There's a NEW video of this poem, along with some extended thoughts, HERE.
This is a poem it took a very long time to write. I'm still not convinced that it's done. But I wanted to get it out there. For the record, it's not a true story. Normally, I wouldn't tell people that, but I think it's important to move past the attitude that something is only important if it's happened to you personally.
This is a poem about rape culture, and specifically about men's responsibility to fight back against rape culture. It's about how the myth of the "good guy" helps perpetuate rape culture by allowing some of us to distance ourselves from what is too-often perceived as the actions of a few disturbed individuals and not a chronic, persistent, society-wide epidemic of violence against women.
I hope it's clear that what this poem is talking about, not unlike my poem "Neutral," can be applied to other kinds of privilege and oppression too. We can't beat racism by "not being racist." We have to actively take part in dismantling oppressive systems. Homophobia won't magically go away when the older generation dies out; the struggle has to continue. And when it comes to rape culture, it's not enough to simply "opt-out;" we have to confront it, wherever it pops up in our lives, openly and intentionally.
Thanks to Elliot Malcolm for putting this video together. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Related writing from me:
3 Points About Rape Jokes that People Seem to Be Ignoring
How Men Can Disrupt and Dismantle Rape Culture
Related writing from Shakesville: Rape Culture 101
ACTION by Guante
There is a conversation that never happened. Not even a deleted scene; more like a storyboard lost, an idea cut from the first draft. You are co-starring, slouched on the futon while we watch the game, telling me about your new girlfriend. Or more specifically, all the things you’re going to do to your new girlfriend. Action.
And part of me still remembers my lines, even though I never said them. The conversation I just couldn’t start, for fear of awkwardness, or hurting our friendship, or simply because the commercials were over. That one tiny gesture that might not have changed anything but might have. I remember, how I never muted the TV, never put my drink down and never said:
Man—the way you talk about her, the way you treat her… Your hands are getting too big for your heart. I can smell the future you on your breath. She isn’t safe with you.
And now it’s two weeks later and we’re standing in my kitchen, that same silence between us. She didn’t want to press charges, so you’re a convict with sledgehammer hands and no boulders to break them on. And I am thinking about how we used to play football together. Numbers 55 and 56, both inside linebackers. I am remembering the dozens of conversations that never happened, the words oversleeping in the bed of my lungs. I am the least important person in this story.
And part of me wants to believe that you wouldn’t have listened anyway, that some evil spirit whispered itself into your skull. Part of me wants to believe that we didn’t grow up three blocks from each other, that our eyes aren’t the same color. Part of me is always repeating those lines, always shooting that scene, always reminding myself that despite this guilt, I’m not a bad guy.
You tell me that she never said no. That you’re sorry. That you’re not a bad guy.
Rape culture is silence. It is being able to see the future and not doing anything about it. It is believing the fairy tale platitude that there are good people and bad people and that as long as you’re not one of the bad people, your job is done, your conscience is clear.
It is all of us swimming through the same polluted water of beer commercials policing masculinity, and stand-up comedians making rape jokes to sound edgy, and media talking heads blaming the victim, and music turning women into disposable sex objects, and language encouraging us to think of sex as violence—bang, hit, smash.
It is telling our daughters to dress sensibly and not walk alone at night, and telling our sons…
It is a conversation that never happened. And this is not an excuse for you—it is a reminder for me.
That while her silence will always mean no; my silence, this silence between us, will always mean yes.