It really didn’t have to come to this, but now that we’re here: why are we men suddenly so intent to make asses of ourselves in conversations about rape?
I’m an American man — like many other American men, I was raised to believe my opinion has inherent value. Like other American men, I feel entitled to be heard when I have my opinion, regardless of the extent of my expertise on the subject. I like to think I’m usually right, but sometimes after I open my mouth it turns out I was dead wrong. I know I’m not alone in talking out of my ass, and I know it’s nothing new for men. We get ourselves in trouble all the time! Take this guy for instance. And this guy.
But when we mess up, we own up. Right? It’s not a big deal. Just fess up, correct the mistake and move on.
Look at radio DJ Howard Stern — last week, he coughed up this gem about witnessing Girls series creator Lena Dunham nude in the season premier of her show:
“It’s a little fat girl who kinda looks like Jonah Hill and she keeps taking her clothes off and it kind of feels like rape…It’s like, I don’t want to see that.”
To Howard’s credit, he did apologize – although in his usual sarcastic backhanded way. It kind of begs the question, though: why did he feel ok comparing television nudity to rape? He’s just the latest in an epidemic. Last year, Republican senate candidate Todd Akin got his entire party in trouble for spouting off falsehoods about rape. And now GOP Rep. Phil Gingrey is in on the action. Both of them have apologized, too. But why is this happening in the first place??
Most American men don’t know anything about rape — we don’t know what it feels like and we don’t live in fear of it. Lack of expertise shouldn’t preclude us from forming opinions and having discussions, of course. We just have to approach the subject with humility.
As an example of how not to go about it, take The Good Men Project. The Good Men Project was started by Tom Matlak as a community for men to discuss gender issues. In the “about” section of their site, the Good Men Project defines itself as such: “We are fostering a national discussion centered around modern manhood and the question, ‘What does it mean to be a good man’?”
It’s an admirable goal, and the community around the site shows real promise. However, I’d like to address how Matlak handled his first major test of character: discussion about rape. In the name of open discussion, over the last several months the Good Men Project has been publishing articles by unrepentant rapists and allowing threatening misogynists to run rampant over their comment sections — in short, they have made their site a very unwelcoming and unsafe place for people to hold a “national discussion around modern manhood.” Mary Elizabeth Williams has a good rundown at Salon of what the Good Man Project has done wrong.
Again: not a big deal. Building a new community centered around freewheeling discussion of gender issues is a difficult task, and one that is certain to create controversy. Luckily for Matlak and the Good Men Project, there are experienced writers who have been debating these issues and their pitfalls for years — a group of potential mentors for young entrepreneurs who’ve been through it all before.
Right? Wrong. When a few gender writers gently pointed out that the Good Men Project’s status as a safe place for gender discussion was in jeopardy, Matlak responded defensively and doubled down on ignorance, which empowered a hateful mob to make gender-based attacks on those offering thoughtful criticism that could have helped his site continue to grow. In the end, it’s all up to Matlak to save his nascent reputation and his growing community. If he doesn’t take action, Matlak’s Good Men Project will end up as nothing more than a haven for anti-feminists and rape-apologists. Or as they’re known to most people, not “good men.”
Todd Akin admitted he was wrong.
Phil Gingrey admitted he was wrong.
Even Howard Stern admitted he was wrong.
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but why can’t Tom Matlak follow Todd Akin and Howard Stern’s lead on gender issues? Or better yet, why can’t he correct his website’s policies to make it a safe place for a real discussion on rape? The first step is admitting that when it comes to sexual assault, those of us who aren’t experts have to listen and learn before we speak.
Good luck to Tom Matlak, who as far as I can tell is sincere in his desire to create a real community for discussion around gender. I think he’s going to need it.