Messy Consent: a feminist admits “gray rape” might be a thing, but that should just make you more concerned about rape.
As a feminist, I argue that sober enthusiastic consent is the only real consent. It is rape in any other circumstance. This is important, and I think this what should be taught as consent in schools. But our culture is complicated and like every issue on the planet this one contains nuance. If I take a moment to acknowledge some blurry lines and grey areas, do you promise not to undermine the entire battle against rape? As a female deeply concerned for my and other women’s safety, and I am viscerally scared that you will take what I am about to say and use it as an excuse to leave your actions unexamined and perpetuate rape culture. Promise me you won’t be pig-headed. Thanks.
First lets note a few things that have been shown in scholarly research: Acquaintance rape is much more prevalent than stranger rape. Further more a relatively small number of acquaintance rapists commit a large number of rapes. In other words, they commit multiple rapes, and studies suggest the majority actively isolating women in vulnerable situations. This study has also shown that rejecting rape myths like “men can’t control sexual urges,” “women often lie about rape,” and “women imply consent, and rape is just miscommunication,” lessens rape proclivity. People who buy these ideas are more likely to commit rape. This make sense to me, but they are studies of general trends. So remember that promise you made before, and I’ll try to have a discussion with you about scary “gray areas.” Here we go.
The world is imperfect and people like to go to parties get drunk and hook-up. Alcohol is often involved in rape, either consumed by the victim or rapist, but it is also involved in a lot of other situations. I think there have been a lot of romantic dinners with wine involved that didn’t end in rape. The tipsy consent given on those occasions turned out to be true consent and both parties left the date if not satisfied at least un-sexual assaulted. Even at those crazy college parties there have been great drunken hook-ups that everyone involved felt good about (or at least had fun). So, when does drinking + sex = rape. Is the only way to ensure consent to agree hours before hand that copulation will occur? What if you pre-game the party and don't even meet your potential hook up until a few drinks in?
College kids love the the “girl who cried rape” argument. Girl goes to party gets drunk, hook-ups willingly, and then feels bad about it the next morning, and calls it rape. I, personally, don’t know anyone in my life who has “cried rape” after a drunk hook up. I think there’s a much smaller incident of this than you think considering the shame and backlash associated with reporting, and the absurdly low rate of reporting overall. For instance I don’t know a woman has falsely accused someone of rape, but I do know multiple women who have been violently raped and not reported it for various reasons. But if I acknowledge false accusation does happen sometimes, will you acknowledge it only works because rape is a problem to begin with? If rape was so rare these false accusations would never hold up, but the abundance of true accusations is what makes these false ones float. It is also worth noting that this phenomenon, is just another symptom of rape culture: slut-shaming. Society puts a lot pressure on women to “put out” and so she does so willingly, but then she wakes up ashamed after a hook-up and in order to protect herself from societies judgement and being labeled a slut. She tries to find a scape-goat. The slut-virgin dichotomy is what got her into the situation. It isn’t an excuse for falsely accusing someone of a violent crime, but cultural pressures can't be ignored as factors in this occurrence.
I think everyone needs to watch what they drink in order to protect themselves. But if you were drunk and someone punched you in the face and you couldn’t block the punch because you were smashed, it doesn’t make getting hit in the face your fault. That person should not have been trying to hit you to begin with. Aggressive rape is exactly like this. Just because you can’t fight someone off, doesn’t mean it’s your fault you were raped. Yes, women need to be responsible, but getting raped is not an irresponsible thing to do. RAPING someone else IS, and it's a crime.
But, the thing is that sex is also fun. Most feminist circles love sex, and sexual empowerment, embracing the orgasm, and bringing a woman’s desire into the forefront of sex. Feminist circles also decry rape is a crime of power, not lust. It is about control and it is a violent crime. A lot of the time it is (and it’s the most terrible thing on planet earth), but maybe sometimes it isn’t (as a feminist it is hard for me to even suggest this)? Let’s assume we are not talking about someone who secretly harbors hatred against women, doesn’t have rigid ideas of gender roles and has not committed rape before (these are traits of predator acquaintance rapists). What if, at a party, a guy just really does just want to have fun and wants some girl to have fun as well? What if it is lust and a guy thinks the girls is lusting for him too? What if he thinks he has consent, but doesn’t even know the girl has been drinking excessively? What if a guy doesn’t realize what he is doing is rape? What if he thinks the girl is playing cutesy hard-to-get? Most the time this is argument bull-shit and the guy just isn’t accepting rejection, but we have to admit in our culture “hard-to-get” is a courtship strategy. I can think of situations for these scenarios where is it clearly rape. I can also think of situations where it might not be, and both parties might come out happy. Humans misread things, and communication is hard. From the guy’s perspective, it almost seems like a random raffle pick wether you pick fun party hook-up or being called a rapist the next day.
Here’s what my conclusion is, women have to look out for themselves. We are smart, we know our culture, and we can speak for ourselves. When we know we are going into a situation where drunk sex is on the table, we have to be very clear with potential partners, maybe hold off on the booze, and do our best not to give others the wrong idea about what we want out of that evening (through direct communication, not clothes or presence at a party, or drink in your hand. You have the freedom to do all of those things and people should not assume you want to have sex because of any of them. That’s stupid). We need to know that we can always say no, and as soon as someone isn’t respecting our boundaries they are in the wrong and we need to find a way out of that situation safely. So yes, women need to watch themselves. BUT SO DO MEN. (please excuse the heteronormative gender binary I’m using for simplicity’s sake. Men can be raped as well, and there are plenty of homosexual hook-ups that can be consensual or rape.) Men, you are the ones who (statistically) could be the rapist in these situations. You need to watch yourself, and be sure you are respecting the women around you. You need to be aware of the privilege and power you have by being bigger and stronger, not being subject to significant slut-shaming, and rarely being excessively sexualized and objectified. But you know what else you need to do? Cover your own ass. If you don’t know if a woman is game for sex, just ask her straight up. I think it’s possible that a person might not know they’re raping another person in some circumstances. Maybe, even if a man gets consent, he might not know that a girl’s consent is compromised in some way. That sucks, but if you don’t want to be charged with rape you need to look out for that. I repeat, if you don’t want to be charged with rape, you need to make sure you have received genuine consent. That is out of the drunk girl’s hands. You need to educate yourself about consent. You should be afraid of being a rapist the same way I am afraid of being raped. If a girl is super drunk and beckoning you to the bedroom, but you think she isn’t all there, you should protect yourself and avoid that situation. Maybe a small proportion of rape really is gray rape, but that should make you more concerned about rape, because it means you could end up being a rapist. Fight rape, rape myths, and sexism, for all of our sakes.