Pointing our anger at the facilitators of a discussion on consent interferes with our ability to see a greater point.
The various articles that have appeared here on The Good Men Project regarding the topic of consent have started an intense and necessary conversation. I was originally satisfied to observe it from the sidelines—that is, until I learned that colleagues and contributors were targeted personally and, in my view, unfairly. I’m responding primarily to those who’ve taken issue with The Good Men Project’s decision to print the anonymous article titled I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Give Up Partying.
I understand the intense emotions this article generates. I was not married to my wife for two years when she was mugged just outside an apartment we were renting in Chicago, forced into a gangway at knifepoint and raped. I was away, attending graduate school in New York City. We were quite literally penniless, paying rent in two cities, and if not for a gift from a saint, I would not have made it out to her for a very long time—as it was, I did not see her for four days after the assault, and she hadn’t been able to reach me for three (we didn’t have mobile phones).
The rape changed our marriage dramatically. Our mental health suffered—we immediately understood how few people we could trust with our fragile and volatile emotions: confusion, fear, anger and overwhelming pain. I learned how powerfully rape isolates the victim. Otherwise well educated people quickly blamed her for “being out late” (she’s a violinist and was returning from a gig). “That’s what you get,” I was told, “for living in a shitty neighborhood.” I tortured myself: had I been wealthier, had I not been living in New York City, had I not been so selfish to go to Columbia University (to study writing, a fool’s subject), none of this would have happened.
People do not know the inexplicable, unfathomable nature of the trauma. One person is raped, yes, and the assault remains the fire at the heart of the crime’s kiln. But the act also causes harm to anyone who loves the victim. The pain is everlasting; you might manage it or shape it to something, but you will not destroy it, and you certainly won’t forget it. Twelve years have passed. I would describe the tremble to my fingers as I type, the hot anvil that is pressing on my chest if it did not leave me digressing from my larger point.
If someone gave my wife’s aggressor a platform from which to spew his point of view, what he actually said would matter very little. He could make perfect sense or babble absurdity, but I would seethe with rage, and I’d return to the violent revenge fantasies, abreactions that haunted me for years—they actually flash right back as I type these words. If in the process someone decided to prosecute or punish, no one would allow me to serve on the jury of his trial, and I know no punishment currently legal that would fit the crime. In my imagination, I have tortured him in ways that horror scriptwriters would reject as stuff too sick for any screen.
But what the rapists says, how he rationalizes his crime, regardless of what emotions it triggers in the hearts of his victims, does matter to a larger context. If we are to have a civilized, enlightened conversation, his rationalization matters enormously. We ask: how could someone do this? Whom better to ask than the perpetrator himself?
As victims, their lovers, family members, friends or allies, we pick the wrong target for our rage and frustration if we blame the person holding the microphone to the rapist’s lips. He’s anonymous; we can’t write him messages or flood his Twitter account with contempt. Let us loathe some effigy of him; it is useless and unhealthy to ignore or deny that rage. But we need to be clear: the rapist caused the pain, not those who asked him Why are you a rapist?
And look at his repugnant answer: You accept [the tradeoff of potentially raping someone] because [it comes] with amazing times. [It comes] with glowing memories of an intensity entirely beyond the mundane…crazy sex with amazing people, [it comes] with living a few hours at a time in a world where anything, anything at all, can happen.
This tragic fool, this unskilled mind, clueless to the core, is incapable of seeing his own contradictions. In one corner he speaks about “glowing” memory; in the other he admits he has forgotten entire episodes of life. He considers drunks and tripping idiots amazing in their own right, more amazing now that they’ve agreed (or not, but who really cares, in his view) to fuck him. He seeks an extraordinary world, but blinded by drugs and the influence of delinquents, he cannot see how ordinary an inebriated twit is, how repulsive his lack of any moral center. He is dangerous and needs to be removed from society.
But here’s another danger: we enhance his tragedy if we do not see what it suggests. It is not singular, limited to him. 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. We seek out fantasies, delude ourselves with the idea that they can become real. We seek not happiness and peace but bliss and euphoria; we don’t want to see the beauty that’s before us but wish to live a myth where “anything, anything at all, can happen”. We want the power to control and possess, but we’re blind to the power all of us have right now to stop and look at any common thing and see, as children do quite naturally, how amazing it is. Ironically, lost in the desire for euphoria and myth, we’re kept from seeing that we have the power to severely reduce the instances of injustice in the world if we learned to look at our trembling hands, at the blazing kiln of pain in our hearts and wonder, bloody hell, how extraordinary. How amazing. Where does it come from?
We are not validating the rapist if we hand him a microphone. Quite the opposite. We expose him, and then get to ask important questions. How is it possible for someone to get to this point? More importantly: where is the beginning of the path that leads to this tragic perspective?
Photo by visual.dichotomy.