Late Tuesday night, prominent men's website The Good Men Project, which aims to create "a national discussion centered around modern manhood," posted a story that began thus: "'Got consent?' Her shirt read. She wore it to the party ironically, he thought." The story, by author Ryan Bjorklund, went on to describe a man supplying the shirt's 18-year-old wearer with beer. He then overcomes her ideas of consent to convince her to perform oral sex on him, and is "arrested" — except that the police officer is his father, who jokes that this was "almost exactly how I met your mother." One critic felt the story constituted "rape porn." And the editors of The Good Men Project — a site that has sparked intense controversy before when its founder criticized some aspects of feminism — now say the story should never have been posted in the first place.
Noah Brand, editor-in-chief of The Good Men Project (henceforth GMP), says the story never went through an editor — 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."
But he says it should never have gone up even there — 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.
Blogger and author Dianna Anderson, who writes about religion and feminism, called the story (full title: "Older Man Provides Booze to an Underage Party, Dad Saves the Day") a "vile, leering, predatory and pornographic short story about rape." Bjorklund does write (a cached version is here) that the 18-year-old character "decided" to perform oral sex on the older man who'd provided the party's alcohol, but it's unclear if she's sober enough to consent. The man also argues that "consent is overrated" and asks the woman, "was Prince Charming ever given consent? [...] Of course not. The Prince simply knew what had to be done, and he seized the moment." He gloats when his arguments seem effective: "Gary knew it was working. It was as though she was a shiny new car, with very low mileage, and he was hot-wiring her brain so he could take her body for a joyride. Like a smooth criminal." And at the end he appears to get away with providing alcohol to minors and possible sexual assault — his dad, it seems, is going to get him off.
It's unclear if the story was meant to be social commentary of any sort. Bjorklund hasn't responded to a request for comment. In a statement, 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. The Good Men Project has placed an official apology where the story once was.
The Good Men Project, which launched in 2009, has gotten attention as one of a few new men's media properties that aim to offer an alternative to traditional men's magazines. It has featured prominent feminist writers as guest bloggers, but it ran afoul of many feminists late last year after founder Tom Matlack wrote several pieces criticizing contemporary feminism and arguing that men "feel blamed for being simply men."
GMP publisher Lisa Hickey told BuzzFeed Shift, "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."