Because they can

by Annie Kaszina on March 29, 2007

Years and years ago I watched “Stepford Wives” (the
original version) while I was studying Fascism for my doctorate. The line from the film that has stayed with
me down the years is; “Because we can.” This is what the men of Stepford say to Joanne, the lead character when
she asks why they are destroying their womenfolk.

Back then, the answer struck me as both simple and
profound. It still does. It held true as true for acts of collective
violence as it did for individual acts of violence. Perpetrators did it because they could.

Of course, underpinning that choice are individual
feelings of fear, inadequacy, rage. And
yet…

Not everyone who experiences fear, inadequacy and rage
goes on to perpetrate acts of violence. It is a choice. In the area of
mass psychology issues may become blurred. But certainly in the individual sphere it is always a choice. 

Those words, “because they can” came back to me this week
as I thought of a young man whose progress I have observed over the past
year. At 19, he has moved away from
home and into university and the society of his peers. In a few short months he has gone from being
anxious enough to please to play the buffoon, to would-be Alpha Male. 

How did that happen? Presumably the yearning to project an Alpha Male image was already
there. It was, most likely, an
attractive and powerful construct to exorcise past feelings of hurt and
inadequacy.

And he found himself a young woman with whom he could
start acting out attitudes and behaviours
intended to establish his Alpha Male status within his own pack. In relation to his partner these attitudes
and behaviours were increasingly disrespectful and abusive.

Now here’s the thing. This young man is not a monster. He doesn’t come from a nightmarish background. He has not seriously threatened his partner’s physical safety –
although she has become aware that the relationship threatens her emotional
wellbeing. As abusive men go, he will
most likely remain in the small league; although that doesn’t mean he won’t
cause women in his life massive distress. 

Still, he chooses certain behaviours because he can. Because his girlfriend was prepared to
tolerate lapses of consideration and respect on his part. 

Whether consciously, or unconsciously, in the early days
of their relationship he tried a number of ‘bad boy’ behaviours. When they met with acceptance or, worse, she
made excuses for him, he got the message that he could keep on making further small,
and not so small violations of her self-worth. 

I am not saying that how this young man ends up is the
fault of this or any other woman. It is
always a matter of choice. And his
choice is to behave in a way that humiliates his partner, because he can.

My point is this: both partners in a relationship have
choices. How often do we as women
forget that? How often do we make a
choice about whether or not we will go into a relationship and then act as if
everything from thereon in is obligatory. 

It is as if making a decision to be in a relationship is
the last decision you have to make. Once in the relationship you decide that you love him and the
relationship is precious – indeed, irreplaceable. That being the case, what on earth can you do except put up and
shut up (or nag) when his behaviours upset or offend you?

He will, of course, pick up very quickly on your
vulnerability and your willingness to tolerate his bad behaviours. It is from this that he derives his sense of
being an Alpha Male. And he will milk
it, because he can

What he does is his responsibility. Our responsibility to protect and value
ourselves. That is not something we can
ever offload onto another person, however many protestations of love they make
at the start of the relationship. And
yet we try. We even indulge in
unconscious bartering: “Carry me, and I’ll carry you.” 

Where
did we ever stumble upon the misguided notion that carrying another person was
likely to be more easily done than keeping ourselves afloat?

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