the phrase you're looking for is 'cognitive dissonance'

[trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence]

Shortly before (but unrelated to) my post about men’s non-concordant physiological response to sexual violence, the Good Men Project posted an article called Nice Guys Commit Rape Too. (SIDENOTE: Some writers, when discussing this issue, choose not to link to the original article so as not to give more traffic to the site. I’m linking here because my academic background recoils at the idea of not citing an original source when it is so readily to hand. Feel free NOT to click it.)

It describes a situation very much like the one my friend described, of a guy raping a woman who was not conscious.

Inevitably, it raised controversy, and GMP upped the ante by posting a response by the “Nice Guy” in question. The title of that article is “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying.” (Linking again, despite the fact that title feels like link bait, like this whole thing is constructed to amp up pageview-driven ad revenue. I feel kinda gross writing about it myself, participating in what feels like a deliberately constructed controversy. But. The science in me wants to talk. So.)

I read Ally Fogg’s Independent article about the GMP thing, in which writes of the second article, “It is hard not to conclude that he [the rapist] had taken the first article as a vindication, confirmation that his act of rape was just a silly mistake. He’s still a nice guy – nice guys commit rape too.”

In another blog post about the topic over at In These Times, Lindsay Beyerstein offers an instructive allegory about the first article. What if…

The woman ordered a pizza and announced her intention to share it with the guy, but she fell asleep before the pizza arrived. Should he, a) Wake her up for pizza, or b) Shove some pizza in her mouth while she’s sleeping?

If Alyssa’s friend can grasp the basics of sleep, he can understand why it’s not okay to penetrate a sleeping person, even if they were totally excited about having sex before they fell asleep. Alyssa should ask herself why her supposedly nice friend didn’t wake the girl up, if he was so sure she wanted sex.

(Alyssa is the author of the original article.)

The phrase Mr Fogg and Ms Beyerstein may be looking for, the one that hammered against my skull when I read their articles, is “cognitive dissonance.”

Humans are not merely capable of holding two mutually exclusive beliefs, they are GIFTED at it.

We should pay fewer taxes and also fund schools and roads more. Every gay person is going to hell – except my kid. Rape is never the victim’s fault – unless the perpetrator is a nice guy, in which case she must have asked for it.

The reason the perpetrator can view his actions as just a mistake, and the reason he didn’t ask, is his gifted management of cognitive dissonance. He’s able to believe both that he is a nice guy and that he can have sex with an unconscious woman, by fabricating a story out of rape culture, including the invisibility of the woman’s trauma.

“I’m a nice guy and I want this, so it can’t be a big deal.”\ Or “I’m a nice guy and I do this all the time, so it can’t be rape.”\ Or “I’m a nice guy, which means I never intend to hurt anyone, so if she says she’s hurt, she’s over-reacting.”

His cognitive dissonance – indeed, our cultural cognitive dissonance – says he shouldn’t be held responsible for raping someone – an act described by Richard Trembley as the most violent crime a person can survive – because he’s a nice guy.

One thing that original article got right: we live in a culture that weaves a rich tapestry of beliefs and attitudes from which perpetrators can fabricate their convenient truths. “Rape isn’t a big deal. It’s not rape if she doesn’t kick and scream. If she makes me want her, that’s what she gets.”

(Typing that was GROSS.)

We’re all enmeshed in the fabric in rape culture, yet very few men rape (PDF). The robes of a rapist are sewn by hands that are narcissistic and lacking agreeableness and conscientiousness (more here). No, no, rape is not an accident. Rape is not a mistake. Rape is specific and deliberate. It is a choice that makes perfect sense when it is dressed as sense; strip it bare, though, strip it of rape myths and victim blaming and gender stereotypes, and all you have is a felon.

I don’t mean to say that he’s actively constructing this narrative; only that he holds two mutually exclusive beliefs and, when called upon to tie them together, has material ready to hand.

Men who are “high risk” for perpetrating are generally resistant to prevention intervention, which is why the bystander model is so important and so powerful. We need someone to say, “DUDE, don’t have sex with that girl who’s asleep.”

But can we intervene directly with the 5% of men who are perpetrators? Assuming we can even identify them, what works for addressing cognitive dissonance? Motivational interviewing is one promising strategy. MI creates an environment where a person places their dissonance in front of their own eyes, and it holds the person in a space of curiosity and and non-judgement while they attempt to resolve the optical illusion before them. For so many reasons – not least to avoid of the agony of remorse – a perpetrator will attempt and attempt again to resolve the illusion with their own shortcut. Is anyone else thinking about _1984_? 2+2=4, it’s right there in front of them, all the evidence, but they BELIEVE it’s 5… it can’t be 4 because if it’s 4 that would mean… no, it’s got to be 5.

Sorry about all the mixed metaphors. Rape culture is hard to write about. You should have seen the horrible Ghost of Christmas Present metaphor I axed, jeebuz.