So you may have heard that I’m working on another book, tentatively titled SHADES OF DOUBT (I’m not in love with the title, so I’m open to further suggestions). While I’m normally my own worst critic, I think this is my best work thus far, because for once I don’t have any specific “takeaway” for readers at the end. The central themes are rape accusations and the nature of consent – and I know readers will come away with a variety of opinions. That excites me because dialogue is the catalyst for social change. If we want to see a world where rape accusations are taken more seriously, and surrounding rape myths are peeled away, these discussions need to happen.
I love this book more than my others because there are no real conclusions. There is no outright moralizing. This book is also difficult to write – more so than Someone You Already Know – because I want my accused rapist to be a fully developed character, with a background and (gasp!) some good character traits. Because even rapists have them – they are not so easily typecast as villains like Disney characters are, being evil for the sake of being evil. They can be charming. They can be pillars of their communities. They can have loving, supportive families, good jobs, and loads of friends. That’s the sort of character I knew I wanted: one who intentionally comes off as an “every man,” thus making the accusation against him more shocking and difficult to prove.
My character Jordan is both easy and excruciating to create, because he is directly inspired by my own ex boyfriend. The one who raped, and walked. In the book, as in real life, the accused man does not see himself as a rapist. He refuses to consider any shred of validity in the charges against him because what the media portrays as rape, and what rape looks like in its most common form, do not always line up. Most victims are assaulted by people they know, and perhaps care for a great deal. While I don’t mean to suggest that all accused men are guilty – false accusations do happen – it’s incredibly frustrating to come across a person who does essentially admit to rape, but gets away with it because he wasn’t being “violent,” but rather “pushy” (does “boys will be boys” ring a bell here?).
I’ll let my friend Samantha explain it, from her post When Speaking to Men About False Accusations:
I’ve noticed a few things when I’ve talked to men about being “falsely accused.”
The first time I noticed this was a little over a year ago. At that point I was still really new to feminist conversations about rape culture and I was just beginning to familiarize myself with the data, and was sharing what I’d been learning. He brought up how he’d been “falsely accused” of raping a woman he’d been dating for a short time, and I did my best to not minimize what I saw as legitimate pain.
But, the conversation continued, and as he kept talking I realized something: the “false accusation” he felt so victimized by wasn’t actually false. In this particular case she hadn’t actually said he’d raped her, but that he’d assaulted her– and he had, by his own admission to me. He didn’t see it as assault; to him it was a small thing that he described with phrases like “being a little pushy.”
I didn’t have the chutzpah at the time to call him on it, but that conversation stuck with me.
It’s also usually played out that these men who are talking about being “falsely accused” of rape actually are rapists. They have a lot of justifications for why what they did wasn’t rape, I’ve found out. There are so many places online that are filled to the eyeballs-floating-in-shit brim with rape myths– they preach tactics like “those bitches actually do want your cock, you just have to convince them by giving it to them.”
We see these sorts of rape myths played out on a daily basis in our popular culture– Cersei and Jaime Lannister, for example. What many people saw as a “gray area” or “dubious consent” was actually just a rape myth. Cersei said “No” seven times, but Jaime assaulted her into shutting up and then raped her until she gave up being such a bitch and just admitted she actually did want it.
These are the sorts of things the men I’ve talked to who say they’ve been “falsely accused” tend to believe. There are victims of false accusations– I’m one of them. It should never happen to anyone.
However, I have yet to speak to a rapist– not even once– who sees that what they did was rape. They are delusional, but they have huge communities backing them up online, telling them all of the things they want to hear. It wasn’t rape– it was rough sex. It wasn’t rape– I just knew that she didn’t actually mean “no.” It wasn’t rape– I just got her drunk enough. It wasn’t rape– she was just unresponsive. It wasn’t rape– she was just crying because she was a virgin.
I hate that I found myself nodding along as I read this, because that is precisely what I was told. Back when I was dating *J, and before I changed my name (because the resulting depression, anxiety, and PTSD after my assault was so severe, I needed to start over), I heard too many times to count: You’re so hot I can’t help myself, Sarah. You’ll like it if you just let me continue, Sarah. I didn’t clearly hear you say “no,” Sarah (because crying and shaking wasn’t obvious enough, apparently).
But I never once thought I was raped. He never thought he committed rape. Why would we think that? I loved him and thought I could trust him. He told me he loved me and cared for me deeply. He also joked about being a twenty-something virgin still, so “of course” he’d do what he could to get some action. And I was slowly being indoctrinated by Campus Crusade for Christ that men “can’t help themselves” around attractive women, so it all made sense to me.
If anything, I was the one at fault. I was the one who tried to look attractive for him. And even when I switched my tight jeans for sweatpants to curb his lust, I was still to blame, because didn’t I agree to see him in the first place? Didn’t I voluntarily let him into my house, into my room, with the door closed?
It’s bullshit. All of it. I used to lie awake at night, sweating and crying, thinking of J out there not realizing the full extent of what he did, and doing the same thing to other women. I did have my “moment” the day we broke up, when I told him “If you really loved me, you never would have forced me to do things I didn’t want to.” I never said the R-word, but I described what it meant. It made absolutely no difference because what I described is not how most people think of rape.
That needs to stop. That’s why I needed to write this book. And I’m fortunate to have a team of honest beta readers who let me know if there are places where my agenda is showing; where my accused rapist character is falling too much into Stereotypical Villain territory, and is losing some of his humanity. This book is not a form of revenge, and not so much a teaching tool, but hopefully an entertaining catalyst for discussion. Because chances are, most of us know a Jordan, or have met someone like him. And some of us have been Addie, the girlfriend, who is torn between wanting to believe the women stepping forward, but also doesn’t want to lose the man she loves.