I wrote a piece on the Harvey Weinstein scandal yesterday. In a change of pace, some people were upset.
I’ll give you one example of a message I received:
Matt, your post was bull sh*t. I don’t need this long analysis of why Harvey Weinstein raped people. Here’s all that you as a man needs to tell your readers: DON’T RAPE PEOPLE. Instead of worrying about the “culture” and trying to use this story as an excuse to push your “values,” maybe we should just be BLAMING THE RAPISTS for rape and TEACHING MEN NOT TO RAPE. It’s not that hard. That’s all you need to say.
It’s quite clear that men aren’t allowed to participate in the discussion about rape and sexual assault except to grunt in three word sentences. “Rape is bad.” “Men shouldn’t rape.” “Blame the rapists.” Of course it’s true that rape is bad and men shouldn’t rape and we should blame the rapists. It’s so true that there’s no reason to say anything if that’s all you’re going to say. Everyone knows that rape is bad and you shouldn’t do it. Even rapists know that.
It’s unfortunate that “teach men not to rape” has become the one single acceptable takeaway from every rape or sexual assault scandal. Unless the rapist or sexual assaulter is a female middle school teacher, in which case the takeaway is that middle school boys need to have a little more self-control. But as for men rapists and harassers, the only moral to the story is that men need to be taught how to not rape people.
On that end, there are hundreds of articles explaining in specific detail how to instruct boys in the art of not raping. Twitter is filled with people shouting from the metaphorical rooftops that men need to stop raping and the only way to get them to stop is to teach them. There have even been books written on the subject.
On occasion, more detail is offered. Helen Rosner, a feminist writer for The New Yorker and other publications, let loose a whole string of viral tweets yesterday describing what else we may teach men in addition to teaching them about not raping. These lessons include but are not limited to: “be pro-choice,” “support subsidized birth control,” “talk less,” don’t hang out in groups with just men, and “deprogram your belief that your desire matters.” Then she capped off a list that began with “be pro-choice” by insisting that men should also “befriend children.” Clearly this lady has a strange idea of friendship. She has a strange idea of men, too. I’m not sure that she’s ever actually met one.
I think all of this misses the mark by about a thousand miles. The “teach men not to rape” approach — whether or not it’s explicitly accompanied with the “teach men they are worthless pigs who should shut up and bow to their feminist overlords” approach — is fantastically wrong for two reasons:
1. You’re actually letting rapists off the hook. What’s obviously insinuated by “teach boys not to rape” is that rapists are raping because they were never taught that they shouldn’t. In this version of things, rape is just a misunderstanding. The rapist isn’t a man consciously committing a heinous act of evil. He’s just a bumbling dummy who’s never been educated about the badness of rape and sexual assault.
Maybe there are a few rapists out there who really didn’t know they were doing anything wrong, but the ones in that category are insane. Harvey Weinstein is not insane. He knew that he shouldn’t assault and harass women, but he did it anyway. Anti-rape education wouldn’t have stopped him just as it wouldn’t have stopped the majority of rapists on Earth.
2. More importantly, you can’t raise boys simply by providing them a list of things they shouldn’t do and shouldn’t be. We ought to be giving boys a positive message of male identity. “Don’t be a rapist” isn’t quite enough. We can’t just tell them what not to be. We have to tell what to be.
We scold boys all day, shouting, “Men aren’t supposed to be this, men aren’t supposed to be that.” But let anyone follow up those negative lessons by saying, “OK, now here is what a man is,” and he’ll be lectured for reinforcing gender roles. The same does not happen in the reverse. Nobody ever says, “teach girls not to ____.” Instead, we teach girls how amazing they are, how smart, how brave, how useful, how strong, how beautiful. While boys are told, “Shut up and don’t rape people,” girls are told to reach for the stars and fulfill their wondrous potential.
Those Helen Rosner tweets are a great example of this strategy taken to its extreme. It’s a long harangue meant not to help boys or encourage or empower them, but neuter and silence them. God forbid this disturbed, hateful woman ever has sons of her own. She’s the type who’d dress her boy up in a skirt and claim he’s come out as “transgender,” when really she just despises boys and can’t stomach raising one. By the way, do you think it’s a coincidence that it’s usually young boys, and not girls, discovering their “transgenderism” in our anti-male culture? We hate boys so much that we’re trying to literally turn them into girls.
I’m not saying that this approach leads to more rapists. I’m not sure there’s any evidence that we have more rapists today than at any other point in history. But it does lead to men who, though not rapists, remain still lost, aimless, empty, and confused. They may not assault women but they certainly don’t know how to interact with them. They don’t know what their job and role is supposed to be in the male-female relationship because nobody ever showed them. All they were ever told was, “Don’t be a jerk; don’t be a rapist.”
OK, fine. Got it. Lesson learned. What now? What should I be now?
If you want to raise a boy who will not only avoid becoming a rapist, but may even succeed in doing something actively positive with his life, then he must be taught — he must be shown — how to harness his masculinity to a constructive end. He must have examples of real men in his life so that he can see not only what men don’t do, but what they do and why they do it.
I don’t think my parents ever sat me down and said, “Matt, you mustn’t rape,” or “Matt, son, don’t assault random strangers,” or “Matt, listen here: don’t become a serial killer.” Those lessons were embedded in the larger one. I could see that my dad was loving and protective (which pretty much covers the “don’t rape” thing). I could see that he provided for his family. I could see that he stood up for his beliefs. I could see that he was obedient to God. I could see that he was responsible and trustworthy. I could see that he was strong, intellectually and morally. I could see what a man is, and that gave me a pretty good idea of what he isn’t.
Many boys today have absent fathers or weak, emasculated ones, which gives them a great example of what a man isn’t, but leaves them clueless about what he is. They turn on the TV and see more examples of what a man isn’t. They go to school and they’re told more about what a man isn’t. Everywhere they turn, man is an absence, a hole, a list of shouldn’ts. All they ever see is man in the negative. And if they go looking for a Real Man, they’ll be told that no such thing exists and how dare they even use such an archaic and misogynistic phrase. There are bad men, but no good ones. Fake men, but no real ones. Toxic masculinity, but no constructive masculinity.
We can’t do this. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t complain that men in our culture lack masculine virtue while insisting that there is no such thing as masculine virtue. If we want men who aren’t rapists — who are even better than not-rapists — we have to shoot higher. We have to shoot for good men. And if we want good men, we have to show them what that means.