Renee Beauregard Lute looks at the rape controversy on The Good Men Project for The Review Review.
I like my men like I like my literary journals—good and classy. That’s why, when I came across The Good Men Project, I was ecstatic. What began as a documentary and anthology about the defining moments in men’s lives turned into an entire community of men—writer men—sharing relevant, gorgeous, often moving essays in an online journal. (I call it “journal,” they call it “a diverse, multi-faceted media company and an idea-based social platform.” Potato, potahto.) There are women here, too, writing about their experiences with men. The website ends its “About Us” page with a really lovely piece of uplifting, joy-inspiring prose.
Guys today are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Our community is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world. The Good Men Project is a place where that happens. We’re glad to have you along for the ride.
Some of the most popular stories at The Good Men Project include Henry Belanger’s “Not Now, Honey. I’m Late for Gay Softball” (I die. The story’s good, but the title! The title is phenomenal), Ted Cox’s “Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp” (holy cow), and Lisa Hickey’s difficult and important piece, “I Used to Stand in Dark Hallways and Say ‘Kiss Me.’” I’ve spent hours on this website. It’s easy to do. But because I am not known to be shy about a controversy, I’m not going to write about these beautiful, moving pieces, which I do hope you’ll read. I’m going to write about the recent essays that have gotten The Good Men Project accused of being rape sympathizers.
Recently Salon published an article entitled “The Good Men Project is being awfully sympathetic to rapists.” (They say that all publicity is good publicity, but I’m willing to bet that TGMP does not feel that way at all.) Three TGMP essays are cited in the article: “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too,” by Alyssa Royse, “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying,” in which the author remains anonymous (for obvious reasons), and Joanna Schroeder’s “This is Why We Published a Rapist’s Story,” a companion piece to the anonymous essay.
I’m going to break down these essays that Salon didn’t love so much.
In Royse’s essay, the author writes about being the friend of someone who is accused of rape. In the horrible event that a friend calls to say I was raped, the listener knows exactly what to feel—horror, sadness, anger. In the event that a friend calls to say I am being accused of rape, things get very uncertain. I don’t think anyone would know what to feel. This is what makes me feel for Royse. This—the loyalty in friendship directly opposing the loyalty in being a woman with a woman’s body and a woman’s knowledge that no means no, always, no matter what—is what makes her essay a very challenging, interesting read. I could easily see this as the plot of a new Jodi Picoult novel.
Unfortunately, the essay doesn’t stop there. The bit of the essay that Salon quotes with almost palpable revulsion is: “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.” Okay, this is scary stuff. It sounds a little like we’re a few bites into a great big “SHE ASKED FOR IT” falafel. But wait! Royse doesn’t quite go there. Not quite. She continues: “This is not a ‘some girls, they rape so easy’ story. I promise. This is a ‘some signals, they read so wrong’ story. And the fault is not hers, it’s ours—all of ours—for not explaining what these signals DON’T mean, even if we don’t know exactly what they DO mean.” I understand what Royse is saying, and I also understand why Salon (and Feministe, who writes: “This piece by Alyssa Royse of the Good Men Project…may be the worst thing I have read about rape all year — and that’s including the GOP’s pre-election bout of Rape Philosophy”) is so disturbed. My official position on Royse’s piece is that I’m glad it has people talking about rape.
The Good Men Project published another, far more horrifying piece. Salon, Feministe, BlogHer, and other journals and blogs have been talking about this piece, and now it’s my turn. The title of the essay is “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying.” It is the first-hand account of a man who admits that he is a rapist, that he has raped as a result of being under the influence, but that he does not plan to change the lifestyle that has led him to rape. Pretty horrifying stuff. At one point, he addresses his readers: “Some might think it’s monstrous of me to keep drinking, keep partying. But I have had so many good, positive, happy experiences because I took a chance and altered my state and connected with someone else sexually, it seems crazy to throw all that away. Do people who’ve been in car accidents give up driving?” Gah. This is really stomach-turning stuff.
The essay is unsettling, and the man behind it is disgusting. However, most of the press this essay has received hasn’t been directed at the author, but at The Good Men Project. (Feministe calls TGMP “a men’s-rights misogynist hellhole.”) Joanna Schroeder, Senior Editor of The Good Men Project, wrote a follow-up piece, entitled “This is Why We Published A Rapist’s Story.” In her essay, she writes of the anonymous author: “But he’s not the only one. No, he’s far from the only one. People, particularly young people, are putting themselves in dangerous situations on a regular basis because of their partying. A few hours, weeks, or years down the line, the hurt and pain caused by these scenarios might become very real to them and they will start to see the ways in which they were taken advantage of—or took advantage of others.” If the reason TGMP published the anonymous essay is to warn readers—male and female—of the dangers of this lifestyle, of the possibilities, well, okay. They are certainly bringing this kind of rape—the kind that does not take place in a dark alley or involve a knife—into conversation, and I think that’s invaluable.
Here’s the thing. I have a daughter. Maybe you have a daughter too, or a son. If the world they step into at eighteen is one that recognizes that rape is rape, however it happens, wherever it happens, maybe they’ll be safer. Maybe we’ll be able to sleep a little better. If awareness is something that TGMP has accomplished in publishing these essays, then I’m all for it.
The majority of this review (which has turned into more of an essay) was written before the horrible tragedy that took place in Connecticut on Friday, December 14th. Since Friday, The Good Men Project has published a number of beautiful, searching essays that address the culture of violence as it applies to the young men of our country. Tom Matlack’s piece, “Why Our Boys Need The Good Men Project,” ends with these words that, I feel, define the mission of TGMP: “I think all our boys need a forum like The Good Men Project to make them realize they are not alone, they are not hated, that what they see online in terms of sex and violence and manhood is a pale shadow of real manhood. We need to love our boys so they learn the power of their own love as husbands, fathers and men.”
Originally published on The Review Review