The Myth of Saints and Monsters: Why The False Dichotomy of Rapist vs Good Guy Needs To Die
I didn’t buy Saint James Deen for a second. He looks like fucking Patrick Bateman. So the recent revelations from various porn performers, starting with Stoya, that he sexually assaulted them did not surprise me. But even if Deen had struck me as the pinnacle of sexy feminist loveliness, I would be no more surprised. Because, newsflash — ANYONE can rape.
The myth that there is a big difference between a “rapist” and a “good dude” is a dangerous one. A rapist is just a person who makes the choice in a moment to tell himself he’s entitled to your body. A person who decides to put his need and/or desire for sex above your comfort and safety.
The patriarchal society we live in reinforces ideas of male entitlement. People say rape is about power, and it is — mine certainly was — but we don’t talk about the entitlement that comes from this power. The language of dating tells men that they should seek to obtain and possess women. He has to “get” girls, “get” laid. Many common male seduction methods are pretty much unconscionably coercive — just watch a sitcom and notice what the “playboy” character does to make sure that the woman he wants can’t say no. He tricks her, lies to her, pretends to be someone else — anything to “get” her. And don’t think this just applies to the players out there. Whether he’s the “friend-zoned” nerd or the hot porn star — whether it’s about “why won’t anyone touch me?” or “how could anyone resist me?” — the bottom line is society tells men they are owed sex and when you implicitly or explicitly refuse consent, you’re withholding something they were promised.
A rapist is someone who makes the choice, in a moment of implied or explicit non-consent, to tell himself going ahead anyway is justified — to tell himself he’s entitled to your body. Every single man raised under patriarchy has the capacity to make this choice. Your rapist might be narcissistic liar who pays lip service to feminist ideals to cover up his lack of empathy and total belief in his entitlement to sex, or he may be a sweet honest guy full of empathy and kindness. He can still make that choice. It is very easy for a man, in that moment of non-consent, to reach for a justification that makes it okay for him to continue.
I would like to tell the story of my own rape to illustrate my point. I must give a very strong content warning here. I am about to describe the events of my rape — and make mention of self-harm — and while I won’t go into great detail, I am not glossing over it with euphemisms. If you think this will upset or trigger you, please know I understand and be gentle with yourself — only you know what is right for you to engage with. And if you are someone who knows me — Hi, mum! — I urge you not to read on. You don’t wanna know this. If this is not you, please do read on and see the raw, nuanced, unvarnished truth of how a “good dude” raped me.
We’d been close friends since we were seventeen. He’d wanted me since then but my interest in him was a slow burn that didn’t become a fire till we were in our early twenties. We fell in love, he moved into my flat for the summer. I was a student, working on my final dissertation, and the pressure was crushing me. I turned back to self-harm, an old habit, and he found me on the bathroom floor one morning, my arms cut up with a razor. He patiently waited with me for many hours at the hospital. He comforted me, made me laugh. Later he made me cups of tea, went out for ice cream. He took care of me. This was not the only time.
I started seeing a therapist at university and I was sent for a psychological assessment. It was draining and painful. My arms were still all striped up like a panini, I was still in a panic about my work. I was completely vulnerable. I came home, took off my clothes, crawled into bed. Fetal position, facing the wall. Empty and exhausted. He came to lie down beside me. I could feel it as soon as he lay down, he was hard and he wanted me. He touched my ass. I wriggled away. He tried some more. I was unresponsive.
“Look, if you don’t say anything, I’ll assume it’s a yes.”
When I did not speak he sighed and did what he wanted. I lay still, in that fetal position, mouth open, a silent sob trapped in my throat, tears streaming down my face. Afterwards, when he saw that I was crying, and I couldn’t speak, he got angry. He told me to “go clean myself up” and I dragged my heavy body to the bathroom. I was crying now and he shouted from the other room, “Oh shut up!”
He was in the mood for sex, feeling lonely and left out because I was seeing a shrink and he was all alone dealing with my craziness. I was getting help and he was left to deal by himself. So he felt entitled to have his mood boosted by the sex he wanted from me, since it was my fault he felt so crappy in the first place. My silence did not explicitly tell him no and, even though he knew better, he made the choice to tell himself it was okay to proceed. I didn’t say it above, because it is so hard to write about it without feeling the brutality, somehow perpetuating it, but he penetrated me anally. Of all sexual acts, this one clearly needed very affirmative consent, and by choosing this particular act, he exerted his total power over me and his belief in his right to any part of my body, whether I wanted it or no. Patriarchal entitlement in action.
By the logic of the saints and monsters world view, he pretended to be loving and kind in order to get away with raping me. He was always a bad person. The truth, though, is grayer. The man who wrapped my arms in a towel and dried my eyes and told me silly stories in the hospital waiting room is real. The man who ignored my lack of consent, who knew I didn’t want it but made a choice to convince himself I did, and punished me for making him feel like a rapist, he’s real too. It is possible for these qualities to exist within the same human being. I remained with this man for years and there were many more times the scale tipped towards abuse, to kindness, then back to abuse, until finally the abuse side carried too much weight to be ignored. But the good stuff never stopped being true.
The scariest thing about this world is that there are very few monsters. Just people making choices and a culture that makes harmful choices seem okay.