Why the "Nice Guys Commit Rape Too" Conversation Is Not Helpful

Jill Filipovic of Feministe—writing this time at The Guardian—brings the story of The Good Men Project’s recent unfortunate posts about rape culture into the mainstream with a relatively balanced, unassuming explanation of what, exactly, The Good Men Project is getting wrong:

We actually know quite a bit about why men rape, and especially about the kinds of rapes that the media often calls “date rape” or “acquaintance rape”—rapes where the perpetrator knew the victim, or at least ran in the same social circles. Academics, researchers and sociologists have done in-depth studies on sexual assault and found that it’s actually a small number of men who commit large numbers of acquaintance rapes. Most of those men intentionally target intoxicated women. They socially isolate them, ply them with alcohol to incapacitate them and intentionally push their boundaries to make them vulnerable.

These repeat rapists are more likely to have rigid views of gender roles and are more angry at women than the non-rapist men. They perpetrate their crimes intentionally, but use our social narratives about rape to avoid prosecution.

So, in general, nice guys are much less likely to commit rape. This does not mean that our society is conducting a constructive conversation on the subject of rape culture; our error, though, seems on the whole to be in thinking that unknown predators attack women in dark alleys. But clarifying that most raped women know their rapists personally does not indicate that those rapists are totally normal men who just “made a mistake” or “didn’t realize what they were doing”.

I particularly encourage you to click through to the link in the quote above for more information and statistics.

Kids, Mental Illness and Violence

In light of the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Jill Filipovic urges us to be careful when parsing these issues:

The terrifying truth is that sometimes, there is no easy “cure” for the mental illnesses that mean a lack of empathy and a propensity toward violence. What’s needed is ongoing treatment and enormous social support for people who are ill, because there’s often not one pill you can take to simply cure a complex problem. This mother, for example, writes about a son who has violent outbursts and who she seems to believe is actually capable of killing her. He’s 13. There aren’t many options for him—the best a social worker can offer is to get him convicted of a crime so that he’s in “the system.” But it’s pretty clear that “the system” is not a good place for mentally ill children (or mentally ill adults). At the same time, this boy is a physical threat not just to his mother, but to his siblings and the people he encounters every day. What it sounds like he needs is ongoing, regular mental health care and therapy in addition to medication (if they can ever find one that works). And he’s not the only one — as Feministe friend Kate Harding also pointed out, there are kids who fit the profile of psychopathy, whose treatment options are less than clear-cut.

I can certainly attest to this, having worked with several young men who clearly needed to be in more acute care than a group home but whose case workers or probation officers seemed to have no better solutions to offer them.

Nice, Horrible Monsters

Trigger Warning for Rape

Amelia McDonell-Parry responds to this post about rape by Alyssa Royse at The Good Men Project:

Royse goes on to emphasize multiple times throughout the piece that this friend of hers did rape this woman. She does not deny he is a rapist. However, many who have read this piece have a hard time with this being an example of a “nice guy” who “accidentally” commits rape, as there was no confusion or misread signals as to whether this woman wanted to have sex. She was asleep. She could not give consent. Period. “Nice guys” don’t stick their dicks in sleeping women.

Jill Filipovic of Feministe doesn’t want to let Royse off the hook so easily:

Even though Royse says this was rape and rape is wrong, her piece is rape apology. Because she uses the same narratives and excuses that rapists have always used to get away with raping. She says she wants to talk about our culture and how it enables rape, but then she uses the exact same cultural memes to act like rape is at all fuzzy, and rapists don’t actually know exactly what they’re doing.

Personally, I think Royse was trying to start a conversation about how even otherwise “nice” people, who don’t think of themselves as horrible people, can still do horrible things like rape. She got sidetracked, instead, into blaming “culture”, which ultimately boils down to—at best—blaming no one, and—at worst—blaming the victim. Muddled thinking and poorly-thought-out writing ended up conveying a message I have a feeling she didn’t intend to convey.

The good point I think we should draw from this episode—since “The Good Men Project Sucks” is not a real point—is that painting all rapists as horrible monsters hurts the attempt to combat rape culture. Some rapists are not (otherwise) horrible monsters, so people—including the rapists themselves—assume they can’t be real rapists. But they are.

If we want people to become more self-aware about obtaining consent for sex, we need to help them realize that even though they are not horrible monsters, they could still rape someone. Our message should not be: “Don’t be a horrible monster who rapes people”, but “Don’t rape people.”

Focusing on bad actions instead of bad character is usually more likely to produce change.

James Bond and the New Sex Appeal

Where “New” means “same old”. Richard Cohen of The Washington Post bemoans Daniel Craig’s sculpted physique in Skyfall, comparing him unfavorably to the likes of Cary Grant:

Contrast this new Bond to Roger O. Thornhill, the charmingly hapless advertising man played by Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.” Like Bond, Thornhill pulls off some amazing physical feats—his mad frantic escape from the crop duster, the traverse of Mount Rushmore—and like Bond he wears an expensive suit. Unlike Bond, though, when he takes it off we do not see some marbleized man, an ersatz creation of some trainer, but a fit man, effortlessly athletic and just as effortlessly sophisticated.

Wishful thinking. I very much doubt that Cary Grant retained his fit appearance without effort, and even if he did he was just lucky that his natural body shape happened to be what women found sexy at the time. Cohen is 71, so he has lived through quite a few decades and should know that tastes change, which is why looking at pictures of 1980s high-school cheerleaders makes me giggle, not blush.

Cohen goes on to disparage shapely men for being ill-read:

Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held. That’s why Sean Connery was my kind of Bond. He was 53 when he made his last Bond film, “Never Say Never Again.”

This is a little beside the point, but find me someone who thinks Never Say Never Again (which only sort-of counts as a “Bond film”) reflects well on Sean Connery.

More importantly, Cohen here betrays his jealousy more clearly: he is now at the age when the opposite sex will more likely value his intellect or sophistication than his physical appearance. That was not true of Sean Connery at 53, and it is not true of Daniel Craig at 44.

Jill Filipovic writes a great response to Cohen’s petulance:

Men should not have to do anything other than be old in order to get whatever they want. Women, on the other hand, are desirable only when they are very young, and only if they are very thin and very white and very inexperienced and probably blonde. In Richard Cohen’s estimation, that is a sexual meritocracy, because “meritocracy” apparently means “I get whatever I want without having to work hard at it and also women are things.”

This is Just Depressing

Scott DeJarlais, a “pro-life” Republican Tea Party Congressman and doctor, slept with a patient, got her pregnant and then pushed her to have an abortion.

I’m still very skeptical of the idea that Republicans are deliberating waging a “war on women”, but it gets very hard to defend the pro-life movement and libertarian values when people act like this.

"Necessarily Misogynist"

Jill Filipovic of Feministe responds to the afore-linked interview:

I do think that belief in the importance of virginity before marriage and the concept of sexual purity feed into a necessarily misogynist worldview, wherever those views come from. I don’t think you can separate those views out from misogyny, and from a view that says sexuality is potentially sullying if not performed in the service of something other than mutual pleasure — reproduction, God, the family, the state.

This irks me. If “Maya” was maintaining her celibacy for any reason other than religious belief, we would hear nothing but support from other feminists. Insert God into the picture, though, and suddenly she’s being oppressed.

Filipovic has several other good thoughts in response to the interview, so her post is worth reading, but I’m not going to lie: my first impulse on reading her opening paragraph—not followed, because I am an adult—was to yell profanity at my computer.

The Legitimate Children of Rape

One rape survivor, in testimony before the Louisiana Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, described her son as “a living, breathing torture mechanism that replayed in my mind over and over the rape.” Another woman described having a rape-conceived son as “entrapment beyond description” and felt “the child was cursed from birth”; the child ultimately had severe psychological challenges and was removed from the family by social services concerned about his mental well-being. One of the women I interviewed said, “While most mothers just go with their natural instincts, my instincts are horrifying. It’s a constant, conscious effort that my instincts not take over.”

Whatever your views on abortion, I dare you to read this without your heart breaking a little.

Via Feministe.

♀ Purity Culture


Last week The Hairpin published “Interview With a Lapsed Christian Virgin”, an ambiguously-titled but thoughtful and fair-minded discussion with “Clara”, a twenty-something Christian woman who engages in frequent sex with her boyfriend but still values and strives for the ideal of “purity”.[1] Probably only our ongoing collective outrage against Todd Akin prevented the feminist blogosphere from just exploding on the spot.

In fact, the piece did not get much attention, except from this site and from “Jill” at Feministe, who laments:

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate Clara’s insights, and I think she’s very brave for sharing her perspectives… It’s a great interview and this isn’t meant as a critique of it, or even of sexual abstention. If people want to abstain from sex until marriage (or abstain from sex until forever, or whenever) that’s great—your body, your choice. I don’t have a problem with choosing to be abstinent until X date or event (your wedding, college, your 18th birthday, your 40th birthday, whatever); I do have a big problem with the Christian language and theory behind the “purity” rationale for waiting until marriage to have sex.

The biggest is the concept of “purity” itself, and the idea that sex somehow makes you impure if you aren’t married. Sex is not sullying; sex is not “dirty”….

Certainly, the use of the word “purity” does a disservice to both believing and non-believing audiences, and Jill understandably draws the conclusion that Christians view sex as dirty. Compounding the confusion, many conservative churches and movements do treat sex as shameful and taboo in their attitudes and practices, even when their actual words acknowledge its beauty and sanctity. Words are important, so trying to redefine “purity” as “chastity” (a much more robust, meaningful word) may turn out to be a losing battle; the Church would do well to simply change our messaging. But I didn’t come here to talk about PR.

The tone of Clara’s remarks on her sexual experiences and their intersection with her beliefs and spiritual aspirations struck me as healthy, honest, and very Christian. Apart from repeated use of “purity” and “pure”—which words probably represent the convention of her upbringing—nowhere in the interview does she suggest that she thinks sex is dirty or even that the church of her youth taught her so. She acknowledges the black-and-white, guilt-based thinking of many evangelical sub-cultures that believe sex outside of marriage to be sinful, but even with regard to this unhealthy attitude she faults the expression, not the doctrine:

I do think that this one of those issues where the church tries very hard to get inside a girl’s head. They spend so much time telling you to wait until marriage and no time helping you to deal with the fact that you probably didn’t.

So then girls end up fabricating all these justifications and not really coming to terms with what they do with their bodies, or fixating on marriage as like, “If I can only get there, I’ll be safe at home plate.” When I broke up with my high school boyfriend, the church was definitely in my ear, telling me that I should have married him because we did what we did.

No doubt this ideology has its roots in the Old Testament law, which mandated marriage for any young man and virgin who were found to have engaged in intercourse.[2] Founded as it was on the concepts of women as property and virginity as a valuable commodity, we must surely regard this teaching as superseded by New Testament sexual and relational ethics. Clara clearly agrees, as she describes her relationship to her Christian boyfriend not with certainty that marriage will result from their sexual union but in terms of mutual struggle to remain “pure”:

Despite the fact that we’ve had sex, it’s nice to recognize that I’m finally on the same page with someone in terms of purity — we both want it, we both know it’s not easy. So now, the debate isn’t just an internal one that eventually gets silenced by my own desire to do what I want to do. This is an external debate that the two of us can feasibly act upon. We don’t feel guilty about having sex, but we do try to curb it, to keep from having it. We don’t want to make that the central focus of our relationship.

But this struggle toward chastity also draws Jill’s criticism:

Not making sex the central focus of your relationship, sure, great. But going around and around in the circle of “We shouldn’t be doing this because it’s impure and bad!” and then doing it, and then trying not to do it again, but then doing it again, and then saying you don’t feel guilty except obviously you kind of do? Not a healthy relationship dynamic.

This echoes an oft-repeated criticism, not just of Christian views on sexuality, but of Christianity itself: that ours is a guilt-based religion that keeps people living in a vicious circle of transgression, shame, repentence, and re-offense. Again, this is an understandable misconception based on the reality of much unbiblical teaching from churches and individual Christians who care more about decrying sin than about the Gospel’s message of liberation from guilt. Far from advocating slavish adherence to draconian rules in fear of judgment, though, the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament writers focus on joyful pursuit of an ideal: Jesus himself.

And this embodies the fundamental disconnect between secular feminism and modern Christian sexual ethics. Where feminists see unhealthy, shame-based, and counter-productive sexual abstinence, Christians see an ideal—counter-cultural and difficult to achieve, but worthy and significant for both practical and spiritual reasons. The Church may wrongly over-emphasize sexuality, particularly for youth and the unmarried; we may sometimes engaging in slut-shaming and reinforce a culture of repression; we may fail to recognize (as do many outside the church) that virginity is a counter-productive social construct never addressed by the sexual teachings of the New Testament; but our failures do not change the truth expressed in our scriptures: that God created us sexual beings with the ability to use our sexuality for intimacy, mutual pleasure and edification, and the expression of deeper spiritual mysteries.

If we make these wonderful, true concepts the focus of our discussions on sexual ethics, rightly de-emphasizing the shame that accompanies failure to attain our ideals but emphasizing consideration and justice in romantic and sexual relationships, we will surely not escape all criticism. Christian doctrine will always be offensive. But let us offend for the right reasons.

So maybe I did come here to talk about PR.

  1. “Lapsed”, then, here applies to the word “virgin”, not the word “Christian”. I recommend The Hairpin’s interview and Jill’s response at Feministe for their discussion of this and other worthwhile issues relating to Christian teachings on sexuality, which are too many to discuss in this post.  ↩

  2. Deuteronomy 22:28–29  ↩