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.