I’ve been raped by good men before. Decent, smart, funny and generally enjoyable men who, in moments where they lean into their power as men in the world, cross a line I never know how to pre-empt.
Good men, not just the mythical man in the bushes, commit sexual assault. They are the ones who sometimes speak up when their male peers say something a little more than uncouth. But make no mistake, they are complicit participants in a system they know is rotten to the core. They reap both the benefits and ills of a male-centered socio-economy.
Once in college, a man who assaulted a friend of mine, came up to me at a party, grabbed me by the arm, and through bloodshot drunk eyes, pleaded for my forgiveness.
It’s important for you to know that I was very outspoken about my own sexual assault in college, and it stirred quite a bit of controversy. Something that happened between two people, in one room, behind closed doors, became a moment for a community to seize upon, to make collective decisions without the input of the two people most conflicted about what happened between them.
It was for us to work out, but for the community to decide how, and on what political terms.
I’ve long since forgiven the man who assaulted me in college, perhaps because I knew he wouldn’t be the last I’d have to work this out with, and because of many other complicated reasons. Even partners can go too far — it’s not as neat or easy as we as a culture would like this all to be.
When I saw the photo of Democratic senator Al Franken jokingly groping that sleeping woman, I let out a strange sigh of relief. First, I felt a wave of disappointment — but it was a more profound and complicated feeling.
It was easy to call Roy Moore a monster — label him by other clear names that described his crimes against women and humanity.
But what Franken did, and who he is, I hope, will allow us to push past the urgency to find monsters looming in the shadows, ready to rape women.
When women come forward, I can say from personal experience, your entire life becomes public record. Every decision you make, have made, will make, gets measured to define how promiscuous and deserving of being raped you were. We look for explanations in the easiest and laziest of places to satisfy our conclusions about gender and power, and are unwilling to do the hard work of believing women when they come forward.
These are world-shattering moments, stolen from those who experienced a horrific trauma, only to be constantly re-traumatized over and over again for the rest of our lives. I don’t celebrate women for coming forward. This isn’t about identifying heroes and villains — there isn’t some grand prize for being a survivor.
Frankly, it sucks.
I do, however, applaud communities actively and honestly confronting their participation in a toxic society.
Good men do bad things sometimes, and if we can’t say or admit that, what kind of world are we actually trying to build for the future?