When you’re a dude who identifies as a feminist, it’s really easy to be harsh when you’re picking on an easy target –- to really lay into, like, Ben Roethlisberger or Chris Brown –- and to quietly fall back on your privilege when things are a little closer to home. I didn’t want to be that sort of guy, so it was important to me to make my post very clear, and use the same language I’d have used if we were talking about Todd Akin. “I’m really disappointed in CultureMap’s choice to publish such offensive — and stupid! — bullshit,” I wrote. That way, people who knew me from my work with CultureMap would not have to wonder if I was secretly cool with treating people who say they’ve been raped as probable liars, as long as the person saying it also wrote me checks.
After about a week, though, I got an email from my editors at the Austin edition of CultureMap. The Dallas higher-ups had found the post on Tumblr. They asked me to meet them for coffee, at which point they explained to me that the company wanted me to take the post down.
Like most writers, being told that I’m not allowed to say something is the quickest way to make me defend having said it, and I told them that I couldn’t take it down. They told me that the company was upset, and they wouldn’t be able to work with me if I didn’t. I reached out to Claire St. Amant directly to discuss what both of us had written, didn’t hear anything back, and wrote off my relationship with CultureMap.
So, I’m no longer writing for CultureMap. Emily at xoJane gave me the opportunity to explain why, a little bit, but also to keep the focus on what’s actually important here, which is this: when media companies engage in baseless speculation surrounding rape charges — when they play the same “is she telling the truth, or did she just change her mind after it happened so her parents wouldn’t get mad” game that the Mean Girls do in the hallways — they provide legitimacy and cover to the people who can actually ruin someone’s life for daring to speak up after having been raped.
Claire St. Amant, who wrote that story on CultureMap Dallas last month, followed it up with a dose of self-righteousness called “Bandwagon Reporting Doesn’t Do Victims Of Sex Crimes Any Favors,” because I’m sure it’s much easier to cast people who call you out for being so reckless and irresponsible as some sort of lynch mob. But the fact is: I don’t know what actually happened in this case, and I never saw anyone pretend that they really did. No one is calling for the dude in this case (which you can read more about at the xoJane link) to be convicted in the media without a trial. What CultureMap did here is attempt to put the girl’s credibility on trial — without offering anything resembling evidence, except that she’s a teenage girl, and we all knowhow much they love to lie about being raped. It’s the coolest!
Anyway. I’m really genuinely devastated at how this all played out. I was looking through my CultureMap archives yesterday — 113 stories in the past year and a half! — and I am really proud of so much of it. For so long, I felt like I was, like, a special teams player who had proven his worth and who wanted to sign with a team that would give me a chance to start on defense. CultureMap was the first place that really gave me that chance, and I’m grateful to the people at the site who did that for me.
At the same time, though, the company that those people work for told me that I couldn’t work for them anymore because I criticized a post they published that suggested — again, on the basis of zero evidence or reporting — that a teenage girl who filed rape charges against a young man of great privilege in their community was maybe a big liar. CultureMap had a choice between continuing to work with me, or continuing to defend that way of talking about rape, and they chose rape.
I’ll miss the platform, the people I worked with, and the opportunities they gave me to write things that I really believed in — but I won’t miss being associated with the company that CultureMap seems to have become.