A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about why Ted Bundy keeps turning up like a bad pop culture penny, and why there is always an almost rehabilitative narrative around the winning charms of a necrophiliac serial killer. It’s to do with how handsome and charming other white men found him. Even the judge at his trial got stars in his eyes. Was Bundy really charming, or was his grandiosity reflecting other men’s unearned confidence back to them? Were the ruses he used to lure the women he killed (including pretending to be injured to appeal to their kindness) pushy, inappropriate, and predatory but enough in line with how other men who think themselves handsome and charming operate that his methods have been shined up and praised? Large violences start with smaller ones. Women are pressured and conditioned to accept small violences just to get through the day. The way men are socialized to treat women gives men like Bundy the room to operate.
I’ve been thinking about that Ted Bundy piece a lot since the murder of Sarah Everard. On March 10, Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive was found dead near Ashford, Kent in England. Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old serving Metropolitan police officer has been charged with her kidnapping and murder. Everard was last seen walking home from work on March 3. In the wake of her disappearance, women all over the world shared their fear of meeting violence from men. Mourners gathered in Clapham Common on March 13 to hold a candlelight vigil for Everard and protest violence against women. After night fell, the police moved in and began assaulting and arresting the women gathered. Images of the violence went viral on social media.
It’s important that the man who killed Everard is a police officer. It cuts right through to falsehood that the institution can keep women safe. If there was any doubt, the police proved it when they violently broke up the protest and vigil for Everard. I think it shocked some people that they were willing to rough up middle class white women the way they did. The head of the Metropolitan Police is a woman — Dame Cressida Dick. The violence of the patriarchy is institutionalized, and individuals of any gender can wield its weapons to defend it. Girlboss feminism assimilates women into the violence of patriarchy, and it isn’t going to save or protect anyone.
The role of the police in Everard’s killing and suppressing protests it sparked were about viciously exploiting and defending the benefit of the doubt and obedience law enforcement officers feel entitled to. There is a threat that comes with the “protection” they offer. Accept our violence, or we’ll throw you to the wolves. The deal we make with them is that we endure their aggression in the hopes of avoiding worse. It’s a devil’s bargain. The bad deal goes deeper and wider. “Nice guys” play the same card. Women are pressured to see unwanted attention from men as compliments and are sometimes publicly berated when we don’t pretend their invasiveness is enchanting. Our forced smiles and monosyllabic responses are de-escalation tactics. We don’t want to be assaulted or killed, so we play along enough to allow men to save face. It’s exhausting and demeaning. Not to mention, we know co-operating doesn’t always save you, like it didn’t save Everard, like it didn’t save the women Ted Bundy approached with a smile then murdered.
The visage of the Nice Guy™ is often a mask that hides a roiling resentment towards women that can end in violence. Because it can be any man, we have to assume it’s all men. That offends some people. The hashtag #NotAllMen trended in the wake of Everard’s murder, as “nice guys” made a woman’s kidnapping and murder and the fear it sparked among other women about them. This might be the clearest evidence that it is indeed all men, including the “good” ones, who “would never!” Men are socialized to devalue women as they elevate themselves. That cannot be addressed until it is faced. #NotAllMen and similar statements are attempts to make a societal problem, indeed a global one, about individual interactions. The goal is to minimize the seriousness of the “nice guy” aggressions, erase patriarchy from the discussion, and muddle everything in between. This posture protects men like Ted Bundy and Everard’s killer and puts women in danger.
Originally published on my Patreon.