♀ The Good Men Project's Apology and Its Implications

Transient

The Facts

Late last night I wrote a very short report on how The Good Men Project had posted a piece of rape porn under their “Moustache Club of America” section, then taken it down after only a short time with no explanation or even acknowledgement that it had existed. Thanks to the collective efforts of a few people on Twitter, the site has posted an apology of sorts at the original post’s URL. Here it is, in full:

Editor’s note: The content previously at this URL was grossly offensive and absolutely not representative of the Good Men Project’s values. It was published without the supervision of myself or any other member of the Good Men Project editorial team, and taken down within two hours (from 11:47 PM to 1:38 AM) of being published. We initially took it down completely in the hope that this ugly aberration might simply be erased, but in case anyone received the link via an RSS feed or similar source, we are adding this apology to clarify matters. We sincerely regret the oversight that allowed such a profoundly offensive and tasteless piece to appear, even briefly, under the Good Men Project banner, and offer our apologies.

—Noah Brand, Editor-in-Chief

Dianna E. Anderson wrote an admirable analysis of the situation before the apology went up, then updated her post after the apology was issued to point out how inadequate it was:

While it is “regrettable” for them that this posted (mistakenly? Hah), why does a man who writes this stuff still write for GMP? Why is he still allowed to contribute? And if he posted this unilaterally, why does a man like him have administrative posting privileges? And what sort of environment is Good Men Project creating where he would possibly think this is an appropriate thing to post?

An apology is important, yes, but the fact that someone who has posting privileges thought this would be okay material for the site speaks to the environment created by GMP and deserves some deep introspection and change, rather than a shallow, quiet apology.

Somewhere along the line Buzzfeed picked up the story, and earlier this evening Anna North posted a piece that included comments from Noah Brand, The Good Men Project’s Editor-in-Chief, Oliver Bateman, editor of the “Moustache Club” section, and Lisa Hickey, the site’s publisher. They answer, by my estimation, two halves[1] of Anderson’s questions above.

I’m going to quote pretty heavily here because I think it’s important to read everything The Good Men Project has to say for itself.

Brand first gives us a bit of spin:

He called it “dreadful” and said “nobody at the Good Men Project stands for that kind of rape-apologizing nonsense.” The story was published on a sub-blog of GMP called Moustache Club of America which gets less editorial oversight than its main pages, and which Brand says sometimes publishes “edgier content.”

The fact that “Moustache Club of America” posts “edgier content” is obviously supposed to provide some sort of explanation of how this content—which crossed the line from “edgy” into “offensive” before speeding on into the wastelands of “sub-human”—could ever have been deemed fit for posting by anyone.

Next, Brand gives us a slightly-expanded explanation for how the piece got past editorial:

Moustache Club editor Oliver Bateman did not look at it before it went up. Brand says the post was up for about two hours, and everyone at GMP hoped they could remove it without incident, but it had already gone out over RSS. The official Good Men Project Twitter account also tweeted it, though that tweet has now been deleted.

For the record, that tweet has not been deleted. North should have fact-checked the story better. Update: apparently the story was tweeted twice from the official Good Men Project Twitter account. One of those tweets, the one Anderson and North refer to, has been deleted. The one I link to above has not.

Now on to Bateman’s commentary:

Moustache Club editor Oliver Bateman said the piece “was an experiment. It was not espousing the act of rape but engaging it, playing with ideas of sex and power. However, not all experiments are good ones.” He added, “Ryan was perhaps trying to say something about society and the way it accepts rape, but the message, if any, was mangled in the transmission.”

Bateman told BuzzFeed Shift that Bjorklund “is a talented writer but this is a piece we should have worked on together.” Bjorklund had previously been able to post to the site directly, without editing; any future posts of his will be held in a queue for an editor to look at first.

This, at least, straightforwardly (and, let us assume, truthfully) speaks to one part of one of Anderson’s questions; Bateman states without ambiguity that Bjorklund had direct posting privileges, even though he doesn’t explain why. Unfortunately, the rest is rank apologism, defending an obvious misogynist and his offensive rape pornography (more on this later). Even more unfortunately, this also clarifies that Bjorklund will continue to write for The Good Men Project.

Lastly, North quotes Hickey, the publisher:

“We believe in being feminist. We believe in equality, egalitarianism, and treating people with respect and honesty regardless of gender.” She added that the site strives to talk about gender issues “in a way that won’t alienate our core audience or feminists,” but that they haven’t always been successful. In the wake of the Bjorklund story, she says, the site will be instituting closer editorial oversight, as well as trying to talk about issues like consent “in a way that clearly adds to the greater good and doesn’t subtract from it.” Of the site as a whole, she says, “we’re a project. We continue to evolve, and we really do want to get this right.”

This, combined with North’s remarks regarding the lack of editorial oversight for “Moustache Club of America”, constitutes the other one-half an answer—in this case, for Anderson’s question of how The Good Men Project came to create an environment in which Bjorklund thought his rape porn story would pass editorial scrutiny (after the fact, of course). And that half an answer is, reading between the lines: “We’re sloppy.”

Analysis

So.

Let me sum up, just to keep the story straight. Two nights ago, Ryan Bjorklund posted a short pornographic story glorifying rape to The Good Men Project’s “Moustache Club of America” section. He did this without going through an editor, because he was, at the time, allowed to post content directly without editorial oversight. Within two hours someone in editorial realized how offensive the piece was and pulled it without explanation. Today, in response to questions and pushback from a few readers and bloggers, The Good Men Project eventually published an apology with little explanation. Later in the day, BuzzFeed interviewed several of their staff and published a story containing the organization’s explanation for their lapse, promises of future improvement, and assertion of their good values and intentions.

Now, here is what is wrong with all of that: at one level or another, all of those explanations, promises, and assertions are lies, and the reason I can say that hinges on Ryan Bjorklund.

I don’t care what Oliver Bateman thinks Bjorklund was trying to say about society, the man’s writings are misogynist. I could write an entire post enumerating his offenses, but I’ll stick with two. The first is Bjorklund’s most recent post, from September 25, “The Bad Man Project”. A character study of sorts, the short story describes a disconnected and emotionally numb man who engages in a series of one-off sexual encounters with women he despises:

Although an atheist, he preferred college-aged Christian women. He preferred them because it was likely that they hadn’t lived long enough to experience any kind of continuous, uncoddled pain. Also because he already knew how quickly they’d believe his cheap, optimistic lies. It also helped that whatever he convinced them was worth doing would eventually be absolved by their merciful and understanding Lord.

Bjorklund may have thought that by putting “Bad Man” in the title he was being subversive and signaling his disagreement with the main character’s thoughts and opinions, but the actual tone of the piece is sympathetic toward the man and vaguely—or sometimes not-so-vaguely—contemptuous of his female conquests.

Even more damning is Bjorklund’s “8 Simple Rules for Surviving a Break-Up”, from July 29 of this year—a list of terrible things you can do to the lady you just got out of a relationship with. Here’s a sample (Warning: offensive sexual slang):

  1. As for her sketchy female friend– she’s heard the most slandering jibberjabber spewn from your ex’s cumdumpster. Her hotter, more superficial friend (or frenemy) has been the cause of her past insecurities. Chances are this is also the friend that she complained about to you the most during the course of your relationship. This girl is certainly DTF, because unlike her other friends who offer shoulders to cry on, this friend is her sleaziest and is already sick of hearing her go on about how hard it is. Their relationship is all but done for anyway, and both acknowledge they have very few things in common except being perfunctory sperm receptacles. She’ll appreciate your forward spitefulness and happily accept your invitation to beat her cheeks.

This speaks for itself, I think. If Bjorklund is trying to be subversive and ironic with his rape- and bigotry-glorifying stories, he’s doing it too subtly. Since his actual writing quality could most charitably be described as heavy-handed, I doubt excessive subtlety is really the issue.

So, to return to Dianna E. Anderson’s questions for The Good Men Project (specifically: why did Bjorklund have administrative posting privileges?), Ryan Bjorklund is not at all the sort of man their editing staff should have trusted with direct-posting privileges, particularly if one of their goals is “to talk about gender issues ‘in a way that won’t alienate our core audience or feminists’”. Further, the decision to retain him as part of the writing staff is a poor one for two reasons:

  1. His writing is unlikely to contribute positively to a discussion of gender issues. Even if the editing staff immediately starts to take that goal very seriously—and I’ll go on record here as being very skeptical—they will find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time editing Bjorklund’s work for offensive content and sentiment.
  2. Even if Bjorklund was certain to produce nothing but woman-friendly content from now on, posting rape pornography is the kind of mistake that should disqualify you from a second chance. Bjorklund should have been fired on the spot, not allowed to continue posting as long as he agrees to be edited.

Therefore, if we exclude the possibility that The Good Men Project is managed by idiots, the fact that Bjorklund not only wrote for them but had permission to post without supervision indicates that his writing and ideas were considered exemplary. Since it should be clear by now that his writing is not at all exemplary for a website hoping to constructively join the discussion of gender issues, I conclude that at least up until Tuesday, The Good Men Project did not actually espouse that goal, or did not take it seriously.

To answer Anderson’s second question, then (Why is Bjorklund still allowed to write for The Good Men Project?), I conclude that the publisher and editors do not actually find his usual work to be offensive and did not find this specific piece to be offensive enough to justify termination. Query nearly any feminist, or nearly any woman, even, and I think the response would overwhelmingly indicate that a pornographic story glorifying the unpunished rape of a high school girl would be considered offensive. This is pretty common sense stuff, and anyone who really cares about a healthy dialogue between men and women should know this. But since The Good Men Project plans to continue publishing Bjorklund’s work despite its offensive nature, I conclude that going forward they still do not care about this stated goal.

Now, with regard to Anderson’s final question: “what sort of environment is Good Men Project creating where [Bjorklund] would possibly think this is an appropriate thing to post?” We can only speculate. In my recent job supervising at-risk boys in a group home, though, I learned one truth over and over: the behavior you allow is the behavior you tacitly approve. Whether The Good Men Project cares in theory about furthering the conversation on gender issues is not actually relevant. What matters is what they do, and clearly what they do is allow misogyny to go unchecked; they may even—reading between the lines—reward it. They may not intend to do these things, but they are doing them.

The Good Men Project is not all bad. I continue reading the site not just because this is the subculture I choose to write about but because some of their writers do occasionally post thoughtful or pro-feminist content. I doubt that the editors are actively misogynist; most of the sexism I encounter there is typical of the culture at large. But given their stated goals, they should certainly strive to rise above passive acceptance and reflection of cultural gender values; they need to actively pursue egalitarian standards in thought and expression. I sincerely hope they are, as they promised Suzannah Paul and me on Twitter, “using this as an opportunity to look at our editorial & posting policies & make changes.”

But I’m skeptical. I agree with Sarah Moon’s conclusion on the subject:

The Good Men Project needs higher standards.


Correction: In my original post I theorized that The Good Men Project may actually have contacted Anna North themselves in the hope that she would publish a story that showed them in a favorible light. While I still think North’s piece should have probed the issue a little more deeply, I have been informed that the initiative in publishing the story was hers.




  1. Yes, I’m aware that two-halves equals one. Stick with me.  ↩