I’d heard about this story over the weekend and was even reminded of it by a totally unrelated article by Talarian in which he talks about what an awesome time he had a Gaymer this weekend. For those not in the know, game developer Max Temkin was accused this weekend of raping a dorm mate back when he was in college. This would have been ten years ago. The woman never reported it (as is common) and he’s never been convicted of such a crime.
We’ll never know for sure, but I also think it’s not important to know “for sure”. This is a good opportunity for us all, especially men, to talk about what rape culture is and how many of us have been Max Temkin in a dorm with a woman we wanted to have sex with. A room in which consent was blurry for us, but in which sex happened anyway. I know many men have been in this or a similar situation myself included, so I’ll talk about my own experience with it in the hopes that other men will step up and confront their own.
One thing that really stands out to me is that, in his great fear and panic, Max wrote a response that I thought was pretty manipulative. I read it and didn’t quite know what to think about, but it didn’t feel right. Sure, I expected him to defend himself but it felt like a hollow defense, like he was cloaking himself in the goodwill he’s earned as a game developer with all the appeals to feminism and such. In a way, I believe his story, which basically boils down to he wasn’t/isn’t sure that they mutually agreed to sex. He had sex with her even though he didn’t know how she felt about it (which is quite damning enough). I think his response was inspired more by fear and panic than by the candor and honesty the situation deserved. Admitting you may have raped someone has to be among the hardest confessions one can make. I think this is an issue he should have gone first to his accuser about, dealt with it there, and made long public statements after the fact. His running to the public to explain away the heinous accusation might be understandable, but when you’re dealing with traumatic events, you should take your accuser serious enough to deal with the situation on a personal and private level. Appealing to your fans just makes you look manipulative.
So what about me, what about my experiences with consent? Bear with me, if you can, because while my situation was somewhat different I feel it’s also common among young men.
I used to be afraid of girls. Not in the “she’s got cooties” sort of way, but as many of you may be aware I lived in an abusive house with an abusive father, which I eventually ran away from. I spent all of my teen years with the crippling fear that most men were like him on the inside and there was a monster in me waiting for an opportunity to lash out. This had a direct impact on my relationships with girls, whom I tried to just stay away from. That was the best way to keep the monster in the closet, or at least that was the rationale I used as a teen.
Well, I eventually became close with one young woman after high school, when we were both early adults. We liked each other a lot, but I was totally avoiding talking about sex or having it with her. I think back now and laugh a little at how absurd I was. Still, we wanted to have sex, but because of my insecurity we didn’t talk about it for a long time. That all changed one day.
We were making out and it was time to talk about sex. She wasn’t backing down either this time and she pressed the discussion. I wasn’t entirely comfortable, but I knew her, I trusted her and she trusted me. So we had the loathsome conversation …and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought (of course). I remember feeling relieved and amazed at how easy it was. We didn’t have sex that day, but we saw each other naked for the first time and that was plenty exciting. We talked, we fooled around, but we didn’t have sex.
The day came though. I remember having all of these ideas in my head that day about what men are supposed to do and how I was supposed to do things, and what I was supposed to know from what she DIDN’T say and all that confusion. I wanted to be prepared to handle things like a man, an experienced one …even though I had no experience. Then while we were making out, she said something to me that jolted me back into reality. She said “you’re not listening”. Until that moment I hadn’t really heard a word she said. She pushed me away, left the room and I sat there wondering what the hell just happened. A few minutes later she came back into the room, fixed her clothes and told me to leave. I didn’t protest, but I did apologize and started to leave. We had known each other a long time though, and she knew I didn’t have anywhere to go for the night. So before I got out the door she stopped me, sat me down and asked what the hell was going on with me. She was, rightfully, angry. I’d spoiled the night.
I told her I’d never had sex before, to which she replied she already knew that (she did). I told her I heard things about it and I just started doing those things, thinking that was the “way it should be”. And as I talked to her I realized I had become someone else in those heated moments of making out and it scared her. I wasn’t the person she had made out with before and I was acting different. I was being aggressive and ignoring her. If she had been any other girl, we would have never had that conversation. But she was someone I already knew from the neighborhood, had grown up with, and had a close relationship. All of those things made that conversation more likely. If I imagine that she was just some dorm mate in college who I knew only for a few hot weeks and a couple of hot nights, that memory becomes a bit more scary. How far would I have gone?
Young Men in a Rape Culture
Rape culture for men usually means fuzzy boundaries when it comes to consent, but certainly not in the way Max tried to describe it. Rape culture is made possible by the irrelevance of consent. It’s nice, but not necessary. Men are expected to behave certain ways and when they live up to those ways, they are pardoned and even praised for it. That is the essence of rape culture: Consent is assumed.
I have long thought back on those early days of my sexual life and wondered how many boys and men I’ve known who raped. These would be guys I cared about, broke bread with, and who were like brothers to me. Nice people, well-mannered, but also raised by a culture that tells them they aren’t men if they don’t behave certain ways, to ignore silly girls who are fickle and need to be told what they want in one way or another. They wouldn’t know they’d raped someone until accused, and even then they might respond the same way Max has by citing their credibility and feigning complete ignorance of consent. That’s rape culture when men can be so totally unaware that the person they’re laying with doesn’t want them there and they don’t have to care.
Young dudes tend to have a “get it while you can” attitude toward sex. They work hard to get a girl to want to sleep with them, and then they try to make it happen before she changes her mind. This eagerness to take sex any way we can get it is the reason many of us aren’t sure anymore that we haven’t raped in the past. The thing is, unless you remember unbridled enthusiasm to have sex with you, you can’t be sure that she wanted things to happen. You’ll always be unsure about that time. The result is that young men are rushing into sex blindly, because they’re afraid they won’t get it otherwise.
Exacerbating the issue is the pressure young men feel to have sex. It’s considered a rite of passage to manhood, and young guys are literally desperate to have sex so that they can proudly wear the title of Man. The very recent Elliot Rodgers is a prime example of this mentality. Our young men think something’s wrong with them if they’re virgins. If we believe the “rules” about manhood and virginity, we certainly believe the “rules” about consent which popularly, but falsely, accuse women of being incapable of making their own decisions about sex. We’re taught that women need to be lured, persuaded, and they often need a push in the “right” direction. How many of you were insecure and unsure young men who struggled with the whole dating thing in your early adulthood?
To top all of that off there’s the vast gray zone between being labeled a rapist and not being a rapist. The stigma of the word makes it really hard for young men to own up to non-consensual sex. Rape sounds like such a violent word, and when men reflect on events and note the stark absence of violence, they may admit it was non-consensual, but they will not call it a rape. Even though those things are equivalent. Men who don’t take their victims by violence or overt coercion struggle to identify the event as an act of rape. For them, rapist means something else, something that’s clearly wrong, something that’s obvious. For them, rape can’t simply be having sex with someone who isn’t struggling against you, sex with someone who just lays there without participating, sex with someone who hasn’t shown interest, but who appears to allow it to happen. I think most of the time, these are what typical rapes look like.
Max either still doesn’t understand what happened, or he really does understand and is in sheer terror that his mistake has come back to haunt him.
The language he uses makes it unclear which one it is, but it’s illustrative nonetheless of how young men participate in rape culture. According to Max, the norms surrounding hooking up make it unclear to young men whether they’ve done something wrong.
- “brief relationship”
- “never had sex” and then later implies they did (the “hookup” he mentions)
- “broke things off” abruptly because he was 19 and that’s what 19 year olds do
- “awkward college hookup”
These little phrases describe a “normal” situation in his mind. They were young, awkward, and unsure of themselves. The break off indicates he had a sexual interest in her, but nothing beyond that so after he got what he wanted (consensual or not) he started ignoring her. When he ignored her apparent calls after the incident, this was a normal 19 year old thing to do. All of these behaviors he attributes to the norms of young sexually active men, which is to say he blames the culture. In the end he calls the accusation “baseless gossip” for which “there is no proof”.
I understand that people like Max, during early adulthood, probably made some terrible mistakes. I have to think that so many of us who have reached our 30s look back to the women we’ve been with when we hear new rape allegations and denials such as this. Details about it being a date and that the men thought everything was consensual make us relate to the guy, as they remind us of nights we’ve had which sound similar. Then we wonder “did I rape?” and we try to wrestle with the definition, try to insert “male” and “female” behavior into the equation to see if that one fateful night was consensual. Some of us realize, but will never confess publicly, that we raped someone. If a woman rightfully accuses you and believes that you’re her rapist, then you are (I say rightfully because there are people who are malicious and lie about such terrible things, but again, if you can remember that night and NOT remember clear consent, you ought to believe her and talk about it with her).
It is entirely possible she read something completely different than I did into an awkward college hookup. If any part of that was traumatic for her, I am sincerely sorry, and I wish we would have had a chance to address it privately. – Max Temkin
Emphasis mine. There’s no situation in my mind in which two people are getting sexual and you’re both reading something different into it. That makes no sense to me generally, even if he is innocent in this particular case. If you’re with a woman and you don’t know if she’s on the same page as you, then you don’t have her consent. Rape culture teaches young men that women must be aggressively pursued and to therefore ignore this lack of interest or participation as “normal”.
Max seems to not fully doubt that a rape may have occurred. The language he uses makes me believe he has his own doubts about what happened that night. And because he has doubts, it was the wrong move to go to public statements, wrapping himself in feminism and suggesting that rape culture causes him to be unsure of what consent looks like. It matters a lot that he himself has doubts .
Guys, if you’re with someone and you can’t tell if she consents, STOP. You should never look back on a sexual encounter and think “I’m not sure if they were on the same page as me”. That’s all kinds of fucked up!
It’s not too late for him to deal with this issue privately, as they both deserve. Hopefully he understands that his first efforts to contact her might have been very scary for her, and that it may take some time to get around to this very important conversation for both of them. But I think he at least owes her his patience and understanding, and he should keep trying the private route and leave these public pleas out of it. They aren’t actually helping his situation or hers.
Maybe having this internet break will make him do right by his accuser. Whatever happens next, only he and she can deal with it and make it right.
UPDATE: Follow-up article on Rape Culture and Consent