Friday FREAK OUT! Nice-Guy-Gate

[TRIGGER WARNING for the topic of rape]

In the last few weeks in the feminist blogosphere a HEATED debate has emerged that started with an article posted on the Good Men Project titled, Nice Guys Commit Rape Too, written by Alyssa Royse.  This article tells the story of a ‘nice guy’ that commits an act of rape, and the author seeks to explore why/how it happened: “In order to get to that answer we need to first abolish the idea that all rape is about power and violence. It’s not. Some rape begins as the earnest belief that sex is going to happen, and that it should. The confusion starts with misreading socially accepted cues.”

In the aftermath of this article’s publication, there has ensued a series of responses, rebuttals, and other public outrage via social media.  Here is a sample of what you can find if you jump down the rabbit-hole of ‘nice-guy-gate’, in approximate chronological order:

11/30/12 Good Men Project: Nice Guys Commit Rape Too, by Alyssa Royse – the article that started it all.

12/1/12 Good Men Project: Nice Guys Commit Rape Too, A Response, by Matthew Salesses.

12/8/12 Feministe: What in holy hell is this, by Jill Filipovic.

12/10/12 Good Men Project: I’d Rather Risk Rape than Quit Partying, by ANONYMOUS. [this is the story of a self-identified rapist]

12/10/12 Feministe: And just when you thought the Good Men Project couldn’t get any worse, by Jill Filipovic.

12/10/12 Good Men Project: This is Why We Published a Rapist’s Story, by Joanna Schroeder.

12/10/12 The Soapbox: On Nice Guys as Rapists, by Amelia McDonnell Perry.

12/11/12 Why did the Good Men Project publish a blog by an unrepentant and unconvicted rapist? by Ally Fogg.

12/18/12 Why the ‘nice guys commit rape too’ conversation is not helpful, by Jill Filipovic.

12/??/12 Why I Left the GMP, by Ozy Frantz.

12/20/2012 Rapists Say They Rape Because of Mixed Signals and the Good Men Project Believes Them, by Amanda Marcotte.

Wow, there is a lot being said, and people are surely freakin out about it.  Myself included.  I have really struggled to wrap my head around all of the points being made, and how to frame this debate in a productive manner for myself.

One thing that I am reminded about as I have been digesting the myriad of viewpoints is that consent is an essential topic to cover in sexuality education.  Because it’s not enough just to tell someone, “don’t rape”.  As sexuality educators, we MUST teach participants…

  • What is consent?
  • What do you need consent for?
  • How is consent communicated?
  • How do you know if consent is given?
  • How do you know if consent is not given?
  • How do non-verbal cues affect the understanding of consent?
  • When is someone unable to give consent?

And I’m just getting started!  This is a challenging concept to both teach, and to learn.  As ‘students’, we learn different things about consent from our teachers, peers, the media, parents, religion, etc., and we rarely have an opportunity to truly examine and explore all of the nuances of communicating about consent in real life situations.  Sexuality education should be an opportunity for individuals to learn how to make healthy decisions about sexual activity that are 100% consensual.  (Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on consent in the future.)

I encourage sexuality educators to critically examine all sides of ‘nice-guy-gate’ in order to understand the scope of this controversy. It is also critical that we all send a clear message about the importance of consent, because surely we could all learn about bit more about it.

Overcoming Sex-Shaming Rhetoric at the CFLE Sex Ed Conference 2012

At the CFLE’s annual National Sex Ed Conference I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop titled Dare to be Shameless! Overcoming Sex-Shaming Rhetoric in Sexuality Education.  During this one-hour workshop we listed examples of sex-shaming rhetoric, identified ways that sex-shaming rhetoric can impact an educational environment, and described strategies for countering sex-shaming rhetoric.  Yep, we did all that in just one hour.  Phew!

It was a wonderful experience being able to engage other sexuality education professionals in a conversation about how our language can make someone feel ashamed about their sexuality, sometimes without that intention.  What even is sex-shaming rhetoric?  As far as I know (and please correct me if I’m wrong), it’s a new concept that needs descriptions and definitions.  During this workshop, I had the help of 75 participants in outlining how sex-shaming rhetoric may be characterized.  photoMy own working definition of sex-shaming rhetoric is:

Language used that makes an individual feel ashamed of a healthy sexual experience, feeling, or act.

This definition may be too straight-forward, or maybe its brevity allows essential room for interpretation.  In short, we as educators must be aware of how our rhetoric around sexuality, including our educational lesson plans, may make someone feel ashamed of their sexuality.

As part of the workshop, I asked participants to write down an example of something someone might say that could be considered sex-shaming, thinking especially of something a sexuality educator might say.  Here are some of the examples they came up with:

  • “If you get pregnant/get a girl pregnant, your life will be ruined.”
  • “There is a time and a place to talk about sex and sex topics, and this isn’t it.”
  • “Clean” = STI negative
  • “When you have a new partner, you must use protection.” (It’s fear-based rhetoric and shaming for people.)
  • A person with multiple partners is nasty.
  • “Sexting is a horrible thing and doing it can ruin your life.”
  • Heterosexual sex is ‘normal’ sex.
  • “You shouldn’t be thinking about sex, you should be thinking about college.”
  • “You’re not old enough to ask those questions!”
  • “If you can’t see something without a mirror, it probably means you shouldn’t be looking at it.”
  • “You’re stupid if you get pregnant.”
  • “You will regret it.”
  • “Boys don’t respect girls that have sex too soon.”
  • “Males tend to be more focused on sex than females.”
  • “…not something [that] good boys and girls do.”
  • “If you sleep with someone too soon, you might smear your reputation.”
  • “What would your parents say if they found out you were having sex?”
  • “You shouldn’t have sex unless you’re in love.”

These examples depict characteristics of sex-shaming rhetoric, and yet they are things that we have all probably heard at least once in our lives from someone of authority.  Being a sexuality educator is an honor, a privilege, and a responsibility.  It is up to us to help people feel comfortable asking questions about sexuality, and learn more about themselves, rather than making someone feel bad and ashamed.  Certainly, there are behaviors that need to be deemed as not OK, and that someone should feel ashamed about, such as engaging in any sexual behavior without consent.  However educators (not just sexuality educators, but anyone who is potentially educating others) need to be aware of how their language can be interpreted.  Our educational approaches can be affirming, rather than shame-inducing.

Thank you to all who attended this workshop, and I look forward to continuing this work on improving our sexuality education rhetoric.