How Not to Talk About Rape on the InternetS

The Good Men Project, a website that describes itself as "a glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century," recently posted a story about a "nice guy" (the female writer, a friend, pinky-swears he's an angel!) who raped a woman while she was sleeping and a first-person account from an anonymous bro who accepts "a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business." ("Business" meaning "getting wasted.") The GMP's editors have defended the pieces by arguing that they're encouraging dialogue about rape. No, you're doing it wrong. You don't start a conversation about rape by posting straight-up rape apologia.

In a defensive post called "This is Why We Published a Rapist's Story," GMP editor Joanna Schroeder says she ran an unrepentant rapist's perspective on why he'd rather "risk rape than quit partying" because "the real world is a place where 'no means no' simply isn't enough," so we need hear the rapist's viewpoint. I agree with her in theory, which is why, when rapists and would-be rapists talked about their motivations on a controversial Reddit thread, I argued that it's impossible to talk about the reasons people rape without involving rapists in the discussion.

But there is a massive difference between analyzing the reasons why rapists rape and actually providing rapists with an unfiltered, unedited platform to explain themselves, or defending the actions of a "nice guy" who had sex with a woman while she was unconscious because she had been flirting with him before she passed out. I agree that it's wrong to pretend that all rapists are scary men who jump out of the bushes, especially when the majority of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, but the GMP doesn't draw any conclusions as to why these men rape or explain how their justifications are pathetic, dangerous and fucked up. Instead, they're just plain normalizing rape. And, over at The Guardian, Jill Filipovic has some great data that explains why that makes the GMP 's bullshit worth pointing out:

What is true, researchers have found, is that cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely. In social groups where there is wide acceptance of rape myths – for example, the beliefs that acquaintance rape is a problem of communication or "mixed signals", that rapists simply can't control their sexual urges, that women often lie about rape, or that women invite rape upon themselves by their actions or manner of dressing – rape proclivity is higher. When men internalize rape myths, they are more likely to commit rape or see rape as more acceptable.

When men perceive these rape myths as being widely-accepted social norms, their rape proclivity increases. When men believe their peers are using coercion to "get" sex, those men are more likely to engage in the same behaviors. But when men see that rape myths were challenged or not accepted, their rape proclivity decreases.

In other words, challenging rape myths means less rape. But when writers, cultural figures, media-makers or individuals perpetuate the idea that rape is a grey area or that acquaintance rapists are "nice guys" who are just confused or that women somehow bring rape upon themselves, that enables rapists and feeds their propensity to rape.

GMP editors and a number of respected feminist bloggers (amusingly, Royce called them "brand mane feminists" [sic, I hope] on her Facebook) have been arguing with each other for over a week now about these articles; if you're interested in more of the inside baseball, Filipovic's Guardian piece will get you all caught up. But all you need to know about the GMP's response is in this email that Thomas Matlack, the site's co-founder, sent to supporters last Friday:

This week GMP came under attack for a series of articles that attempted to dig under the covers of sexual abuse, addiction, and stereotypes.

A small number of influential and extreme cyber feminists hijacked the conversation and mischaracterize the facts of what we did as supporting rapists. In fact our track record on this issue, and the pieces in question, do nothing of the kind.

….

Honestly cyber feminists are not and have never been our core audience. But the way they have attacked our editorial team (all of whom consider themselves women's advocates and feminists themselves) is disturbing to say the least. Their words are vicious and unfair.

Before I read that email (and almost LOLed myself to death over the term "cyber feminist"), I hadn't planned on covering this issue; I've tried to ignore the GMP ever since they started running ridiculous anti-feminist rants (most written by Matlack himself) and became a haven for MRAs. But Matlack's email reminded me why this controversy is so much more than a dispute between bloggers.

Poor Matlack; he feels "attacked" by words that are "vicious and unfair." Poor little venture capitalist Tom Matlack, who has absolutely no agency whatsoever, other than being able to write whatever the fuck he wants on his own website! What a victim.

Tom, do you know who the real victims are? The people who have been raped by the men who write and who are defended in GMP articles.

There is absolutely no justification for penetrating someone who is sleeping, even if she literally told you she wanted to sleep with you before she passed out. A nice guy wouldn't do that; he'd wake her up before penetrating her so she could consent and even possibly (god forbid!) actually enjoy the experience. And what kind of website — especially an advocacy publication like the GMP, which strives to challenge "confining cultural notions of what a 'real man' must be" — publishes a cowardly anonymous essay by a guy who won't give up partying even if a little rape happens along the way for the same reasons why "people who've been in car accidents [don't] give up driving"?

The GMPs "rape discussion" is nothing more than a compendium of rape apologia and it is offensive not only to rape victims but to men. Jaclyn Friedman put it well:

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.

So to get back to why I decided to write about this here: the GMP editors and contributors are hardly the only people who normalize rape. The creators of Facebook pages that imply women are "asking for it" by partying normalize rape. The high school football coach who thinks the 16-year-old who was raped by his team members was lying because she was embarrassed about her "at-risk behavior" is normalizing rape. "Buying into social myths about rape is world-wide phenomenon," Filipovic writes in her Guardian piece. "Every day, conversations are had and articles are published that feed into these myths. Every day, adherence to these myths gets rapists off the hook. Every day, they groom more men to rape."

Exactly. So let's leave the Good Men Project out of all further conversations about rape — and everything else.

Image via 7505811966/Shutterstock.