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Demon Lover - Part I

Look closely at her.

She crosses a city street, juggling her briefcase and her sack of groceries. Or she walks down a dirt road, balancing a basket on her head. Or she hurries toward her locked car, pulling a small child along with her. Or she trudges home from the fields, the baby strapped to her back.

Suddenly there are footsteps behind her. Heavy, rapid. A man’s footsteps. She knows this immediately, just as she knows that she must not look around. She quickens her pace in time to the quickening of her pulse. She is afraid. He could be a rapist. He could be a soldier, a harasser, a robber, a killer. He could be none of these. He could be a man in a hurry. He could be a man merely walking at his normal pace. But she fears him. She fears him because he is a man. She has reason to fear.

She does not feel the same way-on city street or dirt road, in parking lot or field-if she hears a woman’s footsteps behind her. It is the footstep of a man she fears. This moment she shares with every human being who is female. This is the democratization of fear.

The majority of terrorists-and those against whom they are rebelling-are men. The explosions going off today worldwide have been smoldering on a long sexual and emotional fuse. The terrorist has been the subliminal idol of an androcentric cultural heritage from prebiblical times to the present. His mystique is the latest version of the Demon Lover. He evokes pity because he lives in death. He emanates sexual power because he represents obliteration. He excites the thrill of fear. He is the essential challenge to tenderness. He is at once a hero of risk and an antihero of mortality.

He glares out from reviewing stands, where the passing troops salute him. He straps a hundred pounds of weaponry to this body, larger than life on the film screen. He peers down from huge glorious-leader posters, and confers with himself at summit meetings. He is a living weapon. Whatever he does at first appalls, then becomes faddish. We are told that women lust to have him. We are told that men lust to be him. We have, all of us, invoked him for centuries. Now he has become Everyman. This is the democratization of violence.

Now look closely at him. He hurries through the airport to catch his plane. Or he pedals his bicycle, basket laden with books, to the university. Or he mounts the steps of his embassy on official business. Or he snaps a fresh roll of film into his camera and starts out on assignment. Suddenly there are footsteps behind him. Heavy, rapid. A man’s footsteps. In the split second before he turns around, he knows he’s afraid. He tells himself he has no reason to fear. But he fears. He does not feel the same way if he hears a woman’s footsteps behind him.

Is it possible that terrorism attracts so much attention today because men, as well as being its main perpetrators, are also among its victims? If men are now afraid in daily circumstances, why then the situation must be taken seriously, attention must be paid.

Men of the State-that-is [the Establishment] and men of the State-that-would-be [“rebels” or “terrorists”] share a peculiar intoxication. It permits them to call up armies, attach electrodes to living flesh, justify the invention, testing, and stockpiling of world-destroying weapons; it also permits them to “kneecap” informers with electric drills, purge “incorrect” colleagues by literal crucifixion, and eventually to consider the political reasons for doing these things as secondary or irrelevant, the mere doing them as creative acts. Such men suffer from a lack of ambivalence.


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Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009