Dear Men: Here is a New Kind of Fantasy

Dear Men:

Here is a new kind of fantasy. It is about a new kind of man.

These men are born on the campus of an Ivy League college in New England. Or at a West Coast university. Or maybe at a football-happy school on the Great Plains.

These men talk to each other. They order pizza, play fantasy football, share their feelings and do not make fun of each other for this. Mostly, they talk about the men who behave badly, who rape the women on campus, who threaten the women in online blog posts by creating a “rape guide” instructing other men how to rape specific women.

These New Men are, quite frankly, appalled. When the women activists on campus are shouting, demanding justice, they stand among them. They shout. They, too, demand justice.

They begin to see with chilling clarity that these rapacious and violent guys are giving their gender a bad name. They read The Vagina Monologues. They watch The Invisible War. They talk to their women friends. They learn that one out of five women on campus will experience sexual assault and that fewer than 5 percent of completed or attempted rapes of college women are reported to law enforcement (compared to 40 percent in the general population). They reckon with this over coffee. They reckon with this all through the weekend. They meet at night in the library study rooms. They take notes. They develop a new Guy Code.  They email their mothers this new Guy Code to test it out. To see if it passes muster. These New Men have gobs of respect for their mothers and sisters and grandmothers and women professors and the women who work in the cafeteria.

The mothers are pleased. “Go for it,” they tell their sons. “Why not you?” one says, quoting the father of the young football quarterback who won the Superbowl. “About time,” sighs one grandma.

So the men get busy. They start with the frat parties. Gently, whenever they see another guy coercing a drunk young woman to move to an upstairs bedroom, they call that guy over, slap an arm around his shoulder, and say, “Hey, dude, let’s get another beer and chat. Leave her alone. She’s wasted. Can’t be messin’ with a wasted woman. That’s rape. Right, pal? That’s rape, and guys like us don’t rape.”

At first, things go well. Some guys are ready to hear the message. They had never thought about what they were doing as rape; it was just hooking up. Once their eyes were opened, they experienced a new feeling: remorse. They talked this through with the New Men, who listened and did not shame them, and soon they joined the ranks of the New Men.

Some guys, of course, could not hear the New Men at first. These were the harder cases. They made excuses—short skirts, asking for it, no means yes. But the New Men prevailed simply because their message was clear and consistent and because by now there were a preponderance of New Men.

Hardest of all were the recidivists, the guys who rape, rape again, and then again—about six times on average [pdf] for the college rapist. Fact is, the women almost never report, and when they do, no one believes them or they get such a hassle that they let the whole thing drop. Guys who rape live to see another day, another rape. For these guys, the New Men hone their strategy. They seek out the repeat offenders, befriend them, pretend to go along with their crude jokes in order to garner  trust. Then they go all intervention on the guy. Tell him that he is making other guys look bad.

“You can hear no,” the New Men say, “and survive.”

“You can ask a girl who is not drunk if she wants to have sex with you, but you must wait for her to say ‘yes’—a resounding and audible ‘yes’—before you proceed.”

The rapists squirm and hurl vulgarities. They take a swing, but the New Men outnumber them. They’re forced to listen.

“You love your mom?” the New Men ask. “You love your little sister? When you have a little girl someday, you will not want her to meet someone like you at a party. So why not be the man you would like your daughter to meet at a party?”

The New Men stare at the rapist. The rapist either stares back or looks down.

“We do not need to force women to sleep with us just because we can,” the New Men continue. “Being strong is not about hurting people. It is about protecting people. You can be your better self, dude. You can ask a woman if she would like to be with you. And you can have the courage to hear her say ‘No, thank you.’ And then you can walk away. And your dignity walks with you. “

“We know,” say the New Men, ”that some media tells you to take what you want without permission. We know that some guys on your team pat you on the back when you get laid. We know that most universities turn a blind eye. We know that your chances of being charged or jailed are mighty slim—but, damn, bro, this is a moment to take stock.  Rape is a choice you do not have to make.”

The New Men tackle the sports teams next. Then the coaches. Then the professoriate and administration. They challenge all men to be better men. They meet Barack Obama and congratulate him on his willingness to step up.  They venture to Dartmouth and get the administration to shut down the website that hosts incendiary texts like the “Rape Guide.” They visit Steubenville to talk to the benighted folks there. They pilgrimage to Amherst, Emerson, Swarthmore  and Occidental colleges. They make it to all 41 colleges under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases. They visit elementary, middle and high schools to urge anti-rape education.

They become fathers who raise sons who do not rape. They raise daughters who are interested in New Men. They change the world, because they can.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user University of Central Arkansas licensed under Creative Commons 2.0




Donna Decker is Associate Professor of English at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. She is also Director of the university's Women in Leadership Certificate Program.