Don’t Be a Dick
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture has made an array of otherwise lofty topics accessible through the format of personal zines that aim to educate and inform—from bicycle maintenance to vegan cooking. In particular, the strong foothold that DIY culture has in radical politics and feminism has allowed for the creation of some radical, eye-opening work. Paul Brown’s zine, _Don’t Be a Dick, _is an archetypal DIY zine, complete with staples, a gray-washed Xeroxed background, hand-drawn pictures, and a curious layout. It looks as harmless as a playbill, but is unique to the DIY format in that it is a boldly personal account of a heterosexual male’s journey with consent.
Brown tackles a lot in the twenty-something pages that encompass his zine, such as constructions of masculinity, the United States as a rape culture, and definitions and approaches toward healthy consent. But Brown’s ambitious approach is also his major downfall. Don’t Be a Dick’s focus goes far beyond the limits of its pages, and while the topics Brown discusses are important and pertinent to comprehending consent and sexual assault as a whole, nothing more than a basic understanding is ultimately conveyed. This becomes a problem because, if Brown’s intention was to create a zine that is both informative and useful, neither goal is quite executed. He ends one section on the notion that men need to “wake up” and “hold each other accountable” but gives no clear indication as to how to accomplish either of these goals. Based on its ability to educate an array of people, I would be more recommend a zine like Cindy Crabb’s Learning Good Consent than I would this zine.
Brown’s zine is unique because of who he is—a man writing about male-to-female sexual assault. In the first few pages, the impetus for his zine is revealed—he once coerced an ex-partner into a non-consensual sex act and, after reading about consent, learned the true implications of his actions. Unfortunately, he went on to create a zine that is a digest of ideology found more thoroughly explored in zines like Learning Good Consent and Support rather than writing what he knows. My interest was most piqued by his perspective as a cisgendered man exploring the tricky landscape of consensual sex, such as the processing of the abovementioned story, or his deflated feelings towards pornography. I would like to see Brown adding his own voice into the discourse of radical consent instead of mimicking zines that already exist.
It is useful to have a heterosexual male narrative within the sphere of positive, responsible sexuality and refreshing, if not sobering, for a man to admit that he has committed an act of non-consensual sex. Stories like these are needed to aid in the awareness of consent, and Brown does a much better job than one of the only attempts I’ve read of a man taking accountability for his actions: zinester Rick Mackin’s column in Razorcake Magazine and subsequent zine that was far from the self-effacing, courteous, and sincere zine that Brown’s is.
Brown’s path to writing this zine is admirable and humble, and it is this path that I find to have the most potential for change and transformation within conversations about men’s role in consent and sexual assault. By taking the zines that inspired him and building from that, I believe Brown has a powerful jumping-off point for the hard and honest truths that will surface as consent and sexual assault continues to be discussed.