Matthew Salesses sees rape apologetics where there should be a change of heart about a supposed “nice guy.”
So, I just read “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too” in my home-away-from-home, The Good Men Project.
I have done plenty of things I am not proud of. I am not going to say I’m a good person. Let’s get that out of the way with first.
I want to talk about excuses.
I want to talk about society and men and rape.
First of all, I know it comes off a little ridiculous, a man saying this.
Society, or at least American media and culture, is terrible at talking about rape. Blaming the victim is a huge problem. Hypersexualized media has, for sure, an influence on the behaviors and expectations of people.
That is an important conversation to have, and one we should be having. But tying that conversation into the story of a specific instance of rape, where a man sleeps with a woman while the woman is literally sleeping, seems to me to be the wrong point of departure.
Society isn’t an individual. Society has its faults and they are terrifying and powerful. But one man who rapes a sleeping woman—there are plenty of other occasions to call for societal reform.
This essay says this man is a nice guy, a good person, and tries to understand why this happened, this nice guy rapist. It’s not as simple, the writer says, as him putting his penis in her. The writer wants to look at society.
It may make sense to say society is telling men to read signals wrongly. It may make sense to say society is telling women to send signals. But it doesn’t make sense to say society is telling this man, this man who comes to see what he has done as rape, to misread sleep as a signal for sex. And it seems almost as dangerous to me to reframe this story around society as it is for society to reframe rape around the victim. Both ways are removing the language of blame from the rapist.
The writing of this article, and the conversation to hash out why the rape happened—these seem to me to be excuses. She says she is not excusing the man. What he did was rape, and he is responsible for it. But simply admitting a point doesn’t let you then move away from it. It’s not like checking it off a list. And you don’t get to have your cake and eat it, too. You don’t get to say the man is responsible for his own actions and then say:
Rape is what happens when we aren’t allowed to discuss sex and sexuality as if it were as natural as food, and instead shroud it in mysterious languages and grant it mysterious powers and lust for it like Gollum after the ring. Rape is what happens we don’t even understand what sex and sexuality are, but use them for everything anyway.
You don’t get to say rape is what happens when a man has sex with a woman while she is asleep and then say rape is what happens when society does so-and-so.
There is a place for the conversation about rape and our sexualized media and culture.
There is also a place for a person to say, I thought this person was a friend and a nice guy, but then I found out that he is a rapist and it changed how I thought of him and how he thought of himself. Instead of any attempt at rectification—at least as I far as I can tell from the essay—this man split town. How does this essay get away from this man? Putting the larger part of the focus on society—even after saying the man is responsible—suggests that the writer believes the more responsible factor is society, no matter the disclaimers.
This was previously published on Matthew Salesses has a Tumblr.
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