Illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

‘If You’re a Good Guy, You Can’t Possibly Be a Rapist’

Two sociologists on why that idea is dangerous — and lets men pretend they haven’t committed a crime

The University of Oregon dominated Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl. The Ducks converted four consecutive turnovers into 27 unanswered points, leading to a 59–20 rout. Afterward, several Oregon players were filmed singing “No means no!” to the tune of the FSU “War Chant.” An act that was presumably directed at star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who’d recently been accused of raping a female student. Anti-rape activists heralded the mocking jibe as a victory: Finally, here was a group of normatively masculine men shaming other normatively masculine men for sexually assaulting women.

But two University of Oregon sociology professors, C.J. Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander, saw it differently. What if the point of the chant wasn’t to make a statement about sexual assault, but rather to position their opponent as a failed man, thereby humiliating him both on and off the field? This question introduces a paper they published in October 2015 entitled “Good Guys Don’t Rape,” which documents how young men distance themselves from identities as rapists while simultaneously exhibiting dominance over women and other men with behavior that “mobilizes rape.”

It’s yet another form of “toxic masculinity,” they argue, which refers to attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive. Some refer to this as “classic masculinity” — a rite of passage of sorts. Others, like The Donald, chalk it up to “locker room talk.” Whatever you call it, Pascoe notes that many men who exemplify toxic masculinity actively seek to avoid the label. She points to Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of raping an unconscious woman in January 2015 as a perfect example.

Despite two eyewitnesses watching him sexually assault his victim, Turner insisted “in no way was I trying to rape anyone.“ Judge Aaron Persky, a Stanford alum, sentenced the 20-year-old to a mere six months in a county jail. The decision was influenced by a probation report that included a letter from one of Turner’s friends, Leslie Rasmussen, who claimed Turner wasn’t a “real rapist,” since what happened was “completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car.” For Pascoe and Hollander, this is classic “good guy” syndrome. Only bad guys rape women while they’re walking to their car. Good guys, they suggest, aren’t sexist, aren’t racist, aren’t homophobic and definitely don’t condone sexual assault.

Pascoe and Hollander recently elaborated on this notion for us.