I’ve kept pretty quiet about the furor over Good Men Project’s decision to run Alyssa Royse’s “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too” article and their posting of an unrepentant “party rapist.”
I did make an initial comment on Ally Fogg’s insightful post “On why men rape, and why they don’t” because I thought he nailed the consent issue head on:
“I simply cannot accept that any reasonably intelligent and informed man (and by the description I’m assuming this man is both) doesn’t know full well that just because a woman wanted to have sex with you earlier in the evening, or last week, or last month, does not mean she necessarily wants to have sex with you right now. People have the right to change their mind, to develop a headache, or to lose a mood – not to mention fall asleep.”
I also wrote a piece of my own that brought up some unpleasant memories from college, including one where I’d felt, at the very least, coerced.
That combined with the conversation as a whole and vitriolic back and forth between various people/publications I follow online left me feeling pretty weird and unable to write for a couple of weeks, both on the subject of rape and in general.
Like many writers I have issues with the way Good Men Project chose to address the topic. There are plenty of good points to be made about the need for clearer consent, and I’ve had my share of conversations about better education and advocacy…but I think they went about it all wrong.
I won’t get into it in great detail (you can read some accurate critiques here, here, and here) but on the most basic level I think they chose poor examples to illustrate the complexity of sexual relations and generally muddied the water more. I don’t know anyone who thinks that it’s ok to have sex with someone who’s sleeping. That’s clearly rape and doesn’t require more “education.” And Alyssa’s setting up her friend’s decision to rape by explaining that the woman was sending signals to have sex, and that her friend is a nice guy, well frankly there’s not a lot of room to read that other than that she was engaging in wishful thinking. Is her friend in the category of rapist that makes him unreachable and likely to continue that behavior? I don’t know, I’m not an expert and it’s a hard read based on her column. But the proper response to someone revealing something like that is to hold them accountable, because the only thing I would say to that is, yes, you did commit rape, and if you are not a sociopath you’d better think long and hard about your future actions and whether you are a nice guy or not has nothing to do with it. Though to be clear, there’s legitimate evidence that someone who makes a decision like that is probably already in that small group of men who commit the majority of rape.
Good Men Project also followed it up with the unrepentant “party rapist” confession which I refuse to link here because I think its absolute trash. Basically the anonymous author brought up a bunch of mumbo jumbo about how sexual relations aren’t always clear and he’d rather continue risking rape than make any changes to his lifestyle. No idea why Good Men Project thought that would be helpful, other than to use the controversy to spur conversation/page views, which seems irresponsible to me.
I don’t know any men who would have sex with someone who was sleeping and be “confused if it was rape.” I also don’t know any men who consider raping someone as the collateral damage for partying.
Now, I do know men who have confused ideas about consent, and who probably engage in unhealthy behaviors (having sex while on drugs/alcohol, trading in the interpretation of signals instead of clear consent, etc…) and those are the people that Good Men Project should be encouraging conversation with. Joanna Schroeder, Lisa Hickey, and others, made some good points in the aftermath about consent. But those points were lost because they chose bad/incorrect examples, made assumptions they shouldn’t have, and got defensive when they were called out on both.
One of the things that Good Men Project is trying to do is create a space for men to share the complexities of their interior life, and learn and grow. This is an admirable but difficult mission, because being a man means you have access to historic privilege. I don’t think, contrary to some self-identified feminists, that men should consider everything they say/do through by first considering women. There is good in men that doesn’t require a pre-certification from women or anyone else. And there is value to both the masculine and feminine energy, and all of the various combinations across the spectrum that don’t require a “I’m a man or woman” tag. But none of that is an excuse or a free pass that allows you to skip steps, pretend that historic privilege doesn’t matter (I’m a man, and white, and the last thing I want is my voice to be the only one heard), or use the “we were just trying to start a conversation” response.
Slightly related point: I also hear from men who frequently say things like “jeez, why do women always get on me about language, we’re on the same side.” I typically politely point out to them that language matters, identity matters, and if you don’t like having to be thoughtful, precise, and specific than you’re delegitimizing your own voice. In fact, that’s one of my grievances for Festivus this year (Happy Festivus for the Rest of Us!), the “Everyone Knows Guy/Gal” who generalizes based on their own experience and/or “common sense.”
Will I continue reading the Good Men Project? I’m not sure I will. They do have some good things to say and I’d like to continue to participate within the community, but their missteps on this issue and shift this year from thoughtful, nuanced articles to more general, easier to consume pieces (e.g. the Cosmo-esque Single Ladies: How to Find a Good Man…seriously?) have made me wary. Based on my experience the folks there are good people, with kind hearts and a desire for honest collaboration. I don’t know if the shift in advertising / revenue for the site has inadvertently affected content, or if they are simply expressing a more mainstream culture as they gain a larger audience, but it’s off the mark for me.