Good Men Project: Royse Versus Royse
I’ll return one more time to the subject of the Good Men Project’s two articles on rape. We have already written a lot on this, but I made a point in a prior post that I wanted to expand on. I said that Alyssa Royse’s piece read as if she made two sets of opposing flashcards and shuffled them together. I wasn’t being at all facetious. It is literally possible to take the things she wrote, split them into the anti-rape bucket and the rape-apologist bucket and present them as two separate short essays from opposing sides with very little line editing. To prove this is possible, I have done it. What appears below isn’t the entirety of her text, but the bulk of it. I’ve used it basically in the order it originally appeared, except that I’ve separated out the material from each perspective. I have not added any words, and I mostly show where the minor edits are with brackets or ellipses. Everything below is what she wrote, basically just stripped of text having an inconsistent point of view.
Here’s the part of Royse’s article that would be at home on this blog:
I am used to getting the call in which a reluctant voice says, “I was raped.” I used to carry a pager and get that call at all hours, racing to emergency rooms to counsel women through the byzantine maze of emotions, doctors, cops and—for lucky ones—lawyers that were soon to come.
However, I was not used to getting the call in which a dear friend of mine says, “I am being accused of rape.” And I was certainly not used to saying, “did you do it?”
It seems like a simple question to answer… He didn’t answer. So I asked the question from another angle, “What did she say happened?”
“She said I raped her,” he answered.
“Well, then you probably did. What exactly happened?”
At the time, I was fresh from giving a rousing talk at SlutWalk, in which I very clearly stated that the only person responsible for rape is the rapist. I said that no matter what a woman is wearing or doing, no one has the right to touch her without her explicit consent. It was a great talk.
[B]eing hot, flirty, frolicky and drunk is NOT consent. Putting your penis in a woman without her consent is rape. Being drunk was not an excuse for either party. The responsibility was not on her to say “stop”, it was on him to ask if it’s okay before he did it. This part is simple.
Within the community at large, there were … discussions centering on how it was that he thought penetrating her while she was asleep was okay, but any discussion of her behavior leading up to it was taboo. Any suggestion that her behavior may have led to … the rape was met with screams of “victim blaming” and “rape apology”. She had every right to do everything she was doing and fully expect to be safe from rape. (She was right.)
The problem is not that she’s a “slut”. The implications of that word make my brain shrivel when sprinkled with the salty insinuations that so often accompany it: that a woman who exhibits a fondness for her own sexuality is somehow inviting anyone who sees her to have sex with her.
[T]he ONLY thing that counts as consent to have sex is the word “YES”, accompanied with any form of “I would like to have sex with you.” We need to teach people that anything short of verbal consent is not an invitation to stick any part of your body on or in any part of anyone else’s body.
We need to change the emotional algebra with which we interpret social cues. We need to go from “sexy = sex” to “someone else’s sexuality doesn’t have anything to do with me”. We need to teach people that sex, as awesome as it is, is not the goal. We need to teach people that we each have the right to express our sexuality any way we want—in our movement, our dress, our language—and that it is not an invitation.
Just because someone has a sexuality does not entitle you to use it any more than someone else having a car entitles you to drive it. [T]he simple fact is that consent needs to be the first order of business when having sex. Otherwise, well, it’s not sex, it’s rape.
And here’s the part that is anathema to antirape activists:
[T]hey rarely happen in the tidy confines of a dark alley, with a stranger who is clearly a “rapist” and a woman who is clearly being victimized. [T]he rapist is not someone carrying a villainous cloak and look of ill intent. The rapist is just a person who may genuinely not realize that what he’s doing is rape.
My friend, for instance, was genuinely unsure, which was why he called me.
But it cannot undo generations of training in which the goal of getting dressed and going out is to get the guy or get the girl and hook up or get lucky. In this training, we are taught that in order to get the guy, we have to look sexy—and sometimes have sex. The training has also taught men that the reason we dress up and look sexy is to “catch him”. We even use those words, as if our bodies themselves are the lure, and our sexuality the hook.
In this particular case, I had watched the woman in question flirt aggressively with my friend for weeks. I had watched her sit on his lap, dance with him, twirl his hair in her fingers. I had seen her at parties discussing the various kinds of sex work she had done, and the pleasure with which she explored her own very fluid sexuality, all while looking my friend straight in the eye.
Only she knows what signals she intended to send out. But many of us can guess the signals he received.
[M]y friend is a really sweet guy. He believed that everything she was doing was an invitation to have sex.
The problem isn’t even that he’s a rapist. The problem is that no one is taking responsibility for the mixed messages about sex and sexuality in which we are stewing. And no one is taking responsibility for teaching people how the messages we are sending are often being misunderstood.
We walk a really fine tightrope between seeking validation and sending out signals that are easily misinterpreted as an invitation. [W]eeks of flirting, provocative dancing and intimate innuendo led him to believe that sex was the logical conclusion of their social intercourse. Many people watching it unfold would have thought that, too.
Some rape begins as the earnest belief that sex is going to happen, and that it should. The confusion starts with misreading socially accepted cues. Like, for instance, the cue that says, she’s dressed in a way that I find sexy, and she’s flirting with me, so that means we’re going to have sex. That is not an illogical conclusion. A lot of times, that’s exactly the case. [I]f something walks like a fuck and talks like fuck, at what point are we supposed to understand that it’s not a fuck?
[M]y friend raped someone and didn’t even know it.
I haven’t heard from her … though we were never friends and I’m sure that my willingness to explore the nuance was seen as excusing him.
What happened to her was wrong. My friend raped her. But I am still trying to figure out why. And no, it’s not as simple as the fact that he put his penis in her. It is a lot more complicated than that. And we need to talk about it.
One totally supports the survivor and puts the responsibility on the rapist. The other excuses the rapist’s conduct as mere misunderstanding, and mostly locates that in a societal failure but makes sure to note the survivor’s conduct in the most classically lurid, demeaning slut-shaming way.
Simplistically, someone might say that to find a middle ground we have to present both sides. That’s generally true, but to do that, what one does is to present both side’s points, and then evaluate them, analyze them, and point out where each side is right and where each side is wrong. That’s why Royse’s presentation of two completely different viewpoints in her piece is so bizarre. Often, two sides talk past each other, but not when they are both presented by the same person. She’s talking to herself, and they’re still talking past each other!
I think this is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. The easiest way to understand this piece is to decide that she believes one of those essays, and the other is what she feels she needs to say, like the disclaimers at the end of pharmaceutical ads. I’ll let you decide which one is which.