Lisa Hickey believes that the “presumption of male guilt” is equally damaging to both men and women.
One day, when I was 22 years old, I was walking to the bus station from work, deep woods to the left of me, a fairly busy road to the right. I see a guy up ahead coming towards me, slightly older than me, muscular, wild hair and wild eyes. He might have been high. He’s looking straight at me as we approach each other, I keep my eyes on the sidewalk til he passes.
A moment after we pass he spins around, grabs my arm – hard – and starts walking with me. He doesn’t relinquish the hold on my arm. “Give me twenty dollars,” he says. When I say I don’t have twenty he stops us, glares at me, and says “Would you rather I rape you?”
And my first thought was, “Oh, no, not again.”
I’ve written before how my first sexual relationships weren’t exactly stellar. I was sexually abused by my father. Became a blackout alcoholic soon after swigging a bottle of Tango (vodka and something suspiciously close to orange Kool-Aid) at age 14. Spent most of college so drunk that…well you can read it here. But certainly having guys have sex with you while passed out counts as rape. Nor was it the first time a guy had asked me if I wanted to be raped. The first time that exact question was put to me was in a pick-up truck driving down Mass. Ave in Cambridge MA, just outside of Central Square. I had to take off my seatbelt, decline the invitation, and hop out at a red light in one fell swoop.
So here I am, being asked that same question again. I look at the woods. I look at the street next to me. I calculate whether I can wrestle free of the guy’s hold on my arm, jump in front of a car, have the car stop before it hits me. I decide to go for plan B, and negotiate instead.
“Look, I have $10. I can give you $5. I need $5 for the bus ride home.” I take the money out of my jeans pocket with my free hand. A five and five ones.
“I’ll take eight,” the guy says, and much to my surprise, he does, actually leaving me with enough money for the bus fare. He pushes me to the ground and dashes off. No cars that drive by even slow down.
I believe I am qualified to talk about what it’s like to be a female victim of sexual abuse. Not just once, but many times, over the course of more than a decade. With more guys than I actually remember. I guess you could call that “rape culture.”
And so, Hugo Schwyzer writes an article on that very thing today “In Rape Culture, All Men Are Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” I should be overjoyed. Hugo is saying that it is ok that I presume men are guilty until proven innocent. He is asking men to step up, understand why women are afraid, hold each other accountable. I should be glad.
Instead, I am sick to my stomach.
I am a big believer that we should be talking about this stuff. A lot. I work closely with Hugo. We sometimes agree, sometimes disagree. As publisher, I often let posts get published even if I don’t agree with every word. That’s what we’re about at The Good Men Project. Multiple points of view around provocative, often polarizing topics. Rape certainly fits in that category.
So when we decided to create an editorial section on “The Presumption of Male Guilt”, with 15 different really great contributors, Hugo wrote the above article, I wrote from my point of view on “When Women Fear Men” and Tom Matlack wrote “Being a Dude is a Good Thing.”
And then all hell broke loose. In the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter — three different perspectives and somehow all three of us were talking about it “wrong”.
Look, I get the passionate rants in the comments section. I enjoy them. But I do have a confession to make: I don’t always know how to talk about this stuff.
Multiple rapes? Sexual abuse? A victim who desperately doesn’t want to see herself as a victim? A small part of a larger discussion on manhood? A way to have very human conversations about things that are really, really difficult to talk about? Am I sometimes afraid to talk about all those things? Check and check and check and check.
But there’s one thing I want to make clear in this whole discussion of “The Presumption of Male Guilt” – the one insight I’ve had that I feel really strongly about. The one I tried to talk about in my article, but maybe wasn’t clear enough. The one I’d like to repeat.
Presuming guilt in males is not good for males and it is not good for females.
1) On a micro level, take the example I started this post with. A guy threatened to rape me. The only thing I could have done to prevent that from happening would have been to not walk out of my house that morning. Being more suspicious, more guarded, more afraid, would have done nothing to change the situation.
2) For most of my life, I have been afraid of men. In fact, terrified. Yes, you can say that I had every right to be. That does nothing to change the fact that being afraid of men sucked.
That in fact, when I stopped being afraid of men, my life changed for the better. Not just a little better, but a thousand times, OMG better. In fact, it was only in retrospect that I could see how disconnected I was from the world before that point. Everything got better after I stopped being afraid of men, stopped presuming guilt, stopped seeing men as sexist, stopped being guarded with them, stopped worrying about them as anything other than people I could connect with – people who had a slightly different but just as valid worldview as I did. Everything. Got. Better.
Thank you to everyone who wrote about this topic, everyone who shared the stories, and everyone who commented.
photo: aklawstudio / flickr