Why Do We Find it so Hard to Believe ‘Good’ Men Do Bad Things?

Features. Posted 2 years ago

Kat Patrick

Image: Brock Turner leaves court. Image source.

Firstly, in case you haven’t read Sarah Nicole Prickett’s Your Friends and Rapists, here’s her perfect definition of Dick Culture, a term I go back to time and time again:

“When I say “dick culture,” I mean: The inordinate pride men feel in owning and wielding their dicks. The idiotic contests they hold to see whose dick is more powerful, can shoot off harder, go farther. The way both men and women will say “he was thinking with his dick.” The spasmodic reaction of a dick-bearing man when one suggests that, given the yearly number of dick-related injuries per capita, the use of his dick should be restricted. Every man with a dick believes he is a responsible dick-owner. Dicks don’t kill people, he says. You can’t take away our dicks. Yet there are always so many “accidents!” I am no handmaiden to the nanny state, but you have to admit: a ban on dicks seems like the most pragmatic solution.”

Deeply embedded within our presiding Dick Culture is the idea that good men don’t do bad things. Equally as crucial to our presiding Dick Culture is the idea that a ‘good man’ is one who is privileged; he is wealthy, or successful, or often both. He is a celebrity of sorts – whether that’s a swimming champion at Stanford, a well known actor, comedian, fashion photographer or sports star. At some point, capitalism, the patriarchy, the world, the universe directly aligned a man’s moral compass with how much he could offer society: if he wields enough, it is considered implausible that he would do bad things.

Two things have happened in the press recently: Johnny Depp’s, and I’ll use the word ‘alleged’ only because I have to, repeated assault of Amber Heard and even more recently, the ridiculously light 6 month sentence given to Brock Allen Turner, the twenty year old student convicted of sexually assaulting a woman on a university campus. I feel uneasy lumping two separate crimes together, I do not want to conflate domestic and sexual assault, but I think in this case, as the two overlap endlessly on my newsfeed, it’s necessary.

Violence against women, as we know by now, is not the stereotyped crime we grew up with. While there are always alleyways and scary, strange men, it is statistically more likely that you will know your attacker in some capacity. Just read RAINN’s simple info sheet, for example: 82% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger, 47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance. Only last week, a woman was saved from being date-raped by her longterm friend by three vigilantes who luckily happened to be at the same restaurant.

Morality becomes gendered when we talk about assault. Studies even show that there is an expectation on women to be more ethical which goes part way to explaining why, for every good man ‘accused’ of assault, there must be a ‘bad’ woman who is doing the accusing. Victimhood is carefully constructed. Reading court transcripts, press stories, the waves of PR rubbish, the same pattern emerges: a man’s goodness is set against a woman’s badness. The game is rigged. He is smart, kind, nice, a childhood friend, a wonderful student, a great ex-husband, a sweet father. She is slutty, a party girl, a provocative dresser and ultimately: a liar.

‘Character’ becomes something men can have, and women cannot have. The use of past, present and future becomes essential: what kind of things has she done? Or rather, how whorish were those things? And by whorish, we mean how much life has she lived, specifically, how much fun has she dared to have? All this is taken, exposed, analysed and looked at in comparison to his future, all the ‘goodness’ this ‘good man’ would have achieved were it not for this pesky, ‘bad’ trial and peskier ‘bad’ woman.

Habitually, the good man is privileged. A type of privilege that we seem to believe is inherent, rather than learned. These good men are told they can do what they want, are enabled by family, friends and in celebrity cases: swathes of PR, entourages and, yes, fans. The defense is the same, from Woody Allen to Owen Labrie, that the ability to assault is rendered less probable by their social standing. The danger of entitlement is still not something, in a global crisis of social mobility, we adequately confront.

What kind of life deserves to be ruined? This seems to be, in our Internet era, a question we’ve been led to believe is an existential crisis. From music producers, to Stanford athletes, the answer is: not everyone’s. When it comes to sexual assault, a ‘ruined life’ is measured up: a victim can surely bounce back, a man with a conviction and all-American ‘hopes and dreams’ won’t, though. The second question, after we decide how ruined her life can be, asks how ruined his life will when he does not get the good job, when he can no longer swim, or as his Dad says, “eat ribeye steak”. The trauma of living with assault, with no justice, comes second. The crime is deemed survivable at no real cost. Male reputation, however, remains fragile. It is the thing that needs protection.

I am not interested in reminding people that anyone can assault or sexually assault. Right now, I’m interested in specifics: privileged men assault and sexually assault. The psychology, to me, seems obvious. We believe that goodness and success are the same thing, that one cannot come without the other. I understand why we want to believe that. We want to appreciate success as deserved, not only for one’s life trajectory, but because it makes the world an easier place to interpret. The realisation that this isn’t true is hard to fathom, but essential if we’re ever to see any real change, at any level of society. At the moment we remain dangerously blinded.

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