When I was thirteen, I was approached by a pedophile.What struck me as I read the account was how absolutely normal and reasonable the behavior was despite being described in terminology meant to arouse disgust and fear.
The first thing he opens with is a description of the man's appearance. He takes special note of the fact that his appearance was so stereotypical of a child predator, and uses it to emphasize how stupid and naive he had been for not recognizing something was wrong.
I should take a moment to inform readers unfamiliar with Noah Brand and the Goodmen project that Noah is the editor-in-chief of the publication, who's stated goals are to hold conversations about men and masculinity and to confront harmful stereotypes about men. Full disclosure, the staff of the Goodmen project, Mr. Brand included, were the inspiration for this blog post.
The encounter itself was a conversation struck up in a fast food restaurant, during which the author was lured to a secluded alley under the pretense of finding job postings. When the man made his sexual interest clear, Noah left.
There are a number of linguistic tricks that the author uses to demonize the man he encountered, and I do encourage any of my readers to look over the original post in detail and see if they can spot them on their own. Anyone who can pick out one I've missed would be doing me a favor pointing it out, so I can be on the look out for the same trick in the future.
The inconsistencies in Noah's story start fairly early on. I suppose being the editor means you don't really get people giving your stuff a once over. He describes the man directing the conversation to what job he would like to have when he was old enough to enter the employment market. He suggests the alley because the local university had set out job postings and want ads there, and that it might give him a better feel for the job market. He later recounts with mock shock that there were no postings that an eighth grader would be qualified for.
For those who missed it, the point was never that he might find a job there, only that he might get a feel for the market which might help him in a future decision on his career path. This is, a bit beside the point, since the trip to the alley was clearly a pretense, but the verbal slight of hand used here is worth making a note of. Tricks like this can hide the actual course of events in a narrative while technically not lying. After all, he never said that the man made up some lie about there being listings he could qualify for, he just set that interpretation up for the reader to jump to on their own if they weren't reading carefully.
So, if we were to strip away all the deceptive language from the original post, what actually happened in this narrative that Noah presents? He was approached in a public place by a man who struck up a conversation. The man convinced him to go to a dead end alley, and there he made his intentions clear with a pickup line. Noah left, and that was the end of it until he saw the man a year later and gave him a dirty look.
I found a few points interesting about what the man actually did, according to Noah. He struck up a nonsexual conversation with a member of his own sex, and arranged to talk someplace private before making it clear his interests were sexual. Given Mr. Brand's current age, I'd like to invite readers to consider what the state of the Gay Rights Movement was when he was thirteen years old, and ask yourselves why you might want to hold off on any obvious pickup lines until you weren't in public.
Noah mentions that he was between the man and the exit when he realized what was going on, which he attributes to luck. I'm not so sure. This wasn't someone who didn't take no for an answer, as evidenced by the fact that when Noah said no, he didn't see the man again for a full year. Given that Noah was ostensibly there to look at the postings at the end of the alley, this man would have had to go out of his way to keep from getting between Noah and the alley's exit. I think he left the out precisely because he didn't want Noah to feel trapped.
If we remove the legal issues surrounding age and gender from the equation, this man did literally everything right, yet the language he's described in invites the reader to imagine a string of infractions that build and build as the narrative progresses. Stories like this contribute to the idea of male sexuality as inherently predatory. His readership must be so proud.
I don't currently support sexual relationships between adults and minors. I hold this position because it is my belief that the social climate is such that even a perfectly consensual, mutually desired, and mutually enjoyed encounter would be twisted by society into something traumatic for the younger party, by a constant bombardment of harmful messages, legal consequences for their lover over something the younger party participated and enjoyed, and so called therapy where they'll be told over and over again that they were raped. I am willing to be persuaded, but for now that's where I stand on the issue.
But I think it's important to distinguish what predatory behavior is and is not, regardless of whether that behavior is legal and/or something I approve of. This man's behavior was not predatory. His interest wasn't reciprocated, but he was far less a predator than your average pickup artist who thinks it's his job to push past a "no" and be forceful enough that the woman he's targeting can tell herself she didn't consent to sex with him, so it isn't her fault.
Taking no for an answer is not what a predator does. I'm getting real sick of needing to state the obvious.