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An open letter to the good guys 

What we talk about when we talk about "rape culture'"

Dear Good Men,

When I was in my early 20s, I was mad at you. Unfairly. You see, A Bad Thing had happened (at the hands of several scary men) while I was studying abroad, and then when I got home, a lot of my friends started telling me about Bad Things that had also happened to them.

For a while, I saw the world as Us vs. Them: Women = victims, and men = perpetrators. And then one day, during a pause between rants to my one trusted male friend about the State of Things, he met my eye. "That doesn't only happen to women," he said quietly. Just that. No explanation needed.

I knew that, of course. But that moment of unflinching confession changed everything and defused my youthful, indiscriminate rage forever. I'm not mad at guys anymore. I'm mad at rapists. Rapists and their wingman enablers.

I'm not the only one. In fact, folks in Tennessee may have noticed a few female friends posting about the Vanderbilt rape trial recently. (They're mad, too.) Just to catch you up, in 2013, a student carried his unconscious ex-girlfriend into a dorm room, invited a few friends over and ... you can imagine the rest. Except in this case, there were photographs, videos and convictions.

I didn't share those posts. I felt no glee or triumph at the news; I felt sadness for all those ruined lives. I also felt relief. Because here's what many women expected: yet another acquittal, followed by the usual congratulatory shoulder-slapping. Believe me — it's not that we think accused rapists are all guilty. It's that too often, the ones who so clearly are guilty get a pass. We just want the court system to work — for everyone — and in this case, it did.

Based on previous items that emerged in this unfolding, horrific news cycle, the defense team seemed to be counting on the system not to work — or at least, to work to their advantage. One defendant's attorney, in closing statements, employed what I'm calling the "rape culture strategy" — essentially arguing that amid a campus milieu of alcohol abuse and casual hookups, the defendants assumed that having sex with an unconscious girl was no big deal. The kind of thing everyone does.

Let me be clear: What I mean by "rape culture strategy" is not the same thing that the defense attorney meant when he evoked "culture" in closing arguments — the repugnant idea that rape is some natural by-product of excessive drinking and youthful fixation on sexuality. No, the "rape culture strategy," as implemented by the defense, was a subtler, more cynical thing — a wink-and-nudge appeal to jurors, based on the attorney's assumption that this is actually how people think about rape. The "boys will be boys and they can't help it" defense, in essence: They didn't know it was wrong, they were drunk, and no real harm was done; any "red-blooded male," in that situation, might have done the same.

Good Men, I have a far higher opinion of you than that. Your blood is as red as anyone's. You want to get laid, just like the rest of us do. But I do not believe you're buying the defense's closing argument any more than I am — that any male would rape someone, given enough booze and the opportunity. And frankly, if I were you, I'd be pretty incensed at the implication.

I'm not mad at men anymore. In fact, I'm a fan. And one of the things I love most about you guys is that Urge to Be Manly — to lift heavy objects and protect smaller creatures. To declare of a tough situation, in a big, deep voice, "I'VE GOT THIS," and then, to HAVE it ... whatever "it" may be.

Here's the thing: There are a few guys who aren't quite as good as you are. They live among you; they look and talk very much like you do. But unlike you, they do not mean well. They follow through on barroom "I'd tap that" blusterings in ways you wouldn't imagine. They view females as orifices for their gratification instead of as complete humans, and then they mock the women who "gave it up" so easily. (And some of them do far worse than that.) You may have at least one douchebag friend like this. Quite possibly, he's not a rapist, but he's nowhere near the Good Guy end of the continuum. Maybe he's edging toward a precipice, considering what it might be like to "tap that" without consent. What if you could interrupt that process by calling him out as the non-man he is?

Good Guys, it's in your power to punch holes in rape culture in ways we cannot. We've been trying not to get raped for quite some time now, and too often failing. So we need you to man up at this time. Want to feel manly? Get laid. Consensually. We women are all for that! But meanwhile, we're asking you to also do some heavy lifting and protecting on occasion. Don't play wingman for your douchebag friends. Stop trying to score Man Points by mimicking their aggressive shit-talk about women. Show you're a man by standing up to woman-hating non-men.

By doing that, you'll not only shame the douchebags; you'll make it harder for actual rapists to hide among you — by making sure your crew looks, talks and behaves nothing like them.

And if one night you wake up and realize there's an unconscious, half-naked young woman on your dorm room floor, with folks queuing up and pointing iPhones at her, don't roll over and go back to sleep. You've got this: Lift her up and carry her home, and lock the door behind you on the way out.

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