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Good Men Project: Royse Versus Royse

December 20, 2012

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.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2012 7:54 pm

    I believe that as a culture, we have got to realise that evil people are not cackling evilly in their lairs, plotting malicious evilness. Evil people for the most part think they are doing the right thing, and usually aren’t acting specifically sadistically. Even Hitler and the Nazi leadership struggled with the decision over whether to kills Jews en mass, and did it because they (racistly) believed it was the only way to win the war. America killed tens of thousands (plus) of people with atomic bombs, and still justify it as saving more lives than the war continuing.

    I do NOT say any of this to justify any of these actions. Rather, I want to emphasize that if we do not realise the true roots of evil, we will not be able to recognize evil within ourselves or our friends. And if we cannot recognize evil within ourselves and our friends, we will end up like Alyssa justifying a rapist, or like her friend, denying his rape.

    The truth is that people like Alyssa’s friend DON’T know that they are raping, because they are in denial about the personhood and autonomy of other people. If you have a believe that certain actions on the part of a woman obligate her to sex with you, your rape is not a rape in your head, it is just ‘getting what you were owed’. Etc.

    I have mixed feelings about Alyssa’s post because I do think it addresses a very important point: Rapists are people. They may be people we know. They may be our friends. They may be our close friends, or our family members. If we don’t question our assumptions and are careful and vigilant to respect others, they could be us.

    The idea that rapists are only other people, people that we don’t know, ugly scheming people in their lairs, puts us at risk of being rape defenders. “He’s my friend and he’s a great guy, he’s always respectful. This must be one of those rare instances where the woman really is delusional or lying.” I’ve heard this said before by people I admired. I lost my admiration for them. But at the same time I understand the impulse to want to be loyal to and think the best of a friend, someone who has been there for you, supported you, helped you survive through hard times. Because you ‘know’ that rapists are only evil people, and you ‘know’ that your friend isn’t evil.

    In the real world, the impulse to evil is simply the impulse to survive, or get your due, or have a good life. Bernie Maddoff wasn’t trying to bankrupt anyone; he was trying to live high on the hog. Allysa’s friend wasn’t trying to rape anyone; he just wanted to stick his dick in a vagina. Saying this is NOT defending rape. Saying this is the ONLY way we can move towards ending rape and rape culture. Ending sadism isn’t going to end rape because most rapists aren’t sadists. But they are still doing evil and must stop or be stopped.

    • Anon. permalink
      January 4, 2013 12:20 am

      I think this is an important point. If you look at studies of corporate CEOs, most of them act, in their business lives, like psychopaths.

      Now, some of them probably are actual psychopaths. But not *all* of them. The rest are simply *suggestible* and have absorbed the psychopath culture around them.

      Similarly, there are going to be a lot of men(and yes, women) out there who are *suggestible* and have absorbed the rape culture around them.

      And there were a lot of good, patriotic Germans who fought for the Nazis. They were *suggestible* too.

      Remember the Milgram experiment. Remember the Stanford Prison Experiment. A relatively small percentage of people are strongly internally motivated, and they are good or bad based on their own motivations and beliefs. Most of the rest are incredibly suggestible and are good or bad based on the cultural signals they’re getting from the people around them.

      • January 8, 2013 12:30 am

        Anon, my point was that you don’t have to be a sadist to do something wrong or bad, and that most people who deliberately do wrong and bad things are not sadistically motivated. Rapists may not rape out of an explicit desire to be a predator, but they are predators nonetheless. They don’t care about the will of another human being. That is not just a ‘mistake’ that one makes.

  2. December 20, 2012 9:16 pm

    I still do not understand how she could possibly have ignored that sitting in someone’s lap and twirling their hair in your fingers, while perhaps an invitation to have sex, IS NOT an invitation to penetrate you when you are unconscious and not participating!!!!!!!! Totally does not compute for me.

  3. December 21, 2012 1:45 am

    Excellently done. This splitting makes your point perfectly clear.

    The way I interpret it is that she believes both of those essays, and that she’s struggling to reconcile her compassion for the victim with her compassion for her friend in light of the fucked-uppedness of our culture. Which I think is a good struggle to have. Patriarchy is a system that harms everybody. Having compassion and understanding for somebody who has done wrong does not mean that you are excusing them (although here she clearly wants — incorrectly — to excuse him).

    It is possible to sustain both sorts of compassion without excusing anybody. For example, consider this murderer:

    To have compassion for the man he is now and the broken teen he was does not mean we excuse the crime. (Notably, he doesn’t.) But it does make it easier to see how to keep the crime from happening again. The criminal is the only person responsible for the crime. But we can still, without diminishing that responsibility, acknowledge that they have also been a victim and that the outcome had causal roots that go deeper.

  4. December 21, 2012 4:20 am

    I think you’re right, it is a case of cognitive dissonance because Royse can’t risk losing her rapey friend’s friendship.

    The truth we all know – that even the men we know and respect, like, love – can be rapists, is too frightening and too horrifying for Royse to face up to. Much easier and much less frightening, to try and flail around for some kind of mitigating factor which will give us a plausible explanation for that man being a rapist. In the case of out and out rape-apologists, it’s a simple case of blaming the victim; in the case of a feminist who can’t face up to the truth about her own friend, the easy way out is to blame society for not explaining clearly enough to him, how not to be a rapist. That explanation means you get to keep your card-carrying feminist status among those who are as willing as you are to let certain rapists off the hook; while at the same time, you don’t have to blame your friend for his own behaviour. It’s all society’s fault, innit.

    In the end, this feminist has not managed to shake off the very deep-seated belief that men cannot be held responsible for rape. Someone else is always responsible. She’s too feminist to blame the victim; so she blames society instead. If she can do that, she gets to keep her friendship with her rapist friend without demanding that he account properly for his actions. Instead of demanding that he hands himself into the police to face justice or at least goes to his victim to apologise and acknowledge his behaviour so that she gets some validation, she can sympathise with him about how inadequate society has been in ensuring that he didn’t turn out a rapist. That way, she gets to keep her friendship with him and reassure him that any beliefs she has, will never take priority over her need to keep him as a friend. He’s pretty much broken the (second) biggest taboo that a feminist’s friend could break: he’s raped a woman. And that’s not enough for her to risk losing her friendship with him, because she still hasn’t liberated herself from the deep-seated belief, that rape isn’t a big enough deal to risk a friendship for.

    She may get there in time.

    • Nina Z. permalink
      December 21, 2012 9:38 pm

      What’s the biggest taboo?

      • December 23, 2012 4:07 pm

        I’d go with murder. But am prepared to be contradicted

  5. December 21, 2012 6:05 pm

    I believe that as a culture, we have got to realise that evil people are not cackling evilly in their lairs, plotting malicious evilness. Evil people for the most part think they are doing the right thing, and usually aren’t acting specifically sadistically.

    Other people have made that point before without claiming that a rapist just had no idea (honest!) that he did not have consent.

    Allysa’s friend wasn’t trying to rape anyone; he just wanted to stick his dick in a vagina.

    I’m not so sure. Given that (if the story Alyssa presented is accurate) it seemed likely that when conscious, the victim would have consented to sex, I wonder if he was specifically looking to exert control over her. At best, he couldn’t be bothered to wait a little while for her to actually wake up. This does not require him to have a “ha ha, I’m so evil” inner monologue, it just requires him to believe that, for example, a woman who has been making out with him and fell asleep next to him does not have the right to not consent to sex, and/or that once she has consented to sex, she should not be able to refuse particular types of sex. This attitude seems to be all too common. The same motivation that in us leads to wanting to see rapists held accountable, could lead in rapists to wanting to control victims and deny them things they believe the victims are not entitled to, such as refusing sex.

    Understanding how rapists’ minds work could potentially help prevent rape, but I don’t think we should assume that rapists will be honest with us. My experience is that plenty of people who realize they’re doing something wrong will pretend that they didn’t realize once they get caught.

    • Anon. permalink
      January 4, 2013 12:25 am

      “Other people have made that point before without claiming that a rapist just had no idea (honest!) that he did not have consent.”
      Yeah, she does go REALLY EXTREMELY apologist later in the essay.

      “Understanding how rapists’ minds work could potentially help prevent rape, but I don’t think we should assume that rapists will be honest with us.”

      Remember the studies (“Meet the Predators” blog entry). About half of the rapists had committed exactly one rape. Perhaps these people are able to learn to be better people.

      The other half had committed a huge number of rapes, obviously knew exactly what they were doing, and presumably they pretend to be in the first group when caught.

      Bimodal distribution. Two different mindsets to analyze.

    • January 8, 2013 12:37 am

      Closetpuritan, we don’t have to guess what is going on in rapist’s minds. We can read it all over the internet. We can read it in ‘Pick Up Artist’ guidebooks, which sell well these days. These men discount the humanity of their victims and believe all that is important is achieving their desires. They also deliberately choose techniques that will not get them prosecuted and *therefore* consider their actions not to be rape.

  6. December 26, 2012 7:54 am

    I suspect she believes two things

    1) her friend is a good person

    2) rape is bad

    I think this might be a different cognitive bias, she is unwilling to challenge 1) so what her friend did can’t be “rape-rape” or if it is, it can’t be his fault.

  7. Colin permalink
    December 27, 2012 8:53 pm

    “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.”

    The point about cognitive dissonance is that the person really believes BOTH points of view, even though they contradict each other. This is not at all uncommon – our beliefs are often a lot less consistent than we would like to believe (woo, meta-cognitive dissonance!). What’s interesting about this essay is that the author has laid the dissonance out in the open and still doesn’t feel the need to deconstruct it.

  8. Lenoxus permalink
    January 4, 2013 11:14 pm

    “Simplistically, someone might say that to find a middle ground we have to present both sides. That’s generally true”

    No, that’s the golden mean fallacy. It’s not just simplistic, it’s annoyingly commonplace, and it needs to end ASAP. (I suppose it persists because stronger positions alienate more people, so finding a “middle ground” alienates the fewest people. Hmmph.)

  9. Brooke_S permalink
    February 16, 2013 6:28 pm

    I know a man who is a stand-up guy. A decent guy. He is loyal, stands by his word, believes in loyalty and honor and family values blah blah blah. In highschool, some slut accused him of raping her while she was passed out drunk. She was blacked out but no one knew it, and he had been drinking too, and she had come down to get him in front of all his guy friends and they had consensual sex. (At least, that is what the lawyer his daddy hired claimed happened… His friends backed him up. That girl was a lying whore.) Who knows what else happened the following 6 years, but at some point there was a misunderstanding and he climbed into bed with his friend’s girlfriend and tried to have sex with her but she got away from him and there were people in the other room. He had been drinking, and it was just a mistake and after all he didn’t actually get all the way to the point of penetration so it wasn’t rape. He apologized profusely for the misunderstanding and all of his friends nodded and forgot about it because he had always been such a great, awesome, respectful guy he wasn’t a rapist! It was just a misunderstanding! And then he raped me, after breaking into the apartment where I was sleeping alone at 330am. Only 3 people knew, but i heard lots of questions to try and get him off the hook… Like… did he have an erection when he got into bed? Because he had been drinking… maybe he crawled into bed with you and just planned on sleeping. Had YOU been drinking? If you were drunk maybe you sent the wrong message. Well, had you ever flirted with him? Spent time alone with him? blah blah blah on and on and on. No one wants to think their buddy is a rapist, no matter what the evidence. Only two of my male friends believed me, and they hadn’t really trusted my attacker to begin with. No one else really did much about it. I was held accountable for “ruining friendships” though… So this attitude even from an anti-rape activist doesnt surprise me.


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