My Conversation With The Rape Apologist At The Bar

We were sitting in a row, the four of us, at a quiet bar. Three middle-class white men and myself, a middle-class white woman, all in our 20s or early 30s. The man to my left was a friend of the other two, someone I’d never met before. He seemed nice enough in his khakis and generic polo shirt, his Supercuts haircut. He worked for a national TV channel and spent time traveling for business. Basically, he was any guy you’d meet at any bar.

While my other two friends were absorbed in conversation about their overlapping career circles, I tried to make conversation with the man on my right, whom we’ll call Supercuts. He was polite enough, nodding and blinking while I cycled through the normal topics I bring up in quiet bars when you can actually hear people: funny things I’d seen on the Internet that day, Alabama football, and, occasionally, comments on literature or pop culture. When I ordered a whiskey neat, he raised his eyebrows. “That’s a bold choice,” he said.

“You’d never say that to a man,” I replied, knocking half of it back.

I’d exhausted all my commentary on SEC football and spent about four minutes becoming very animated about Cormac McCarthy’s punctuation advice (that we should emulate James Joyce?! I know, how ridiculous) when I realized I was boring him (and most likely anyone else with ears) to death, so I quickly changed the subject.

“Did you hear that Grantland shut down?” I asked. Since he worked for a big-name television channel and was a sports fan, I assumed he’d know. Grantland was a sports and culture magazine owned by ESPN that shut down in late October after four years in production. I read a ton of articles from there, from stories on my favorite musicians to sports articles. For fellow journalism graduates/journalists/fans of great writing, this was a blow, and a lot of my friends were sad about it.

But he said he had no idea what Grantland was, and so I set out trying to explain why I found it sad that more and more quality publications were hitting the dust, leaving fewer places for good journalism to find a home. He responded by naming a few publications who are still publishing good writing, like Esquire, the New York Times and, interestingly enough, Rolling Stone. 

Seeing a natural transition, I took the bait on the Rolling Stone comment, explaining how their reputation was damaged following the UVA rape story disaster, and how I felt that did a disservice both to the profession and, obviously, to the problem of rape on college campuses, as its widespread failure will undoubtedly plant seeds of doubt in the minds of readers who come across similar articles and question, “Well, I wonder if this is true. If that Rolling Stone reporter didn’t do their job, maybe this writer didn’t, either.”

It became apparent as I spoke that Supercuts wasn’t agreeing with me. His eyebrows were raised, and he was looking at me with a faint smirk.

“I know why you’re upset that journalism is dying,” he said. “You just want there to be one truth about everything.”

Now, anyone who knows me knows this isn’t true. I am a staunch believer that everyone’s life experiences directly influence how they respond to situations, and therefore what seems a certain thing to one person may seem completely different to another. “No,” I responded. “I really don’t feel that way.” One of my other friends chimed in to back me up, saying he’d never known me to think like that.

“Well, it’s like with the rape stories” said Supercuts. “You just want there to be one truth about what happens, and you’re upset that there can’t be one.”

I stared at him, incredulous. “I’m pretty sure there is one truth about what happens in those situations, and it’s whether someone was raped or wasn’t,” I said. I’m aware that parsing that answer out may prove difficult on occasion, but the fact is, the answer is black and white.

“No, no,” he said. “It’s always a two-sided story.” I poked him (metaphorically, although if I’d had something sharp…) a few more times to see if maybe he wasn’t articulating himself correctly, but his opinion never changed. “Men are only one half of the equation.”

I’ve encountered a lot of prejudice in my life. I grew up in the South and still live here. I’ve seen racism first-hand. I’ve seen Confederate flags fly two doors down from my house. I’ve seen sexism and patriarchy overrule reason and rationality. I’m a woman, which means my very pay stub reflects prejudice. I’ve been an active participant in the disaster we call the Internet for years now, so I’ve seen ugliness. But I’d never really experienced something so blatant so up-close and personal.

I quietly tried to explain that, by utilizing the “only one half of the equation” argument, he seemed to be fundamentally misunderstanding the definition of rape—that it’s one-sided at its core, because one person is making the choices while the other is incapable of doing so, for whatever reason. He disagreed. I explained that, at least in circumstances of rape, there really is only one truth—that it either happened or did not. The idea of consent (and particularly the “yes means yes” idea) fundamentally implies that there is a line that should only be crossed if allowance to do so is implicit. There is little wiggle room there. He continued to disagree, and I realized it was unlikely I could change his opinion. He was just one of those men.

As he droned on and explained his rape apologist argument, I knew I couldn’t continue to sit in my seat and listen. Luckily, I’d paid my tab, so I decided on a grand exit. I grabbed my drink (whiskey, if you remember), and downed the last of it, standing up as I did so. I turned to my friends, apologizing for the abrupt exit but that I didn’t have to sit here and listen to this conversation. They nodded in agreement, whispering they’d send him home, and that they were sorry.

I turned to Supercuts, and clapped a hand on his shoulder, hard. “You. You are an asshole.” I set the glass down, slid it toward the bartender, and walked away, my heeled boots clicking on the tile, so angry I thought smoke would come out of my ears. Sometimes the futility of arguing with stupid, ignorant, prejudiced people is enough to make my head spin, but I know at least I made an impact on my other two friends who were at the bar, who sent him home immediately after I left and then implored me to come back out. “Sometimes he’s too conservative for his own good,” they said, saying people don’t usually engage him like that.”

The reality is that there will always be people whose preconceived notion of the world doesn’t make any real sense, or have any basis in logic, so I guess the point is this: If you’re a man, don’t be like Supercuts. He’s the worst, and all women of worth will find you deplorable. If you’re a woman, don’t be afraid to stand up to the Supercuts of the world. You just might be the only person who ever has.

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