements drove Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro to enact his particular fantasies, what biological components and individual life experiences set the stage for his horrific actions. But we do know that the capture-and-rape narrative is deeply embedded in our cultural DNA. We think of acts like Castro’s as the aberrations of a monster or the sickness of a pervert, but they reflect something that permeates our shared culture – our literature, myths, religious rituals, everything that forms what Freud called our archaic inheritance, or, if you prefer Jung, our collective unconscious.

It is the myth of Persephone, I think, which exposes the deepest roots of the capture-and-rape fantasy. In that ancient tale, Persephone is out gathering flowers when a cleft in the earth opens and out leaps Hades, Lord of the Underworld, who snatches her and carries her off to his dark kingdom. Eventually, Persephone is allowed to return to the upper world for half the year. The part where she is down below is winter, and her return signals spring.

In this case, the abduction of a woman is meant to explain the cycles of nature. That makes sense when you consider that a woman’s body is always more connected to the cycles of nature than a man’s. It’s she who bleeds every month, and she who gives birth. Because of her association with the cycles of life, she’s always connected to death. After all, that which is born must also die. (The death and the maiden motif, a cousin of capture-and-rape, is its own artistic subgenre.) The womb is always connected to the tomb. And woman must be punished for it.

In many ways, human civilization can be seen as a frantic effort to transcend nature – to break away from the cycles that condemn us to die. Patriarchal cultures work desperately to erase our dependence on nature, personified in women’s bodies. We give children the names of their fathers, erasing matrilineal history, and in our religious fantasies we turn mothers into virgins impregnated by gods. We intuitively understand that manly gods, whether Zeus or Yahweh, must impose themselves over nature and humans – that is how we know they are gods. We are conditioned to expect that they will exert their authority through and over the bodies of women.

In the kingdom of his dilapidated home, Ariel Castro could fancy himself a godling; transcendent over the processes of nature. He could control the sexuality of the women he imprisoned. He could control the process of birth, which he evidently did with deadly enthusiasm, forcing Michelle Knight to deliver Amanda Berry’s baby, threatening to murder her if the infant did not survive. He was in charge of the process of life and death. Destiny itself belonged to him.