The Good Men Project thinks men are bad, easily confused

*Trigger warning*

I wish I didn’t have to follow the current rape apology fustercluck with Alyssa Royse and the Good Men Project (which, admittedly, I never paid much attention to anyway). I do think we need to call out defenders of rape culture who go around calling themselves feminists, but also I’m exhausted from having to do just that way too much.

Something about the Good Men Project’s basic concept, and their name, has always bugged me, though. Last night, Jaclyn Friedman posted something that crystalized the problem for me. In this piece about a Facebook status where Royse basically admits GMP is trolling for traffic, Jaclyn offered some brief commentary:

Something that hasn’t been said enough about the GMP argument about rape: it’s insulting to men. GMP is promoting idea that lots & lots of guys — most guys — are already rapists or might rape at any moment. It’s worth repeating that this is not only insulting, it’s untrue. Most men aren’t rapists. But beyond that, it doesn’t really demonstrate a belief in good men, now, does it? It’s us “scary” “radical” feminists that actually believe in good men.

Ah, right, I thought. GMP thinks men=rapists. It’s dangerous, and obviously wrong to make an essentialist link between a whole gender and one action. It’s certainly no way to build smart politics that will be successful in a world that sure as hell isn’t that simplistic.

Except the problem with GMP goes even further. As Heather Corinna pointed out last night, GMP doesn’t just think men=rapists, they think men=bad. Or, ya know, good, if Royse has labeled them as good – and then clearly still good even if they’re unrepentant rapists. Because men are apparently confused by the concept of consent, which again, super insulting. And wrong, since most men aren’t rapists and aren’t confused by consent. But GMP is arguing that there are good and bad men, and that good men also rape, because consent is hard. Which brings us right back to classic rape apology – I didn’t know it was rape because consent is so confusing! When it’s really not. Actually, GMP doesn’t really believe in bad men and good men, they believe in bad men and men who can’t tell the difference between yes and no. What a shitty view of men.

I just can’t wrap my brain around this. I mean, aren’t we supposed to stop grouping all people as either good or bad by the time we’re, like, 5? People aren’t fairy tale characters, which I had thought most of us figured out by the time we could write on the internets. People are complicated – a guy can be really great to you in all your interactions, and then rape someone else. Because that’s how reality works.

I think this simplistic logic actually undergirds a lot of our conversation around rape. It reminds me of when Naomi Wolf jumped to the defense of Julian Assange when he was accused of rape. Rather than recognizing a complex reality – that the work of WikiLeaks is valuable, that governments were using the rape charges to get at Assange because of WikiLeaks, and that rape is still wrong and he should still be held responsible – Wolf and others went into denial mode. They had to protect Assange, because if he was a rapist then he was bad, and then the work of WikiLeaks would be totally undermined, because it was done by a bad person.

One thing’s for sure, a vision of the world where there are “good” people who don’t rape (or commit rape because they’re easily confused) and “bad” evil monsters isn’t going to help us end rape. Grace has a great post at Are Women Human about the way this simplistic thinking perpetuates rape culture. Here’s a small snippet on the monster stereotype:

The image of rapists as monsters perpetuates the dangerous misconception that people we see as “nice” or “upstanding” or “good” can’t possibly be rapists or abusers.

So when a “good” man commits rape, he’s either innocent, or it was an “accident.” This juvenile, fairy tale logic is dangerous, and it’s no way to build a movement that gets men involved in the issue of sexual violence. Frankly, we need a much more nuanced conversation all around. While rape is absolutely a gendered crime, it’s not gendered to the absolute essentialist extreme that too many feminists suggest. I understand the tactic, but it’s not helping. Most men aren’t rapists; some women are rapists; some people who aren’t men or women have experiences with sexual violence. And no people are just “good” or “bad,” though people can certainly do monstrous things. Gender essentialism may help us make a point about rape in the short term, but faulty logic hurts our cause in the long run. The fact is, rape is committed by humans. But Royse is so committed to the good/bad paradigm, she has to conclude that when a “good” person commits rape it must mean that consent is hard and he’s an “accidental” rapist.

I’m gonna say it again, go read Grace’s much longer and more thoughtful post on this topic. Grace brings it all back to the main point: this conversation takes our attention away from the needs of the people I care the most about in this situation – survivors. And it does nothing to build consent culture.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    “some people who aren’t men or women have experiences with sexual violence”.

    Thank you. Thank you so much. I am genderqueer and was raped 4 years ago. And I have never had my experience validated before in anything I have heard. I have been mis-gendered, mis-believed, and mis-treated in every step of my healing process by law enforcement, therapists, other feminists and my own friends.
    I know this comment is unrelated to the actual blog post, and I apologize for fixating on this one sentence. Feel free to delete this comment. I just wanted to thank who ever thought to write that one sentence, because for the very first time I feel like someone might understand what happened to me.

    • Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      (My original response to this comment got lost in the server upgrade)

      This is so important. It’s just wrong that a community that’s supposed to care about sexual violence has failed you at every turn because of its gender essentialism. I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while, and you’ve definitely given me the inspiration.

  2. Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Well, this is a hard one to discuss. I usually comment on GMP and regularly take a hard line MRA approach to things. There are a few instances where I find myself aligned with the feminist section of the community and this is one instance. Should it worry me? I chalk it up to the same reason that I read GMP. I might not be a good man, but I try to be better tomorrow than I am today. Becoming good is the purpose of the site and it focuses on men’s issues, which doesn’t always get significant conversation on feminist sites. I understand space is limited and I’ve really changed my opinion of this site (for the better), but men need a place they can go to work things out also. It’s important.

    There are a few guys in the comments who question whether he was sober enough to realize she couldn’t and didn’t give consent. I can see that train of thought, but I figure if he knew she was asleep and he did, that answers the question right there. There is no doubt in my mind that it was rape.

    I will suggest this. This conversation needs to be held at GMP. I know that it’s safe to preach to the choir and I know that women face special dangers for lack of a better term when engaging in public space. That’s one thing I learned. My experience with street harassment is not the same as a woman’s. If a hardened MRA is concerned enough about street harassment of women to consider tripping his 200 or so pounds in a pair of stiletto heels when Walk A Mile comes to town, it can’t be all bad.

    Anyway, unless you think all the people who disagree with you should just be written off, you might try enlightening them, but I will warn you. I did convince 1 or 2 feminists to move from personally opposing infant male circumcision to supporting a ban on it. You don’t want to be sucked into the dark side. :)

  3. Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Rather than recognizing a complex reality – that the work of WikiLeaks is valuable, that governments were using the rape charges to get at Assange because of WikiLeaks, and that rape is still wrong and he should still be held responsible – Wolf and others went into denial mode. They had to protect Assange, because if he was a rapist then he was bad, and then the work of WikiLeaks would be totally undermined, because it was done by a bad person.

    Yeah if only 99% of social justice activists out there could understand this. Or people period. Seriously this singular phenomenon is the #1 thing to rob me of my spoons in these kinds of circles. At first I was angry because I felt like my voice was getting taken away from me, but now I just don’t care because nobody wants to listen anyways.

    Also, yes GMP is officially a traffic-hungry woman-hating shithole. (And if you hate women, then you can’t possibly think much of men or any other gender either.)

  4. Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    “One thing’s for sure, a vision of the world where there are ‘good’ people who don’t rape (or commit rape because they’re easily confused) and “bad” evil monsters isn’t going to help us end rape.”

    I’m not sure if it’s just said in passing or meant as hyperbole, but isn’t this a little utopian even for a young, idealistic feminist set? I mean, nobody is talking about ending murder or identity theft (except law and order ideologues). Germaine Greer may not be the most popular new wave feminist because of her arguably unsympathetic views about rape and self-victimization, among other things, but she has a point about building resiliency. Ending rape is not a realistic proposition, it’s a fantasy.

  5. Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    I cannot disagree with this article more. It feels unresearched, editorialized, and simplistic. For an author who claims they “never paid much attention to” the Good Men Project, she certainly has a lot to say concerning a website she hears about second hand. I cannot begin to describe how my feminist identity of has been strengthened by the work that appears daily on GMP, written by dozens of authors – half of them women. It is a rare thing indeed to find a site online where men are encouraged to openly discuss sexuality, parenthood, relationships, ethics, spirituality, and male identity in a setting free of hate speech, immaturity, and misogyny. It is RARER that men can find exposure to issues of sexual violence and bigotry. Please don’t take a single article – written with many dangerous conclusions, yes – and make it into some sort of war between websites. There is enough readership for both, including myself.
    Remember how I said there are dozens of authors? Here’s a response to the ‘apologist’ post by one of my favourite and insightful women, Joanna Schroeder: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/why-its-dangerous-to-say-only-bad-guys-commit-rape/

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