Original Version of Cards Against Humanity Article (written by Patricia Hernandez and subsequently revised and published by her here).
A Different Way To Respond To A Rape Accusation [Update]
Last weekend, Max Temkin, co-creator of the popular card game Cards Against Humanity, wrote a blog post about rape accusation. The post went up somewhat unnoticed, thanks to a combination of EVO, the World Cup, and GaymerX happening all at the same time—but it's something that we, as a gaming community, should talk about.
You can read Temkin's post here—he describes his previous relationship with the woman who accuses him of rape, and he talks about his complex feelings around social media, to which some people have taken to protest him and Cards Against Humanity. He notes that he feels hurt but will try his best to continue to be a feminist moving forward. And above all, he wants you to know he didn't do it. The accusation is "patently false." It's "baseless gossip." He hasn't even spoken to this girl in a decade. He's never been accused of something like this before. He doesn't plan on suing her, but he wants you to know he would have a "clear case" against her.
Yesterday morning, Josh forwarded me a tweet that said:
"TIL: Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity, raped a friend of my friend while attending Goucher College. I don't support CAH."
We assumed this was someone making a tasteless joke, and I replied to tell him that it wasn't funny. But after some more digging, I found a Facebook post from a girl I knew in college accusing me of sexually assaulting her, and urging people to boycott Cards Against Humanity.
I had a really brief relationship with this girl in college; her dorm room was next to mine, and after a few evenings staying up talking all night, we made out. We spent a few nights in each others' rooms, but we never had sex and neither of us pressured the other into doing anything we weren't comfortable with. After a few nights, I broke things off in the cowardly way that 19-year-old guys do, and I just stopped returning her calls and texts. I can imagine she was hurt by this, I know that I would be hurt if someone broke up with me that way.I haven't spoken to this girl in nearly ten years. If she felt I did something wrong in our relationship, she never confronted me about it or brought the issue to the school.
A lot of the discussion I've seen about Temkin's post has been about whether he did or didn't rape his accuser. It's about who is telling the truth. That's important, of course, but that's not what this post is about. This post about how poorly Max Temkin responded to an accusation of rape, and about what I think his post could—perhaps should—have been about instead.
There is of course no right way to respond to being accused of raping someone. I don't fault Temkin for not getting something like this completely right. Still, he handles it badly. He spends too much time trying to defend himself—which I understand as an impulse, given the gravity of the situation—and not enough time contemplating the idea that he might've messed up. Or, more importantly than either of these, taking the discussion in a useful direction.
Other people have written about their issues with the post, and you can read some of those critiques here. If you want the Cliffnotes version of it: Temkin doesn't completely apologize, and it's hard not to read the parts about the legalities here as a threat to the woman. That's not cool.
There's a part in Temkin's post that stood out to me, though. The part where he talks about rape culture:
Part of rape culture that hurts everyone is that it makes it difficult to talk about what is and is not consent, and makes it incredibly scary for people to speak up when their boundaries are crossed. It is entirely possible she read something completely different than I did into an awkward college hookup. If any part of that was traumatic for her, I am sincerely sorry, and I wish we would have had a chance to address it privately. I've sent her an email and a Facebook message and given her my contact information, but so far I haven't heard back (but she did edit her post to remove my name).
Now, there's a lot about this paragraph that is kind of gross. As our sister site Jezebel says, Temkin is basically "employing the tropes of rape culture in his own defense, even while wrapping himself in the language of social justice and positioning himself as a good feminist." Nevermind the non-apology (if it was traumatic!), or the mention the deflection about how she must've read the situation. Or the fact that he reached out to this woman privately, and how at this point that's kind of weird.
Putting all of that aside, I wish Temkin's post spent more time around the idea of consent—which he briefly touches upon in that paragraph I quoted. Because, let's face it, Temkin can't prove anything to us about an accusation that happened years ago. But he can use his platform to open up a dialogue about a subject that affects a ton of people—and doing so would be more useful for us as a public to engage in rather than to argue a He Said She Said situation.
I wish Temkin invited people to have frank discussions about how difficult it can be to get consent completely right. I wish it spent more time talking about how we all probably have stories from high school or college where consent got tricky, muddled, confusing.
Like that time you started making out with someone and you weren't sure if you should take it further, but the other person was going along with it so maybe it's okay—and the next time you see each other everything is awkward and it dawns on you that maybe you read it all wrong. Or that time you found yourself doing something you weren't sure about with someone you genuinely liked—how you let it just slide, because hey, it was nobody's fault. Or that one time you were too scared to speak up and tell someone what you wanted, because you didn't want to be fussy and they're a totally nice person. Or that time you didn't grab a condom before having sex, because you'd ruin the moment.
Or the time...
We all have stories like that, right? It's always worse when you're younger, don't know what you're doing, and are still working out unrealistic societal pressures that tell guys they have to be experienced Don Juans and women that they have to be immaculate bastions of purity.
People get consent wrong all the time, and it's not because everyone is some kind of savage, evil rapist (and to be clear, the situations I'm describing are not necessarily rape, but they are situations were boundaries were crossed). Most transgressions are small, untalked about. We all falter. How could we not? This is what society tells us about romance: it should just work. You might fall in love at first sight, no words necessary. And if your love interest knows exactly what to do, if they can get it right without asking, not only is that ideal, then it was meant to be. The best romance is one where nobody communicates and everyone gets it perfectly. And if you're having trouble you can open up a magazine that has an article that can tell you what to do—because lord forbid you actually talk to the person you're interested in and ask what they need from you, what they're comfortable with. That would be embarrassing. Don't you know what you're doing? You should know what you're doing.
Consent is not about being perfect, not to me at least. Yes, consent teaches you the importance of asking for permission and making sure you don't cross any boundaries, but it also teaches you the importance of being honest about where you fall short. Consent exists not just as something that should be used to get the green light for a hook-up, but as a mode of thinking about and processing experiences you've had in the past.
Temkin almost gets there: he presents the idea that maybe the woman read the situation differently than he did. But you have to remember the context is how the accusation is "patently false." It happened a long while ago. He broke up with her. Maybe this hurt her feelings. Maybe she read it wrong.
Temkin sets an example for the community, but he's not willing to really contemplate the possibility he might've messed up, nor does he do much to further a crucial conversation about consent that everyone should think about. And when Temkin is one of the minds behind a hugely popular game, and has gained profile as "one of the good guys" who supports progressive organizations and people, this is a problem.
I don't expect everyone to get consent right all the time. But having better conversations about consent—and being willing to admit the possibility of past mistakes—would be a start.
UPDATE: Discussion about this piece has turned into an argument about whether Max Temkin has a right defend himself, especially if he is wrongly accused. Of course he does, and I never meant to imply that he does not. He and his accuser are both innocent until proven guilty. They both deserve empathy and none of us should rush to judgment. My intent for this opinion piece was to focus on issues that I hadn't seen significantly explored in his blog post nor in the discussion around it: issues of consent and an opportunity to discuss the grey areas of consent. Some readers have said that Temkin's first priority should only have been to defend himself. As I said in my piece, I understand that impulse. I do not, however, believe that needs to be the end of the discussion.
Original promoted discussion:
HOJUX This is complete bullshit. If he didn't rape someone, he should absolutely defend himself. People are raped and it's horrible, but people are also falsely accused and that's also an injustice. These things come down to pure "he said, she said" and that's what makes them so difficult, but an innocent person shouldn't try and find blame for themselves.
We also shouldn't default to one gender or another without evidence.
All of the examples you give of reading a situation wrong are not rape. It's a scary idea to consider them rape. If someone doesn't want to have sex they need to say so, not decide it made them uncomfortable in the light of the following day.
Marmotte Desormiers Bourdeau I'd just like to undermine one thing here— An incredibly negligeable amount of rape accusations are false, researchers put the number between 1.5 percent and 8 percent, while the United States justice department puts it at just two percent. That's for both accusations false or unfounded.
Let that sink in for a moment. I know how scary it is—accepting this definition of rape means that, to some degree, an incredibly large amount of teenagers have sexually assaulted another person. But it is what it is: grab a woman's breasts without her consent and she pushes you back? It doesn't matter that you were making out, that's sexual touching. You misread the mood? Or maybe your partner did? It is still by definition sexual assault. Because mood is a subjective thing. This is why consent is so important. How can you know your subjective view of your current situation is the same as your partner's without communication? You could argue that in most cases, these are minor offenses. You could say my earlier example is the sexual assault equivalent of stealing candy as a child, but it is nevertheless an example of sexual assault. And it should be recognized as such.
HOJUX I've heard those numbers and I'm not denying them, but an innocent person is an innocent person even if it's only 2-8%.
And even though those numbers are shocking and saddening, we still can't go around prosecuting people with no actual evidence.
twizm The only time I've known people are into me is when they suddenly smash their face into mine. I've never figured out how to ask, 'So you wanna make out now?' To be honest I try to avoid it cause I just don't know! Besides, who wants to mess up a good thing?
mrantimatter He's not trying to start a conversation about consent, he's trying to make a response to an accusation that he sexually assaulted someone.
Minus any physical evidence, this is indeed a he said she said sort of situation. He denies ever having sex with her, and she doesn't really claim that he did. It sounds like somewhere in the makeout, one side thinks the other did something wrong, but won't say exactly what.
Patricia Hernandez Yes, my entire point is that he didn't try to start that conversation. For us as the public, that's the only useful thing he could have done, considering he can't prove to anyone what happened either way (nor can she).
mrantimatter His concern wasn't for the public, it was for his personal stake in the matter. That was far more important then starting a nationwide conversation, especially since he doesn't seem to have any idea of what exactly she thought was assault.
As someone who has dealt with rape of a family member, I can honestly say anything outside the immediate situation is wholly a secondary conversation.
Patricia Hernandez If his concern wasn't for the public, then why is he addressing the public in a blog post?
CramerGamer "For us as the public, that's the only useful thing he could have done."
I do not understand how this is the case. He was publicly accused of something horrible. His first thing to do is make a response to that, either by pleading guilty or innocent, with an explanation as to why and his side of the story. All of his confused fans deserve and want to know his side of the story and his explanation after an accusation like that.
Let us say you were accused of murder or something horrible Patricia, publicly, by someone you knew from years ago. It is making its rounds on the internet, comments from people on Kotaku are going to be asking "what happened?" "is it true?" and similar...
How are you going to respond to that?
Would it be normal to go on some elongated speech to open a discussion about murder and why its bad without really addressing the accusations head on? Or are you going to be doing the rational and logical thing, and calling out who ever it was and debunk the rumor, explain the situation to the best of your ability, and explain to your fans/followers/family/whatever to the best of your ability and knowledge what is going on?
Patricia Hernandez Like I said, I understand his impulse to defend himself. I never say its unreasonable, so I don't know what to tell you here.
CramerGamer You didn't say it was unreasonable, but you did describe it as "not cool", "kind of gross", and all around portrayed it as if he is doing something wrong or unreasonable, with one of your paragraphs coming close to mocking him as if he is indeed doing something unreasonable. I will quote:
"But you have to remember the context is how the accusation is "patently false." It happened a long while ago. He broke up with her. Maybe this hurt her feelings. Maybe she read it wrong."
This isn't directed to you in particular, but rather more towards other, more extreme articles being written about this around the web- but the reporting on this issue is quickly reaching slander and smear campaign levels of ridiculousness. It is as if people have already decided he is a bad person worthy of hate, and are going to tear him apart no matter what. Even if he is innocent, they will tear him about for daring to defend himself. His closing statement was correct. "There is no evidence for this story. I will never have a chance to defend myself. The structure of the modern internet is such that these things never reach resolution and never go away. This is just baseless gossip that will now haunt me for the rest of my life."
With the way the internet and especially tumblr is now, he will be treated with scorn and hatred. It is actually surprising when those who claim to be working towards social justice burn with more hate than 4chan, the once upon a time hate machine of the internet.
Patricia Hernandez It's not a matter of whether or not he should apologize for something he didn't do. That ship sailed: he apologized, and the critique people are throwing at him is that the apology isn't a very good one.
But to answer the question, I guess if you're a shitty human being you shouldn't care about whether or not you hurt someone. Temkin seemingly does care though!
PookandPie I'm sorry, but I'm completely confused as to why what he said, in his first paragraph, was wrong.
He flat out stated, "We never had sex."
... When did rape get reclassified to making out? Or is this a social redefining of rape that I haven't kept up on, not the actual legal definition?
He wasn't even making this about consent: He responded to the accusation that he raped her by saying, "We didn't even have sex- we made out a few times." That's pretty cut-and-dry.
Shouldn't the question, then, not even remotely be about consent, but about whether or not he's lying about them having sex? Did he get her to perform an act on him that Bill Clinton, for example, did not consider sex? That sort of thing. This doesn't seem to be a consent case, as he's denying that they even did anything right in his second storytelling paragraph, so this article seems to be missing the mark entirely while trying to shoehorn in some unnecessary opinion.
Patricia Hernandez Like I said, we can't know. He can't prove that. Neither can she. But statistically, 1-8% of accusations turn out to be false.
Dude Guru So are you saying, statistically, he's guilty?
Patricia Hernandez No. But it's worth considering.
Patricia Hernandez, Err, excuse me, I meant to link this with the stats. Can't edit the original reply. But just to be clear: he might be innocent. I'm not citing this to prove guilt, it's just helpful to consider in the context of automatically siding with either person + relevant to a discussion that has a lot of people talking about false accusations.
Stephen Totilo I don't think it's fair to cite stats like that in the absence of evidence in this instance of what did or didn't happen. I assume Temkin is innocent until proven guilty, as I hope everyone else does.
I can't fathom being accused of rape publicly, but I'm sue that, if I was, I'd have defended myself as publicly. If the accusation was false and I knew that in my heart, knowing my personality, I'd defend it vociferously, probably to a fault. And it might be possible that I'd be blinded to a difference in interpretation of events—a difference between my view and my accusers'—but I'd still find it hard not to cite my assumed innocence.
My default view on things, for good or ill, is to assume honesty. Honesty from everyone. Maybe that makes me naive? Or indecisive? But I can't afford to not think that Temkin's accuser legitimately feels wronged and that Temkin legitimately feels like he didn't do anything wrong. As Patricia has said, this is ultimately a he-said, she-said, though I think it's important that we don't assume that either is being anything other than truthful, until proven otherwise.
This incident is indeed an opportunity to talk about consent. It's hard for some of us to imagine that, in Temkin's shoes, we'd go beyond defending ourselves and also raise that issue. Nevertheless, Patricia's piece is a good addition to the collective thinking about these types of accusations and the murky aspects of consent that they sometimes involve.