Sympathy for The Devil: The Good Men Project and Rape

800px-Fönster_i_fångvalvets_logement

When, last week, the feminist blogosphere broke out in a furor over a rape apologia article from the Good Men Project, I’ll admit – I cried a little. One of my closest male friends had just sent me a long screed about “grey rape,” and how his analysis of a woman’s experience of rape – one in which the rapist himself admitted that it was rape and this experience had affected her for over 30 years – wasn’t actually rape and that she was at least partly to blame. Needless to say, the parallels with the Good Men Project’s rape apologia and my current real life discussions were far too much for me to handle at the moment, and decided I could let others take this one. And they did, in ways better than I could.

But then GMP posted a story in which a rapist tells his tale (I won’t link because I refuse to give them the traffic anymore).

If there was any doubt that Good Men Project was anything that could be called good, that should have been washed away when they allowed the posting of rape porn a couple months ago. And that good will should have been entirely gone when they posted a story justifying the rape of an unconscious woman because she was “flirty.”

And if that wasn’t enough? Then you are part of the problem if you still think of the Good Men Project as “good.”

The post appearing on December 10th, written anonymously, is written by a rapist, and opens with a justification: “I swear to God, it is only after the fact [of living a party lifestyle] that you start figuring out that one of the tradeoffs you’ve accepted is a certain amount of rape.”

That is the thesis statement for the article. I’m not kidding. The idea is that “if you want to have a good time with alcohol/drugs, rape is just sort of a natural consequence of it, like a businessman paying fines for minor infractions of business rules.”

This sort of “testimony” is sickening, disgraceful, and morally reprehensible.

It is unconscionable that GMP would give voice to this man, even anonymously – in fact, anonymity makes it worse, because he never has to answer for what he said. For all their lip service to “having a good discussion about rape,” the GMP doesn’t seem interested in finding ways in which this discussion can be conducted and remain healthy.

There’s a perverted fascination in our culture with “hearing both sides” of a crime, that somehow, by knowing the mind of a criminal, we can turn them into the Other and say that it could never be us. We see this in the History Channel’s fascination with Hitler, in the high ratings of crime procedurals, and the money brought in by journalists scoring “exclusive interviews” with famous criminals. We, as a culture, have a pretty fucked up craving for understanding the minds of a criminal, if only so that we assuage ourselves that we are better than they. There is no “there but for the grace of God go I” here.

But, when it comes to rape, this fascination feeds into a culture that is more sympathetic to rapists than to their victims. Personal testimonies and justifications of rapists do nothing to add to the discussion beyond providing sympathy for an act that must be seen as beyond the pale. There is no place for the rapist’s voice in such a discussion because including his voice necessarily takes primacy away from the victim. We buy into his perverted view of the events, hook, line, and sinker, because we have been trained as a culture that hearing both sides of a crime is necessary for a just and fair narrative to be introduced.

Anyone who works in the prison system can tell you that this is a laughable farce of realistic discussion, a parody of actual change, an idea which only gives the zombie-like semblance of progressive life.

As I’ve mentioned before, a close family member works in the prison system. When you’re hired to work with inmates, one of the first things they train you on is guarding yourself against sympathy for them. This is partly a safety issue – emotional distance from the criminals keeps you from being conned into bringing them contraband and putting yourself and your fellow prison workers at risk.

But it has a second reason – sympathy toward criminal thinking tends to encourage further criminal thinking. Giving the criminals a platform does nothing to help them “realize the error of their ways,” and can actually feed into their sense of injustice at being put away for something they didn’t feel was necessarily wrong in the first place.* Where prison is supposed to rehabilitate criminals into society at large, one of the major ways to make this change is to enforce for them that their narrative of events is, first, not the only one, and second, wrong.

Where this sympathy for criminals goes horrifically wrong is when the criminal has not yet been caught. Within a prison system, the person has a massive environmental shift that clues them in to the idea that what they did was wrong – being in prison is a pretty big change. But many of them are still convinced that what they did was somehow justified, and that’s why not giving their stories primacy is so important. Even when in prison, a sympathetic ear from an authority figure can function as justification and prevent rehabilitation.

Imagine, then, how much worse it is when the criminal is a rapist who has not been caught, who is writing in such a forum that he never will be caught (anonymously), and admits that he will probably continue to rape.

When we give him a platform, when we defend his posting, we’re not opening up a discussion. We are lending a criminal a sympathetic ear and allowing ourselves to be conned into bringing him contraband. When we hand rapists the microphone, we not only silence survivors, we engender the potential rape of more victims [reddit link, warning].

This is why such a piece is unconscionable. A rapist needs room to tell their story, yes – to a therapist, to a counselor, to someone who can help them. Not to thousands of internet users anonymously, and not to an audience that includes rape survivors.

We can talk day and night about whether or not the situations in which the anonymous author committed rape and the “complexity of consent” and all that bullshit, but what we cannot and should not do is hand him a platform in which he can justify his behavior and then claim in an “apology/defense” that “we hope he seeks help.” The damage is already done, and future rapes that he performs are on the hands of the Good Men Project for enabling and encouraging him.

____________

*This is not to say that sympathy for those in the prison system is across the board a bad idea, but it is important to understand that, quite often, a criminal’s view of events are not the complete story and are often eliding certain details in order to play on sympathy.

[Edited to add: for further critiques of The Good Men Project, simply click the "Good Men Project" tag here on the blog.]