This week the Good Men Project has run two stories about men who rape. The first was written by a friend of the rapist, a man who violated an acquaintance after she passed out at a party. The second was a first-person account by a man who says he’s raped a lot of women and expects to rape again.
The author of the first of these pieces says she wrote it because “no one is taking responsibility for the mixed messages about sex and sexuality in which we are stewing,” and the editor who approved the second says that “this anonymous rapist’s essay has held a mirror up to us, and it blazes with the news: here are the symptoms of our dysfunctional culture.”
But these justifications don’t hold water. These guys aren’t raping because of society’s mixed messages, and giving a rapist a platform doesn’t hold up a mirror to society.
Why? Because most people aren’t rapists. Most men aren’t rapists. In fact, most asshole men aren’t rapists. The data on this is pretty clear. The vast majority of rapes are committed by a small number of men, and the main reason so many people are raped is that those few men rape over and over again, mostly with impunity.
When right-thinking people talk about rape we tend to talk a lot about the importance of understanding how consent works. “No means no” and “yes means yes” and “enthusiastic consent.” And that’s all important stuff to talk about. It’s vital.
But it’s also vital to remember that when folks get their wires crossed about what each of them is looking for, rape isn’t usually the outcome. Far more often it’s discomfort or awkwardness or going home annoyed because someone who seemed nice turned out to be kind of a jerk.
That’s because most of the time, when someone’s not into something, their partner picks up on it. Maybe not immediately, but soon. And when they realize it, they stop. Because they don’t want to rape anybody.
Rapists don’t stop. Rapists don’t stop when the person they’ve been flirting with passes out — not because they don’t understand that an unconscious person can’t consent to sex, but because they don’t care. Rapists don’t stop when they realize someone is tensing up, or pushing them away, or drifting off, or crying, or saying no.
They don’t stop because they don’t want to stop.
So yes, let’s continue to have conversations about the ways that the sexual negotiation model of man as pursuer and woman as gatekeeper can lead to ugliness and confusion. Let’s continue to have conversations about the ways that intentions can get blurry in the presence of alcohol and drugs. Let’s continue to have conversations about how to get everyone on the same page without breaking the mood. About how to listen, how to speak up, how to check in. About how to deliver and respond to a rebuff graciously.
But let’s have those conversations among decent people.
Let’s leave the rapists out of it.