Archive for the ‘Men’ Category

As I have written many times before, I believe people who are concerned about women’s human rights and wellbeing and about men’s human rights and wellbeing should be natural allies. That’s pretty much the core of my philosophy on gender issues. I’ve made clear my disdain for men’s activists who lay blame for most of men’s problems at the door of feminism. I also despair of the logic which says any and all feminist activism is, by definition, misandrist.

So all things considered, I should have been applauding Lindy West’s blog on Jezebel last week, where she basically made those precise same points. Truth is, I hated it. Partly that was down to the tone, which I found painfully patronising. In lecturing men on the male experience and the extent and nature of men’s problems, she provided a rare example of what we might call “womansplaining.” (Incidentally, a word to male readers – if you want to know why many women get so annoyed by us guys explaining to them what feminism is and should be, read the article, flip the genders and empathise.)

I’d add that in her “Part 4: A list of Men’s Rights issues that feminism is already working on”, she paints a rosy portrait of feminism which ducks most of the more credible complaints. To take just one example, she says:  “Feminists do not want women to escape prosecution on legitimate domestic violence charge” which, firstly, is not entirely true – there are a few feminists who argue that women accused of domestic abuse are almost invariably acting in self-defence. More significantly, it dodges the point that very many feminists have actively and furiously resisted attempts to highlight male victimisation and argue and lobby strongly against gender-neutral approaches to the problem.          

In amongst all that, one of her arguments in particular raised an issue that I’ve wanted to address for a while, and that is the meme “misandry isn’t a thing” (or in Lindy’s version, “misandry isn’t real.”) This is a common refrain within modern feminism, often used as a throwaway dismissal of a (perceived) male troll or heckler.  Here it is explained and used as a central basis to the argument, which gives us something to get our teeth into.

Dictionaries define misandry as hatred of men. A more detailed working definition might be something like ‘an extreme or irrational hatred, fear, demonization or contempt for men.’ Lindy West readily admits that there are some radical feminists or wounded women who really do hate men, and that our culture produces many derogatory and unfair portrayals of men, but insists that “misandry is not a genuine, systemic, oppressive force on par with misogyny.”

What feminists mean when they say ‘misandry isn’t a thing’ is that because our society systematically privileges men and disempowers women, misogyny serves a different cultural purpose, has different and more damaging impacts and grows from different roots to misandry. To a certain extent I agree with that, but saying misandry is not the mirror image of misogyny does not mean that misandry does not exist at all. I believe that arguing that misandry isn’t real is damaging to men, damaging to women and damaging to the struggle for social justice.

I would distinguish three common varieties of misandry which are most definitely real. The first is a personal prejudice, which may often arise from damaging or hurtful experiences at the hands of men, creating a negative stereotype heuristic. This may not be admirable, but it is often understandable. The second is an ideological misandry arising from certain strains of radical feminism, roughly caricatured as the ‘all men are rapists’ tendency. I think such ideas are wrong and harmful, but I’m also far from convinced that these people are anywhere close to being numerous or powerful enough to cause any real damage, except perhaps to feminism itself.

The third variety of misandry is the one that seriously concerns me, and it is worth looking in detail at what it is and what it does. Cultural misandry is a significant force in policing and constraining the roles of men, and indeed women in society. Our capitalist hegemonic culture (or patriarchy, if you prefer) considers it acceptable to routinely mock and denigrate men’s domestic and child-caring abilities because this acts strongly to discourage deviations from the gender status quo, from which vested interests profit. Our culture systematically devalues male deaths (in news reports specifying numbers of deaths of women and children, for instance) because economic interests require a degree of male disposability in the workplace and military interests may require the mass dispatch of young men to die on battlefields at a moment’s notice. When society mocks and reviles male victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, the subtext is that that it is women’s place to be victimized and oppressed, not men’s.

When feminists say that misandry isn’t a thing, what I hear is that these issues are so minor, so marginal that they are insignificant. It is not just that they are unworthy of attention, they are not even worthy of a word to describe them. If Lindy West really wants more men to be allies to the feminist movement and wants us to believe that feminism really is on our side, then I struggle to see how this type of rhetoric is in any way helpful.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that feminism should suddenly drop its struggles for women’s equality, autonomy, safety and welfare in favour of challenging male-only military conscription or setting up hostels for male abuse victims, I don’t think that is or should be feminism’s job. Nor do I think that all allegations of misandry should be considered reasonable or accurate.  But I would suggest that if we want to end what Lindy calls the “endless, fruitless turd-pong” between men’s activists and feminists online, some rhetorical habits might need to change on both sides.

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So Rupert Murdoch has hinted on Twitter that he may be rethinking his 40 year mission to deliver a daily couple of nipples to the breakfast tables of the nation.

In a reaction on Comment is Free, Rhiannon Lucy Cossett argued that nudity is not the principal problem with Page 3. “The presence of a few designer labels in the crucial areas makes little difference if the poisonous attitude remains the same,” she wrote. I broadly agree. My general take on the issue is that The Sun is a paper which peddles the exploitation, vilification and undisguised hatred of, well, just about everyone. The focus on Page 3 seems to me to miss the broader point, but more precisely, my problem with the tradition is not the nudity, but the way that it uses women as decoration, implying that a woman’s most significant role in the news media is to provide eye candy for a predominantly male market. Related to that, my main problem with the campaign against Page 3 is that by focusing on the nakedness, it veers rather close to an anti-nudity, even anti-sexuality narrative. It seems to say that exploitation is just fine, so long as you keep the boobs covered up.

While I generally agreed with Rhiannon’s main point, there was one paragraph in the article that betrays a profoundly mistaken view of what Page 3 is and does, and how it is viewed by men. It’s an extreme example of an argument that is often made by feminists within this debate.

I remember, as a teenager, how awful it was to be sitting next to a man on the bus leering at Page 3. I remember the embarrassment, the discomfort, at the lascivious drool coming from his chops, and the physical revulsion at his presumed erection from looking at a girl pretty much the same as me

…it’s about the sense of entitlement, the presupposition that an entire page of a national newspaper should be given over to the sexual gratification of men

Of course one can never underestimate the diversity of human personality and sexual behaviour, and I need no convincing that women experience the most rank sexual harassment and intimidation on public transport. I will take it on trust that at some point(s) in her life Rhiannon really did find herself sitting next to some freak who was “leering at Page 3” with “lascivious drool coming from his chops” in such a way that she presumed he had an erection from all the “sexual gratification” on display. I do, however, strongly reject the implication that this is how men typically view Page 3.

Straight men generally find pretty young women attractive. They are drawn towards them. Pretty young women with clothes on are attractive, and pretty young women with fewer clothes on are even more attractive. Boobs are nice to look at. I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far in making that assertion.

Murdoch started putting semi-naked women in his newspapers back in 1970 to attract buyers, in exactly the same way that car show exhibitors drape models over the bonnets of their cars. He figured that if men are attracted to women with their tops on, they would be even more attracted to women with their tops off. And he was probably largely correct about that.

However attraction is not the same thing as sexual arousal. If images in The Sun or any other paper were genuinely sexually arousing they would actually lose readers. Murdoch has always wanted The Sun to be something that families could have lying around the breakfast table. That’s why the classic Page 3 look has always been strangely sexless and innocent, all happy cheerful smiles rather than the sultry, seductive pouts of pornography, even softcore porn.

Here is a fundamental truth about men: we hate getting erections at inappropriate moments. It is embarrassing and (literally) uncomfortable. The greatest horror is to get an erection at work or when surrounded by your mates. Men (and teenage boys in particular) develop all kinds of squirming techniques and tactics to try to disguise them. If we thought reading the Sun was likely to produce spontaneous erections at inopportune moments, we wouldn’t buy it, or we would but would keep it hidden under the mattress with the porn mags.

I suspect one of the reasons why Murdoch is now considering covering up the nipples on Page 3 is because he realises that they’re not actually that important a part of the equation. He started using them 40 years ago because he thought he could get away with it and it might add to sales. He now knows he could take them away and it wouldn’t really make any difference, because the nipples really aren’t what it is all about.  The likelihood is that Murdoch can grant campaigners their victory, get some good PR, and continue to use women in the same exploitative, sexist, decorative way he always has.

There is a tendency among some feminists to assume the worst of male sexuality. I understand where that has come from, but it can lead debates on topics such as sexualisation, porn and objectification to be conducted rather at cross purposes, and to generate a lot more heat than light. I don’t doubt for a moment that when a woman (especially a very young women) sees a man looking at The Sun, and specifically Page 3, she might be made genuinely uncomfortable by it. She may genuinely believe that the man is awash with lust, drooling with sexual gratification and sheltering a raging boner underneath his newspaper. I would suggest that unless the man has just escaped from decades in a monastery or is about 12 years old, this is almost certainly not the case. Much more probably he is thinking something like “she’s cute, nice tits, what a ridiculous speech bubble they’ve given her. Wonder if United will win tonight.

Perhaps there was a time when Page 3 was still sufficiently new, daring and shocking to produce a frisson of genuine sexual excitement, but those days had passed long before even I hit puberty  – a long, long time ago. When I was 13, round about 1980, we boys were on a perpetual hunt for sexual stimulation of any kind. Copies of Mayfair and Penthouse would be dealt and shared like valuable contraband. Even then Page 3 would barely register. It was what you might wank to if you couldn’t get hold of your mum’s Kay’s Catalogue lingerie section.

This wouldn’t matter too much were it not for one nagging concern. I can’t help thinking that the reason many women suppose that Page 3 is the salient tip of a huge iceberg of slavering male sexual desire is because so many other women have told them that Page 3  is the salient tip of a huge iceberg of slavering male sexual desire. Perhaps it is time to turn the page on that particular myth.

I have no wish to undermine or resist feminist campaigns against Page 3, on the contrary I think it we’d have a slightly better society without it. On the other hand, I’d prefer if we could have that debate and that campaign without the need to further demonize male sexuality. Whatever Page 3 might be about, it is really not about sex.

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I’d been planning to let the issue of the Nice Guys of OK Cupid blog on Tumblr slide. It is pretty depressing from every perspective. I’d squabbled and grumbled about it on Twitter with a few people, and then thankfully the Christmas break pushed it out of my mind.

If it passed you by, the Tumblr scours the dating/social networking site OK Cupid for profiles of men and then posts their pictures (without permission) alongside selected quotes. The typical entry shows a less than attractive guy with a few quotes from his profile proclaiming himself a ‘nice guy’ who is fed up of being ‘friendzoned’ and then a ‘wrong’ answer from the set profile questionnaires such as “Should women feel an obligation to shave their legs? Yes.”

Some of them are unquestionably far worse. They talk about ‘sluts’ and ‘bitches’ or they say women should sometimes be obliged to have sex with them, and a few are downright rapey. Many, however, are not. In between the horrors are a lot like these (verbatim and in toto):

I’m a nice guy 😮

I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT:  If I will find a relationship via this iPhone App or if every girl is just a friend or demands a Prince Charming rather than the knight I am / why I get into a girl’s friendzone so easily.”


Remember that boy in high school who helped give relationship advice to girls he really liked that were taken? Every time he tries to solve an issue that the girl had, he succeeds, but not with the girl. That boy was me. I was always in the friend zone. The “nice guy.”

These are not rank misogynists and wannabe rapists, they’re not even showing any particular sense of privilege or entitlement. On the contrary, many of the entries come across as more self-pitying, bitter or pathetic than those above. Those are not attractive qualities, but they are sadly common among people who are  at an extremely low ebb emotionally, or struggling with depression. I think it is not only immoral, but potentially dangerous to place them in the 21st Century equivalent of the medieval stocks to be mocked, abused and humiliated.  The blog struck me less as a blow against privilege, and more as ugly bullying of people who already feel like losers.

I was happy to leave it at that. But then one of my Twitter duellists, the prominent male feminist Hugo Schwyzer, asked if he could quote my tweets in a piece he was writing. Rather than find myself hoisted on a 140 character petard, I emailed him with a couple of comments outlining my concerns

Hugo’s piece has just gone up on Jezebel. In the section quoting me, he says:

“Without entirely dismissing Fogg’s concern that some young men’s rage or despair could be worsened as a result of NGOKC, there’s a lot more to the site than mockery. What’s on offer isn’t just an opportunity to snort derisively at the socially awkward; it’s a chance to talk about the very real problem of male sexual entitlement.”

The first thing to say is that after saying he is not entirely dismissing my concerns, he never once returns to them in any way, which looks pretty much like dismissal to me. Next, I note how Hugo says what’s on offer “isn’t just an opportunity to snort derisively at the socially awkward” – my emphasis because he isn’t denying that the site is, at least in part, precisely that. However because Hugo wants to have a chat about male sexual entitlement, he is quite prepared to accept this bullying as a means to an end, and write off the victims as collateral damage. I can only try to imagine how these men must feel, what the psychological consequences might be for a dejected, lonely young man with minimal self-esteem who suddenly finds himself subjected to public ridicule by millions and branded a douche, a misogynist and a creep by association. But take it on the chin guys, because Hugo wants to talk about stuff.

I should say at this point that I’m not one of the world’s countless Hugo-haters. Although we have many profound political disagreements, we have an amicable relationship online. That said, he does have some habits in his writing that drive me up the wall and half way across the ceiling. Foremost among them is his belief that he knows exactly what all men are thinking and their primal motivations, even if he’s never met them and knows nothing about them. Rather than accepting that the men featured in the Tumblr might be socially and personally diverse and psychologically complex, either individually and as group, Hugo has them all pegged. Borrowing a line from Laurie Penny in the New Statesman (in a much more nuanced but still problematic piece), he writes:

 The great unifying theme of the curated profiles is indignation. These are young men who were told that if they were nice, then, as Laurie Penny puts it, they feel that women “must be obliged to have sex with them.”

Raised to believe in a perverse social/sexual contract that promised access to women’s bodies in exchange for rote expressions of kindness, these boys have at least begun to learn that there is no Magic Sex Fairy.

While only a small percentage of these guys may be prone to imminent violence, virtually all of them insist, in one way or another, that women owe them.

Besides the near-universal sense that they’ve been unjustly defrauded, the great commonality among these Nice Guys is their contempt for women’s non-sexual friendship.

Their anger, in other words, is that their own deception didn’t work as they had hoped. It’s a monumental overask to expect women to be gentle with the egos of men who only feigned friendship in order to get laid.

I fully accept that may well be some men featured on NGOOKC who meet those descriptions perfectly. I strongly suspect there are many who do not. I cannot be sure that there are some genuinely “nice”, gentle, loving, humble men on there whose only problems are lack of confidence, self-esteem and chronic loneliness, because I haven’t met any of them. But nor, I presume, have the people behind the Tumblr, nor have the endless thousands of online surfers who have gleefully shared their humiliation on social media, and nor has Hugo Schwyzer.

My sense is that this doesn’t matter to them, because what is being mocked here is not the individuals, it is the archetype. The political target is The Nice Guy ™ who represents a certain strain of male privilege and entitlement, and the extent to which any of the specific targets match the profile, the extent to which they deserve to be personally humiliated is irrelevant to Hugo and the site’s creators and fans.

I happen to agree that the archetype deserves mockery and vilification, but that is beside the point. Archetypes don’t have to pluck up the courage to join a dating site and then go through the awkward steps of creating a clumsy profile. People do. Archetypes don’t cry themselves to sleep into their pillows. People do. Archetypes don’t suffer if their fragile self-esteem is kicked into the dirt and trampled on. People do. Archetypes don’t self-harm and drink or drug themselves into numb oblivion. People do.

The Internet is awash with nastiness of all sorts. It can be legitimate and proportionate to name and shame misogynists, rape apologists and hatemongers of all sorts. Indeed it is necessary. It can also be legitimate and proportionate to name and shame cruel bullies and their apologists, and no less necessary.

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Like many a fresh-faced psychology student, I drifted into my first modules on forensic psychology and criminology wanting an answer to the question: why do people commit crimes?

The first lesson I learned has stuck with me ever since. In order to understand why people commit crimes, we first need to try to understand why most people don’t. Of course different schools of thought have different answers. Freud attributed it to the superego (famously described as that part of the personality which is soluble in alcohol.) Behaviourists, and their successors in cognitive theory and social learning, have constructed increasingly complex conditioning models of rewards and punishments. More recently evolutionary psychologists have pointed to a pro-social tribal instinct as an evolutionary survival mechanism. Whichever terms we prefer, the common theme is that we have, as a species, a powerful pull towards doing the right thing.

One of the strongest pulls in the human brain is conformity. For whatever reasons, human behaviour imitates and conforms with perceived social expectations, for better or worse. The experiments of Milgram, Sherif and Asch have crossed into popular consciousness, and in widely ranging contexts, from riots to totalitarian states, go a long way to explaining why apparently good people can do bad things.

One more recent adaption of this is social norms theory, which holds in part that behaviour is affected by estimations of its prevalence – the “hey, everyone is doing it” thought process. Heavy drinkers believe heavy drinking is more common than it actually is and the same goes for problem gamblers, domestic abusers and sexual offenders. The theory holds that if you can change the perceptions of social norms, you can alter behaviour.

The theory is very much a work in progress, and many academics (not to mention this blogger) remain dubious about the more ambitious claims of its proponents, but the evidence base is growing all the time and we can see the principles coming into action in various rape prevention schemes, which differ from traditional risk-reduction campaigns, in that they are squarely aimed at potential offenders rather than victims. Examples can be seen in the growing, overdue and very welcome move towards ‘Don’t be that guy’ style campaigns rather than the ‘Don’t be that girl’ campaigns of tradition.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Good Men Project has run a series of articles about men who have not felt sufficient pull towards the right thing. To be precise, they have raped. It began with Alyssa Royse’s now notorious piece entitled Nice Guys Commit Rape Too. I strongly criticised the piece here, as others did here and here, and in the face of criticism, and presumably in the hope it will act as a trump card in the argument, the GMP editors have made the extraordinary, offensive and entirely irresponsible decision to publish a piece by a self-confessed unconvicted rapist.  

I believe that one of the most grievous errors of the original Royse piece was to imply that acts like that committed by her friend the rapist are so common as to be mundane. She confirmed this in the comments to my previous blog, when she suggested  “it cannot be as simple as saying “he’s bad.” Because to say so would mean that at least 50% of the men out there are bad.”

Royse would have us believe that “at least 50%” would do what her friend did. I’m unclear whether she means that  at least half of all men would rape a sleeping woman given the chance; or that at least half have in some way victimised a woman in a drunken muddle or fumble. I’m not sure which is worse. The former is wildly detached from any credible evidence of the prevalence of rape and normalizes the cruel act. The latter implies that what her friend did was not really any different to a clumsy drunken pass or an ill-timed arse-grab, and so minimizes it.

Bad and damaging though the Royse piece and comments may have been, the new article is unforgivable. From the headline to the conclusion, it is pretty much nothing but an object lesson in minimization and normalization. The title is “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying” and it is soon clear that the anonymous author is not really referring to his risk of being raped (although that is alluded to later), he is actually saying that he’s raped at least once and he’d rather risk raping someone else than quit partying. Gee, that’s big of you.

His point, such as it is, would appear to be that he moves in social circles where he and his friends regularly get wasted and have intoxicated sex, with varying degrees of inappropriateness, sobriety and clarity of consent. The argument is muddled in too many ways to list (I’m sure other blogs will fill in), but what I find most disturbing is that there is an absolute absence of remorse, shame or empathy for his victim. Even though his victim phoned him up, in the midst of a recovery programme (one can speculate how she ended up needing it) and told him outright he had raped her, he still didsn’t believe it. He says he only really feels like a rapist when he is “severely depressed.”

I’m guessing the editors at the Good Men Project thought that his story would illustrate the point that Royse was trying to make, even prove her right. What it actually did was instantly validate her critics. Here is a man who pushed a woman up against the wall and sexually abused her while his buddies cheered him on, and who still doesn’t think of himself as a rapist. Then along comes a respected, liberal gender politics website telling him hey, don’t worry, you’re not a bad guy, you were just confused. Nice guys commit rape too, you know.

I believe there is a moral imperative on anyone writing or speaking about rape (or any similar crime, for that matter) to consider how their words will be heard, read and interpreted by different parts of the audience. One part may be those with a professional, academic or political interest. Another is those who have been directly or indirectly affected, most importantly survivors of the crime.  But another is no less important – those who have actually committed the crime, who may do so again in the future or, perhaps most importantly, those who may be at risk of doing so for the first time. With a vague knowledge of psychological principles, it should be easy to understand why responsible writing on sexual abuse should never demonize or dehumanize rape victims – phrases like Royse’s “if it walks like a fuck and talks like a fuck” spring to mind. It should be easy to understand why we must always stress and never forget the human cost, physical harm and emotional trauma caused by rape – something both the GMP articles do to a great extent. And we should never portray rapists as being just like every other guy when they are not, in one significant respect – they rape people. Not by accident, not out of drunken confusion, not as a result of ‘mixed-signals.’ They do it because they choose to force sex without consent.  The Good Men Project have clumsily trampled over all of that.

A few months ago I wrote about the Reddit thread in which rapists admitted to and described their crimes. I was torn at the time as to the relative benefits and risks, but finally swayed by a post from my blogging friend gherkinette, who described how the thread had finally allowed her to realise that the attacks were not about her. “I came away finally seeing that it wasn’t something we victims had done. It wasn’t our hemlines or our flirtatiousness or taking a cab or having another chardonnay. It was because a certain type of man wants to rape.”  

In thinking about the Royse piece, and now the anonymous follow-up, I’ve returned to the question raised then. How would the victims of rapists feel when they read the pieces? Would it help to make sense of what happened to them, in any way make them feel better about what had happened? And then imagine how rapists feel after reading the piece (and by any measure of probabilities, that is almost a certainty). Ashamed? Belittled? Determined to change their attitudes and behaviour? Or justified and excused?

I’m reluctant to suggest that the GMPs articles have actually made some future rapes more likely, but it would be foolish to ignore the risks. I would be much more confident in saying that rapists reading the piece or contributing to the site will feel assuaged, a little more at peace with their consciences, and a little bit better about themselves. Nice guys commit rape too, you know, and rape isn’t such a big deal. It’s not something important like giving up partying, now is it?



The Independent asked to republish this, but I ended up writing yet another piece, making a few more points, rather more concisely! 

Also worth reading are blogs by RopesToInfinity and Roger Canaff

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It would be deeply foolish to pretend to know exactly what is going through someone’s mind when they make a choice to commit sexual assault. No two attackers are the same, no two attacks are the same.

Even if you had the opportunity to talk honestly to a close friend who you knew had committed rape, and you could ask him why he did it, could you trust the answers? Even if he was trying to be completely honest and truthful with you, how could you know he was being entirely honest and truthful with himself? One of the most basic lessons of psychology is that people can go to enormous cognitive lengths to justify or explain our own behaviour to our own consciences.

Last week on the Good Men Project (and since reposted at xojane), Alyssa Royse wrote at length about her friend, who had raped a woman as she slept. The man was obviously very dear to the author, she talks repeatedly (and without ironic capitalization) about what a nice guy he is. Understandably, she is searching for an answer to the question, why did he do it?

I have no problem with that question being asked. Indeed at an individual, political and psychological level, it is a question I’d like to see asked a lot more. My problem is with the answer she gives.

In this particular case, I had watched the woman in question flirt aggressively with my friend for weeks. I had watched her sit on his lap, dance with him, twirl his hair in her fingers. I had seen her at parties discussing the various kinds of sex work she had done, and the pleasure with which she explored her own very fluid sexuality, all while looking my friend straight in the eye.

Only she knows what signals she intended to send out. But many of us can guess the signals he received.

Royse goes to enormous efforts to insist she is not attempting to excuse or justify the rape, but to “understand.” Unfortunately the understanding she comes to is deeply, deeply flawed.

This is not a “some girls, they rape so easy” story. I promise. This is a “some signals, they read so wrong” story. And the fault is not hers, it’s ours — all of ours — for not explaining what these signals DON’T mean, even if we don’t know exactly what they DO mean.

No, it isn’t. The fault is not ‘all of ours’ it is his, and squarely his. In trying to understand her friend’s behaviour, Royse suggests repeatedly that he did not know that what he was doing was rape.  She goes on to say:

There are two simple truths here:

1. She had every right to do everything she was doing and fully expect to be safe from rape. (She was right.)

2. He believed that everything she was doing was an invitation to have sex. (He was wrong.)

The problem is not that she’s a “slut.” The implications of that word make my brain shrivel when sprinkled with the salty insinuations that so often accompany it: that a woman who exhibits a fondness for her own sexuality is somehow inviting anyone who sees her to have sex with her.

The problem isn’t even that he’s a rapist.

The problem is that no one is taking responsibility for the mixed messages about sex and sexuality in which we are stewing. And no one is taking responsibility for teaching people how the messages we are sending are often being misunderstood.

I’d suggest that the second of her two “simple truths” is, almost certainly, not true at all. I simply cannot accept that any reasonably intelligent and informed man (and by the description I’m assuming this man is both) doesn’t know full well that just because a woman wanted to have sex with you earlier in the evening, or last week, or last month, does not mean she necessarily wants to have sex with you right now. People have the right to change their mind, to develop a headache, or to lose a mood – not to mention fall asleep.

In other words, he might not have been wrong to think her behaviour was an invitation to have sex. Even if it was an invitation to have sex, it was not an open-ended invitation to have sex at any time with no comebacks. The implication of Simple Truth Number 2 is that if someone has wanted sex with you at any point in the past, you can assume you have their consent to sex at any time thereafter. This is profoundly wrong and a deeply damaging suggestion to make.

Speaking as a man, and as a man who in younger years has done his share of getting wasted and falling into bed with people, I never needed to be told that sex without explicit (and immediate) consent is rape. When I am told that other men get confused by mixed messages and honestly imagine consent is there when it has not been given, I simply do not believe it. In a nutshell I don’t think many if any men are that stupid.

What was going through this man’s mind at the time he raped his victim? Of course I don’t know, but I can easily imagine several possible thought processes. One is that he knew he didn’t have consent but at that moment didn’t care enough to let that prevent him. Another, and I suspect this is the most likely,  is that he knew he didn’t have consent but took a guess that if or when the woman woke up, she would consent, since she’d obviously wanted sex earlier. Perhaps he thought he could get away without her waking up at all, or that she would have no memory of it the next day.

Any of those (or perhaps a combination of those and other thoughts) would seem entirely credible to me. The only explanation on offer which I find laughable is that he honestly believed he had her consent to penetrate her while she was asleep – or in other words that he didn’t know he was raping her.

Royse’s article is titled “Nice guys do commit rape.” Though not the most objectionable component to this mess, this is the most prominent problem. Nice guys do not commit rape, but guys we thought were nice undoubtedly do. Coming to terms with the truth that a dear and close friend is a rapist cannot be easy for anyone, least of all a sex educator and Slutwalk activist. Nonetheless that is the truth here. The one simple truth is that her friend is a rapist and no amount of tortuous doublethink can shift responsibility onto cultural attitudes, mixed messages or accidental confusion. He became a rapist at the moment he decided to rape. Whatever we mean by ‘nice guy’, whoever a nice guy is, he is not someone who knowingly rapes.

In attempting to understand, in attempting to explain, Alyssa Royse has produced one of the most convoluted, extended exercises in rape apologism I have ever read.

[slight edit, original version stated that Alyssa identifies as a feminist, now corrected. See comments]

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This is the text which I wrote for my presentation to the 2nd National Conference for Men and Boys in Brighton last week. As is the way of these things, I went slightly off script on the day. I believe a video of the actual presentation is due up soon, I’ll add that when it is available. I’ll be writing more of my thoughts about the conference in the near future.


What an honour it is to be here today. It is humbling to be around so many amazing and effective charities, campaigns and agencies who are making such a difference to people’s lives in the real world.

I feel like a bit of a fraud if I’m honest. While you guys are out getting your hands dirty and working on the ground, as a writer, blogger and journalist I’m mostly hunched over a laptop in my underpants. And there’s an image you’re invited to bleach from your mind as quickly as you can. Actually there are a lot of things I’d like to bleach from my mind too. It’s not always a pleasant experience to be involved in debates about gender and masculinity in the media and on the internet. You could probably boil it down to this:



Misogyny, misandry and kittens.  The entire internet in a Powerpoint slide. Those memes come from the social networking site Tumblr where they find such things hilarious, and in truth I think they add up to little more than a bit of playful pigtail pulling on both sides. Things are not always so twee.

Earlier this summer a feminist cultural critic called Anita Sarkeesian launched a kickstarter proposal. She wanted to crowd-fund a series of videos that would examine portrayals of women in video games.



Now if I’m honest that doesn’t strike me as the most urgent cause around. If I had a few quid going spare I could think of more useful things to do with it but each to their own. But look at the bottom line of that slide: Comments : 14,212. Comments on that video were open for only 12 days. It quickly became one of the most controversial videos in YouTube history. Why? Because a huge proportion of the comments were like this:



A couple of things I’d draw your attention to here. First is that if you’re going to accuse someone of stupidity, it generally helps if you can spell the word. Secondly, there’s that sandwich thing again. I can’t help noticing that an awful lot of angry men on the internet seem to be hungry a lot of the time. That might explain a lot – keep your blood sugar levels up guys, really.

That was only the beginning. People set up Anita Sarkeesian hate sites, blogs and groups on Facebook. They vandalised her Wikipedia entry with abuse, they created a video game where you could beat up Anita Sarkeesian until you changed her photo into a bruised and bloody pulp.


This is just one example of something endemic within online media, I could give you endless examples of a seething tide of resentment towards feminism that is often indistinguishable from outright misogyny.

The only blessing, perhaps, is that most of this hatred and anger can be found in the comments on articles, on social media and on blogs.  When issues are raised about men,  a different, but perhaps no less disturbing phenomenon emerges.

A few months ago psychologists published an important paper into the effects of fathers’ depression. It showed that a baby born to a depressed father is vastly more likely to develop behavioural, educational and physical and mental health problems. Here is how Observer columnist Barbara Ellen responded


I know that several people and organizations who are here today are involved in the Shed initiative, and I think most of us are now aware of the benefits it can bring to men’s mental health. When the initiative was first brought to the UK, here is how the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan reacted



It all adds up to an ugly picture.

But out in the real world, the one occupied by you guys every day, I see men and women, boys and girls, muddling along just fine. I firmly believe that most men do not hate women. Most women are not indifferent or dismissive of men’s issues. But people like you need people like me in the media to highlight your issues, raise awareness, help raise funding, steer public understanding and opinion. I cannot tell you how much harder it is to do that when surrounded by mood music of hatred and bigotry. It is not only needless and offensive, it is downright damaging.

Men and women are interdependent. Men’s issues are women’s problems and vice versa.

If we want genuine equality in the domestic realm and the workplace, where better to start than the institutional discrimination of the family courts and criminal justice system, the parental leave regulations and every other institution that equates parenthood with motherhood.

If we want to rid the world of the horrors of female genital mutilation, how much easier would that be if we agreed that it is inexcusable to inflict unnecessary genital mutilation on any child, girl or boy?

Despite the impression one might get from the swamp of the internet, I firmly believe that the interests of men, and the interests of women are inseparable. There are so many issues on which we could and should agree.

As a man, I know that if I find myself alone with a woman on a train carriage or isolated backstreet, she will worry that I might attack or sexually harass her, and I hate that. There is only one solution, and it is to work together to make sexual assault, abuse and harassment so rare that it does not even enter a woman’s head that she might be at risk.

I won’t suggest this will be easy. There are bitter people on both sides who see men and women as locked in conflict for power and control. Well if we have learned anything from the history of human conflict it is that hate begets bigotry and bigotry begets hatred. No conflict has ever been solved by squabbling about who has it worse or who started it. That is the politics of the playground and it is fruitless.

There are some genuinely difficult, if not irreconcilable differences between the men’s sector or the men’s movement, and feminism. The issue of domestic abuse remains laden with ideological baggage. Intimate partner violence springs from a well of interpersonal conflict, abuse, neglect and anger. Violence against women cannot be separated from violence against men, violence against children. It is all part of the same self-perpetuating machine. To reduce the amount of violence inflicted by some men – against women, other men or themselves, our first priority must be addressing the ways in which we socialise, marginalise and often brutalise our boys and men, how we normalise violence in the male identity.

Another obvious problem will be between supporting the right to justice of victims of rape and the rights of men who may have been wrongly accused of the crime. How do you reconcile the demand that a woman reporting a rape should always be believed with the demand that an accused person always be considered innocent until proven guilty? The truth is you can’t. However we could get much further if both sides were prepared to accept the perspective of the other, accept that difference of opinion stem from genuine concern and good faith, and work together to try to find the best solutions for everyone.

The men’s sector, the men’s movement if you prefer, has much to gain from working alongside feminists. Most of us are pretty new to this gender business, feminists have been at it for decades.  I’m not a religious person, but I always quite liked the little wristbands worn by some evangelists with the letters W.W.J.D.  – What Would Jesus Do? As someone who cares about men’s issues, I have my own version. Whenever a relevant issue turns up in the news, I ask myself “what would feminism do?”

When news breaks that another child in London or Bristol has died following a botched genital mutilation, what would feminism do? It would attempt to channel the outrage and anger, publicise the case, campaign, lobby and petition to try to ensure it never happens again. Indeed feminism would react exactly as Glen and the team do here with the end circumcision campaign. But their voices  – our voices – are few and far between.

You may be aware that according to the Fawcett Society, today is National Equal Pay Day. November 2nd is the point in the year where women would stop earning if their hourly wage was exactly the same as men. But did you know that if men died at work at the same rate as women do, every year there would be no male workplace fatalities after January 10th? I hereby declare January 10th to be Fatal Injuries at Work Day! That is what feminism would do, it would declare zero tolerance of workplace fatalities.

Of course as men’s advocates and activists, we cannot charge into feminist space and tell them what to do. Take it from me, that really doesn’t go down well. But we can make sure our own house is in order. I believe we should be clear that the men’s movement gathered here today is not anti-women or anti-feminist. We should offer no quarter and no harbour to misogyny. Where there is a genuine conflict of interest and opinion, we will aim for the moral high ground not the lowest common denominator.

If we can do that, we will bring many feminists along with us. Not all, but many. Not only will that be better for men, it will be better for women too.


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(Originally published on The Good Men Project)

You’re a thoughtful, intelligent kind of guy. You’re interested in issues of gender, and masculinity in particular. Who knows, you’ve maybe even read a book or two. Well done. I’ve read quite a lot of books about gender too, and yes, I have learned a thing or two from them. Take Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, for example, in which I learned that gender is performative: no identity exists behind the acts that supposedly “express” gender, and these acts constitute, rather than express, the illusion of the stable gender identity.

OK I’m lying, I cribbed that from Wikipedia. In truth I got to about p.50 of Gender Trouble and realised that I hadn’t taken in a word of what had been said because I was daydreaming about the zombie apocalypse. I already knew gender was performative. I learned that aged about 15 when I first saw the Hammer schlock Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde. You see, Judith Butler is all very well, but her books would be so much more engaging with a gratuitous shower scene and a couple of spectacular decapitations.

It would be a stretch to say that everything I know about gender I learned from trashy horror movies, but hell, it’s Halloween, so I’ll say it anyway: Everything I know about gender I learned from trashy horror movies. Feminists picked up on this long ago. You could paper the walls of the Bates Motel with every undergraduate or doctoral thesis that has been written on feminist horror movies: Alien; Cat People; Ginger Snaps; you know the script. Much less has been written on what the genre tells us about men and masculinities. You might conclude that men have got better things to be doing with their lives, but I’m living proof that at least one of us does not. So to guide you through the spookiest night of the year, here are the top eight lessons for men to be gleaned from monster movies.

8. Look after your mum (but don’t be a dick about it)
Key text: Braindead (aka Dead Alive)

Mothers, eh? They go through sheer hell carrying you and bearing you into the world, raise you and nurture you for a couple of decades or so, and then just when you’re ready to hook up with a nice girl and slash the apron strings, she gets herself bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and goes all zombie on your ass. We’ve all been there.

In this 1992 Kiwi gorefest by Peter Jackson (who doesn’t seem to make zombie movies these days, so officially residing in the ‘where are they now?’ file), Lionel tries to do the right thing. He stands up for Mum even when she’s chewing on a local German Shepherd. “Oh my God your mother ate my dog!” his neighbour exclaims. “Not all of it” Lionel retorts defensively.

Inevitably though, there comes a time when you have to take a firm stance.  When your beloved mum crosses a line, which may be meddling with your love life, digging out those embarrassing baby bath photographs, or feasting on the gizzards of your friends, it is time to stand your ground. Assert your independence, tell her where you stand, and if all else fails, dismember her zombie minion hordes with a lawnmower.

7. Trust your buddies
Key text: American Werewolf in London.

David and Jack are a couple of good guys who do good things together as good mates should. They go travelling together, go rambling in the wilderness, stop off for a pint in the local pub, get savaged by a werewolf on the way home. As you do.

When this happens to you, it is important to remember that you shouldn’t forget your friendship, even when your pal has returned to haunt you as a reanimated corpse. Friends give the best advice, and they’re often speaking from experience, so when your buddy advises you that you’re about to turn into a wolf and munch your way through the next full moon, he may just know what he’s talking about. Listen to him.

6. Beware the beast inside.
Key text: The Wolf Man

And talking of lycanthropy, 1941 original The Wolf Man is perhaps the creepiest horror movie ever made, and not in a good way. The real action begins when Lon Chaney Jr spies on the lovely Evelyn Ankers through a telescope as she tries on jewellery in her bedroom. He then crosses the road to her antiques shop and asks to buy a pair of earrings which he now knows she keeps in her bedroom. Dude, that is not cool. Really, not cool at all. What were you thinking?  He then asks her out – three times. She says no – three times.  He ignores her and sneaks up behind her at night after work and demands she comes with him. At the risk of becoming boring, DUDE, THIS IS NOT COOL!  If you behave like this, frankly you have nobody to blame but yourself when you get bitten by Bela Lugosi and start howling at the moon in a savage, hairy, mouth-foaming torrent of animalistic lust and end up getting brained with a silver-top cane. You’ll get no sympathy from me.

5.   Looks ain’t everything
Key text: Nosferatu

It is a truth universally acknowledged that chicks dig vampires. I’ve never really seen it myself, but a billion screaming Twilight fans can’t be wrong. The bloodsucking undead certainly get the dishiest casting – before Robert Pattison there were Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, and before those Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi brought tall, handsome, brooding sexuality to their piercing glare.

But the original (and still the best) vampire movie was Nosferatu, which portrayed a very different vampiric ideal. I had a girlfriend once who was obsessed with the imagery of this film, and she would go weak at the knees when the menacing but charismatic Max Schleck crept up the shadowy staircase. If some women weren’t attracted to pasty-faced goblins with wonky ears and bad teeth the world would be a duller place, and I’d probably still be a virgin.

4. Hate begets hatreds
Key text: Candyman

I’m not the biggest fan of slasher movies, which mostly exist to teach kids that if you have sex, drink beer and smoke pot you will certainly be disembowelled by an axe-wielding maniac sometime in the next 90 minutes. Call me a wishy-washy liberal, but that seems a tad excessive to me.  I do however make an exception for Candyman. Not only is the eponymous anti-hero the dangnabbin’ coolest damned mass-murdering ghost in all of cinema, he’s also the most sympathetic.  In all honesty, if I’d been a slave who was gruesomely tortured to death for no greater sin than falling in love with a woman of the wrong colour, I’d be pretty damned pissed off about it too, even if it was 200 years ago. No, I won’t “get over it” thank you very much. If you need me to explain this in any more detail, just look in a mirror and say my name five times. If I don’t appear, try saying ‘Candyman’ instead. I dare you.

3. Love doesn’t conquer all, power tools do.
Key text: The Evil Dead

This really shouldn’t need spelling out, but when you’ve got a big old crush on a girl and you’ve managed to persuade her to come with you and your friends to a cabin in the woods, then she gets possessed by the demons you’ve accidentally released from the depths of hell and loses all interest in you, you must accept it is over. Move on. Don’t be a damned fool about it. When the time comes to bury that relationship, don’t be half-assed about it. Get jiggy with the chainsaw and put that baby out of its demonic misery sooner rather than later, or no good will come of it in the end. I should point out I am speaking metaphorically here. Very, very, very metaphorically indeed.

2.  Sex workers are people too. Even when they are zombies.
Key text: Zombie Strippers

You might imagine that Zombie Strippers starring Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund is a trashy sexploitation flick mostly made up of lengthy stripping and soft-porn sequences, possibly concluding with an eye-popping reinvention of the legendary Bangkok ping-pong ball trick. Well guess what? You’d be completely right. But as it happens (and I suspect entirely accidentally) Zombie Strippers is also the most ball-bustingly feminist trashy sexploitation flick ever made.

Don’t believe me? When one stripper at the seedy underground Rhino Strip Club is infected with a military-grade zombie virus, her performances take on a certain demonic quality. The customers love it. Her tips go through the roof as not only various parts of her costume but various parts of her body drop to the floor. Seeing what has happened, the other strippers start to queue up to become infected too. In order to become better at their work, they quite literally dehumanize themselves, by choice. Whether or not it looks like a smart choice to you or me is irrelevant. Should you be so bold as to try to “save” them from themselves, you’re likely end up as a zombie stripper supper.

1. Be a good dad.
Key text: Frankenstein.

The author of the original Frankenstein novel, Mary Shelley, was raised by a single father after her mother, the feminist pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft, died in childbirth. That’s a pretty heavy psychological burden to carry through life and when aged only 19, the younger Mary poured all her anguish into the classic parable of birth and death.

James Whale’s magnificent 1931 adaptation captured the essence of Shelley’s book and presented it as a devastating morality tale about bad parenting.  There is no greater honour, and no greater responsibility, than bringing a life into the world. If you fail to do your duty, if you reject your progeny and cast it out into the world adrift, unsupported and unprepared, people might consider it a monster, and you little better. Don’t come whining to me when an angry mob of villagers turn up at your castle with flaming torches and pitchforks. You asked for it.

Author’s note:  Neither the author nor the publisher endorse or recommend the use of dismemberment, immolation or psychogenic exorcism as a lifestyle option or a solution to relationship problems. Please ensure all friends, lovers or acquaintances are confirmed zombies before decapitation. Always read the instructions before handling a chainsaw. 

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