23 December 2012

Not-So-Good Men Project

I've been mildly interested in the feminist-informed web magazine for fellas The Good Men Project since it first turned up a few years back. I took a look at it early on, and I've read a handful of articles there, but every time I swing by there I conclude that I'm not really its audience. They're clearly trying to reach Regular Guys and the universe of gender politics culture that I move in is sufficiently weird and rarefied that they clearly weren't talking to me. But I've been kind of hazily glad they exist, since we need more and better feminist propaganda directed at men.

I'm not glad of them any more.

A day or three ago a Facebook friend linked to Amanda Marcotte's Slate article Rapists Say They Rape Because of Mixed Signals, and the Good Men Project Believes Them. The articles in question were Nice Guys Commit Rape Too and I'd Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying, looking at the narratives many men who rape construct about receiving mixed signals from women. I took a quick look at Marcotte's article and the two articles in question, and it seemed to me that Marcotte was reading them wrong; I took The Good Men Project as reporting what those rapists' rationalizations were, not accepting them. I have a lot of ambivalence about Marcotte already — she's a good polemicist, but not always good with nuance — so I thought that this was just a case of her tendency toward absolutism.

I was also hesitant to buy the critique because it connects to something which has recently given me an itch in the feminist blogosphere.

A lot of predatory men talk about “mixed signals” when a close look at what they say and do reveals that they are just engaging in self-serving, disingenuous rape apology bullshit where there was not really an opening for confusion at all. In the wake of recent studies showing that rapists will readily admit to having raped women if you don't call it “rape”, the feminist blogosphere has been talking about this rape apology move a quite a bit lately.

But in that discussion I have sometimes heard the implication that men talking about mixed signals are never doing anything other than rape apology. I disagree and think that, without taking it as a justification for rape, we have to include some thinking about how women do send mixed signals in order for us to fully understand how rape culture works. We have a culture hostile to women sending clear signals, and all men in our society have had troubling experiences with that. The pressure on women to send mixed signals, and the experiences men have with that, contribute to the machinery of rape culture in at least a couple of ways. It creates the opening for predatory men to rationalize to themselves the rapes they commit. And it makes those predators' claims of “mixed signals” plausible-sounding to responsible men when those responsible men don't stop to think about it carefully enough.

I took Marcotte's piece as belonging to that genre of reducing discussion of mixed signals to being nothing more than rape apology, shrugged, and let The Good Men Project off the hook.

I was wrong. I should have looked closer.

Last night I was talking to some friends about this dustup, so this morning I took another look at the Good Men Project articles. Looking at them, I still think that Marcotte's headline was a bit unfair in suggesting that the Good Men Project held that the rapists' stories were justified. The Good Men Project was quite clear that what these men had done was rape, and wrong.

But that didn't make those Good Men Project articles okay. They were very sloppy and strange and ... yeah ... rape-apologetic. So the criticism that Marcotte made in the body of her article had real bite.

I had thought that The Good Men Project had been critiquing the error of thinking that real mixed messages made rapists' rationalizations sound plausible, but in fact they had fallen for that error. And in misreading what the controversy was about, I had fallen for it too.

I did a little more digging and found more good commentary. Jill Filipovic writing at the UK Guardian lays out the critique well.

Feminists, including myself, pushed back on Royse's narrative. In response, the Good Men Project doubled down (and then tripled and quadrupled down). Good Men Project editor Joanna Schroeder made the decision to publish, under the cover of anonymity, the firsthand account of an admitted and unrepentant rapist who enjoys his hard-partying lifestyle and says he has “accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business.” Then they put up several more posts justifying the decision to publish the Royse piece and the rapist's narrative.

When women and men who have dedicated their lives and careers to anti-rape work pointed out the fact that we have some pretty good scholarly sources that look at why men rape, the Good Men Project editors responded by attacking the scholarly sources. Some GMP writers quit the site in protest. Other GMP editors and writers joined forces with Men's Rights Activists to lash out at feminists and anti-rape activists on Twitter and other social media.


So why am I writing about a relatively insular blog fight in my Guardian column? Because it sheds light on just how toxic our culture is when it comes to rape and sexual assault – and how we can fight back.

At Feministe, Filipovick has more about why The Good Men Project was speaking irresponsibly and responded badly to criticism and Thomas Macaulay Millar has a good critique of the framework which the Good Men Project offers for understanding rapists' behavior. At Heteronormative Patriarchy For Men, Ally Fogg calls shenanigans on the Good Men Project's article. At Jezebel Katie J. M. Baker offers strong words about why we should turn our backs on the Good Men Project.

I agree. The Good Men Project have demonstrated that they are not a trustworthy source.


Yewtree said...

Interested in your thoughts on "mixed signals" here. Could you elaborate?

Jonathan Korman said...

Yewtree, I have a long post on the subject, which is can also be found under the all men in our society link in this post.

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