Being a feminist ally is not always easy. Aside from the fact that you have to actually engage and grapple with parts of yourself you'd rather not have to admit exist, there is often, from friends and enemies alike, the subtle question of why one has become an ally. The MRAs are always the quickest to assert that any feminist man is really only doing it to score with women. Feminists are generally more pleasant about it, but there's still an understandable delay while women try to ascertain just what a man choosing to declare himself as an ally is actually after, and what truly motivates him to stand with women.
This has never bothered me. Though it's been frustrating at times, I know why I'm a feminist -- because of my sister, my daughter, my female friends, my female acquaintances, and indeed, my male friends and family and acquaintances, who I believe also benefit from a world that is more egalitarian in nature. But nobody living outside my mind can know that for certain; they have only my actions and my words to judge me by, and only they can decide whether I've demonstrated my trustworthiness.
If that bar is higher today than it was yesterday, I understand, because there is some disturbing news out of Iowa about a man who called himself -- still calls himself -- a feminist ally. He is anything but.
Kyle Payne attended Buena Vista University, where he worked as a Resident Advisor, and where he was an active and staunch supporter of feminist goals. He maintained (and maintains) a blog, where he has written volumes about his anti-pornography and anti-rape views.
And by the way, he sexually assaulted an inebriated woman. And taped the act.
An Iowa blogger who claimed to use activism and education to promote “a more just and life-affirming culture of sexuality” for women, especially those women who have been victims of sexual violence, has pleaded guilty to photographing and filming a college student's breasts without her consent.
Kyle D. Payne, 22 of Ida Grove, presented his guilty plea Monday in Iowa District Court for Buena Vista County. He agreed he was guilty of felony attempted burglary in the second degree and two counts of invasion of privacy, a serious misdemeanor.
In documents filed with the court, Payne agrees that "with an intent to arouse my sexual desire, I photographed and filmed Jane Doe and her breast without her consent." A portion of the plea agreement stating that Payne was of sound mind when the incident took place in early 2007 was stricken from the document, leaving only the portion where Payne agrees that he is currently of sound mind.
Needless to say, Payne's actions are sickening, and I hope he gets the book thrown at him. And they're disturbing and frustrating for me because Payne's actions make it difficult for women to trust the men who claim they want to help -- for obvious reasons.
People often misread the statement "every man is a potential rapist" to mean "every man is a rapist," or "every man would rape if given the chance," or "every man wants to commit rape." That is not what the phrase means. What it means is that because of the way rape culture operates, women must identify every man as a potential rapist, knowing full well that most aren't. Because rapists don't hang signs around their neck proclaiming themselves as such, because rapists don't act like evil bastards all the time, because rapists indeed can comport themselves as friendly, helpful, even feminist, women must be on their guard until they believe that they have learned enough about a man that they can trust him. And even then, it's a leap of faith, as anyone who's experienced acquaintance rape can tell you.
And men like Payne make it harder for women to take that leap of faith, and that pisses me off. Because while I know I would not rape anyone under any circumstances, Kyle Payne was a person who would have said the same thing, even as he did.
I don't know why Payne presented as an ally while assaulting a woman; maybe he believed if he worked as a feminist ally it would help him defeat his demons, or maybe he felt it was an act of atonement, or maybe he felt it was a good way to look for victims, or maybe he convinced himself that he was an ally, until the day he decided not to be.
I don't know, and I don't care. I can't control Kyle Payne, and I can't answer for him; his sin is his own, and I hope he pays dearly for it.
And I can't control whether this puts women more on their guard against me, whether they react to this by revisiting suspicions they'd laid aside or not. It may or may not be fair, but it's totally understandable, and it's not about me personally.
All I can control is myself. And all I can do is go forward and do what I've been trying to do -- help advance the cause of feminism, so that my daughter can live in a safer world where she has more options and more equal opportunities than now. I don't have to make sure I'm not a rapist -- I know I'm not -- but I do have to make sure that I continue to confront rape culture, a culture that does spread the message that rape and assault are something other than violent and inexcusable crimes. And hope that my teaspoon can help to level the hill of garbage that men like Kyle Payne continue to deposit every day.