The conversation on rape which I wrote about on Monday is still roiling on. In my piece I noted that asking questions was absolutely important, but understanding concepts like complicity, collusion, internalized dominance and other such things are also vital in the discussion around sexual violence. I said some other things too, so feel free to back track. This will be long and meandering, cross some topics, and probably needs days of edits, but I really don’t care anymore.
I’m going to link some pieces for further reading, all of which I’ll mention come with trigger warnings. This is rape and sexual assault we are talking about. There are questions regarding apologism, collusion, and the system in which those things occur. There are some first hand accounts of rape and being raped. Sometimes by the same person.
After the links, I’m going to talk about where I see these online conversations missing the mark a little, and what I’d want to see more of in real time and space-from me, first and foremost, but kind of a fantasy of how I think it “could be.”
The Dirty Normal wrote a great piece about cognitive dissonance and why “good” people go about feeling “good” about themselves even as they are doing very bad things. And why others feel the need to pick the “good” person vs the bad action. Cognitive dissonance is the biggest, in my opinion, psychological dynamic that keeps us human beings from being able to admit we are wrong, move forward in dialogue, change positions, and even sit within both position and stretch ourselves to be uncomfortable.
The dynamic is so very powerful and we all experience it in various ways all the time. Because we experience this Dirty Normal posits, it’s even more important to train bystanders in empathy, compassion and courage and to step up and in when they see good people doing bad things. Go check it out, it’s a great piece.
The Good Men Project found and published a piece by a man who lives the partying lifestyle and apparently believes that rape (raping or being raped, and levels of sexual assault) are part of the price he pays for the experience of living life on the edge. It’s very hard to read, not the least reason is because if he was a person discussing partying and driving (and how crashed cars, property damage and injuries were part of the price to pay) we’d all want his license revoked and his hide thrown in a rehab center/jail/counseling/home arrest for the potential damage to himself and others. Flat out. We’d not be worrying or wondering about sex, good times or however mostly because we don’t see sex in the same way we see drunk driving.
Clearly, this person has some serious troubles and is risking not only rape but murder/his own death (HIV passage due to unsafe sex practices), pregnancy, jail, assault, and bodily harm due to intoxication, assault and other things. He seems bereft of remorse, but it’s possible that he’s just damaged to the point (depression, anxiety, addiction, disconnectedness) that he can’t feel it. Or doesn’t want it. He’s a rapist, and I hope he winds up in jail and treatment and can find some salvage in his life, remorse for the people he’s hurt, and that we can get those bystanders involved because I’m not at all sure that consent training matters to people in his state of mind.
All in all, I’m not sure what was learned from this tale-people who are in addiction can behave in ways that are both dehumanizing and to be dehumanized, selfishness and narcissism are dangerous qualities, and rapists rape because it’s what they want, and/or a tax paid on a good time. This doesn’t seem new to me, it triggered a hell of a lot of people, and the fellow isn’t facing any repercussions for his admission. He’s getting away with it all over again. Perhaps he is happily manipulating the situation at GMP’s expense.
GMP then also published a defense and explanation of the piece, here. Again, I’m not clear what we learned through publishing the account, but I do know it’s causing a maelstrom of emotion to run through the ‘sphere.
And the piece itself triggered another writer deeply, and he gave some thoughts about whether giving this person public platform was wise or not. It’s a painful and beautiful piece.
And then Ozy resigned from No Seriously What About The Menz and Yes Means Yes has some amazing points about the importance of the Lisak study and how the messaging at GMP is insulting to men.
In all this, and a Feministe piece that took down both GMP pieces about the admitted rapist, there have been arguments, twitter stalking and slamming, accusations, apparent threats, requests for dialogue, something not even remotely looking like the dialogue I’m used to seeing happening (but trying), words like “silencing” coming from all corners, people having their experience denied, hyperbole (in my opinion any way), anger, triggers, fear, disgust, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and lines being drawn, mirrors of behavior we wouldn’t hope for in person, and perhaps things getting more divisive and angry, which they seem to be, not that it isn’t expected in many places justified.
So how will all this (from the posts to the anger to the arguments) help us understand and reduce sexual assault? Well, there are people reading who will have their thoughts stimulated. There are groups who might clarify and strengthen the work they are already doing (because there are lots of on campus programs and other programs focused on consent, awareness and more-this is happening). It might also inspire researchers to get better and more data. So that’s all good.
It might also alienate groups from other groups that could have worked together, pushed individuals into more polarized camps, created increased levels of distrust between types of rape prevention specialists, men/women, camps of feminism, and strengthened lines of power and access to resources, doubled people down on “they are just like that, so mean!” and “Fools and apologists!”
It also might encourage people to basically act like jerks to each other on the internet, because each group is desperately upset, angry, afraid, filled with facts and emotions, and horrified at the position of the other.
And yet, people have to speak out and actually protest what they think is wrong. And there is a lot wrong with what is going on. And in all those things, the emotion, the poles, the rightful protesting, is there actual dialogue? Like, to understand, heal, and find a place for commonality towards fixing the biggest issue? Is that happening online?
Rape is happening in real time. It’s happening to men and to women and the people who engage it in are either quite clear on what’s going on, or their internalized dominance is so buried that they justify what they are doing as correct. Or, I am willing to consider there are rare cases in which people are so intoxicated that they have no real control of their thoughts or actions, but they still are just as guilty of assault as a driver is of vehicular manslaughter. And we live in a culture that does not reward sexuality, that does not discuss it, embrace it, frame it’s mutuality and equality, and we cast repression and shame on it.
And rapists use that to their advantage. And I’m not at all convinced that the Lisak study is flawed. I’m not at all convinced that many cases of rape are perpetrated because “they didn’t know.” I’m also completely convinced we need more research, more investigation into our cultural norms around dominance, oppression, repression and how it plays out in lines of gender and sexuality. Like, stat.
And I’m more and more convinced that it’s exceptionally hard to do any of this work in isolation, no matter how connected the internet makes us feel. Me typing in argument to someone in a forum is me alone, typing, making up stories about that person without huge amounts of information about that person.
Maybe that’s just me needing that personally, but I think it means people are getting about 1/100th of the actual dialogue that would happen in real life. And then that one percent is often lashing out.
So what the hell is dialogue going to actually look like? Why is it easy to say online, and hard to do?
It’s not everyone agreeing. Nor is it everyone having intellectual positions with no skin in the game. Online, we will need to all actually mutually define and understand what that dialogue means. How will we engage? Do we create a community of learners? Are we taking pot shots to score points?
Which is why I do not (and have been coming to this conclusion over time) believe that it’s easy to dialogue to get to these core questions, answers, process when people are face to face and with skilled facilitators in tense emotional situations with risk involved. It’s about 100 (or a million) times harder to do it online without any physical connection especially without mutually agreed upon expectations of engagement, and the ability to just slam the computer off or shoot off mean comments.
What I’d love to see is an actual meeting of minds in person, with everyone having a similar set of tools (facilitation, observation, communication training, non violent communication) for how to do this work to get real results within the argument so that even if there are disagreements (which there will be) there will be more opportunities for allyship and work against the Big Bad, in this case rape and sexual assault. And very few people learn it. Not so many teach it.
I think the reason going from abstract to context is difficult is due to part to cognitive dissonance around a topic, awareness of complicity, shame around that awareness, desire to make that feeling go away, holding and defending a position even if one decides it’s not an honest/good position, etc. And so people can tend to double down on poles rather than actually asking, answering, clarifying and hearing.
My belief is that the more physically in proximity people are, the less likely they are to engage in overt aggression (though they will in microagresssion but then that can be seen and discussed). The more intimate the relationship the greater risk of cognitive dissonance there is in having a conflict, while the less intimate the easier it it is to stick to a pole and argue. Those poles self confirm and creating an “Other” who gets it wrong, is wrong, and is seen as incorrect means there is, in my opinion, less empathy and compassion for that person.
That’s what I see time after time happen online. I do it all the time.
I’m aware how hard it is (personally and in group) to use mindful, intentional, open and non violence communication, track my own “stuff” and the dynamics of a group, have courage to nudge others compassionately but directly and be willing to engage in conflict that is not only intellectual but emotional while in person and committed to the experience.
I rarely am able to do it, nor do I see it online with any regularity. But then I realize this:
Hell, have I called Lisa or Joanna or Justin or Noah from GMP? Have I sent my number to Jaclyn or Jill or Alyssa or Ozy? I haven’t. I’ve written my own intellectual observations about the fighting and anger and division (while realizing how justified it is and still wishing for inroads for connection) while holding back my own deep emotions around the topic, the fear and anger and shock at editorial choices, the sadness about the polarized camps, and fear of my own of getting in the conflict.
I’ve not been a part of the change I want to see. That’s my own shit, isn’t it?
Maybe I’d be doing it if all of it was in real space, but maybe that’s an excuse.
While I’d LOVE to figure out how to help facilitate conversations online (which is where people actually are these days) to get into that nitty gritty and actually make some change, I have to be willing to put myself in there in real space as well, people are in both, and that isn’t going to change. So I have to actually do it, and make the mistakes that I’m sure are coming.
And then maybe by being able to do that in real space and online even when (especially when) we disagree, we can move closer to a world where rape begins to shrink, where men and women stand up for each other more and more, where we behave as non violently to each other and mirror what we want to see begin to happen in sexuality. And every other form of social justice we so chose to engage in.
Because rape is happening regardless, we are all still here and it matters that we figure out how to stop it. It matters a hell of a lot.
In response to Cara’s astute comment, I’m clarifying my position.
We live in a society where dominance is valued in many ways. Racism, classism, sexism, you name it. It’s part, in my opinion, of white and western supremacy. There are people, decent people, who have integrated these beliefs, stories, myths, and dynamics to a point where I believe they are unconscious of the dynamic.
There are people who have their eyes so wide open to the dynamics that they see it everywhere and it’s pretty painful to go through the day.
These people seem to be having a very hard time communicating with each other right now. I’ve said it before but it’s like the Matrix. All this water we swim in seems healthy and normal and so you can and do see “good” people doing things that range from clumsy and unthoughtful to downright evil while being able to hold the justification of themselves as “normal” “good” “right.”
When you or I or many of the other writers who see this point it out, we get accused of not wanting the conversation to happen and not wanting to “understand.” But when those other writers are making steps, babysmall as they may be, towards getting their eyes open (and in a perhaps different and frustrating way to us) I’m seeing accusations of rape apology and more. Which yes, that’s happening. AND I see people like Alyssa especially on the cusp of finally “getting it” about rape culture. Her friend? Has messages about consent and sex and entitlement and power deeply engrained in him to the point where it is possible he didn’t even know they were there. Possible, I say, not that I know that for sure.
Alyssa is his friend and experienced him for a long time as “good.” To make a complete switch to “bad” may be difficult for her, but I give her credit for taking part in a conversation that is clearly difficult, painful, emotional, and personally risky.
Cara is absolutely right that we need people who don’t rape to stand up and out against it. I’m not sure shame is the tool, frankly, because I think most of us western people (who I believe have been living and breathing a culture of violence and shame for decades) need more shame. We need release from our own complicity in it, and we get there by talking to each other about it-what we’ve done that’s wrong, why we’ve done it, admitting our own collusion, pushing back on the systems that say sex is a commodity and women have a price. This is women doing that work, but also men, especially men. I don’t think the change comes without that personal work and that work in groups, groups of men admitting where they’ve been and how to stop it.
It’s part of oppression in general and it toxifies all of us.
And I’m not sure we can get this done online, is what I’m worried about, and online is what we have and it moves at the speed of light.