Monday, November 14, 2005

Gender, sex, risk, and blame

Jane Galt comments on a post at Alas, a Blog in which Nick Kiddle complains that discussions of rape often turn to the need of women act responsibly so as to protect themselves. The complaint stems from an earlier post by Nick, titled "My rape story" (though it should have been more properly called "My non-rape story"):

I'd gone out looking for sex: a division of paratroopers were camping in the village for the weekend, and I knew one of them should be willing to give me sex with no strings attached. I met a couple of likely men in the pub - they'd been drinking all evening, while I stayed completely sober because of my pregnancy - and went with them back to their camp.

For a while, everything proceeded in a way that satisfied us all. In the darkness, I didn't realise immediately that one of the men was no longer wearing a condom - whether accidentally or by design I had no way of knowing. I told him to stop, and offered him two options: he could find and put on another condom, or we could abandon the idea of having sex. For myself, I preferred the first option, but it did depend on the availability of another condom.

Neither of these possibilities suited him. He made several suggestions of his own, none of which adequately covered my objection to unprotected sex. I tried to reason with him, but I found that I had to keep my hand over my crotch throughout the conversation to prevent his attempts to penetrate me without wasting time on discussion.

At that point, I started to worry. He was physically stronger than me, and drunk enough to be deaf to reason. If he decided to force me physically, there was little I could do about it. I began to imagine the recriminations I would face if I had to report him for raping me. "You went in the pub looking for sex, you left with two soldiers and went back to their camp - what did you think would happen?" And although I believed my answer - I thought a grown man would be capable of using a condom properly - was a satisfactory one, I wasn't sure it would satisfy others.

The fear killed my desire to have sex and I started to put my clothes back on. Luckily, he made no protest; perhaps he was too drunk. I left without incident, and the fear receded once I was away from the danger.



The point of Nick's post was that if the man had physically forced her to have sex, it would have been rape, regardless of the previous consensual activity between them. And I agree with that. However, it seems that Nick also believes that the mere fact that she had to be afraid of rape, and that the fear of rape put a damper on her evening of fun, is somehow an indictment of The Patriarchy. In the second post, she takes issue with the fact that some commenters on her first thread felt it was pretty stupid of her to pick up two strange men for sex and that she was putting herself at risk. Responding to those posters, she writes:

The attitude that women have the responsibility to protect themselves from rape is, at the most generous reading, an uncritical acceptance of the idea that men cannot be prevented from raping. At its worst, it is yet another example of the way society makes women responsible for anything men dislike. ...

There was one piece of fall-out from the paratrooper incident that I didn't mention. A family member learned that I'd gone back to the camp with a couple of men for sex. He had no reason to think anything non-consensual had happened, but he was horrified all the same. He told me that my behaviour was disgusting and that I should be ashamed of myself. Friends and other family members defended his attitude by pointing out what many people in the other thread pointed out - that I'd put myself at quite some risk.

That explanation failed to convince me. Disgust and shame are appropriate responses to moral wrongdoing, not foolhardy risk-taking. He was horrified that I'd allowed myself to be sexual in an unapproved way; the risk of rape was a justification, not his true motivation.

It shocks some people that I want sex and don't want to submit to male authority. It shocks them even more that these two desires outweigh my fear of rape, so that I dare to gratify both by picking up paratroopers in a pub. The "prudent" suggestions for keeping myself safe always boil down to giving up sex (or at least, the kind of sex I'm interested in) or submitting to male authority.

These "solutions" might well have no effect on my risk of being raped. But even if they were guaranteed to protect me from all risk, they wouldn't be worth it. I think I'd rather be raped than spend the rest of my life turning aside from what I wanted and settling for something less. I know I'd rather take risks than allow fear of rape to control my expression of my sexuality.

In my ideal world, men would not be tempted to commit rape. Sexual encounters would be handled with negotiation, not with one partner's insistence on getting what he wants at the expense of another. Men would respect the desires of women to control what happens to their bodies, whether they've known each other for ten minutes or ten years.

And in my ideal world, the fear of rape could not be used as a justification for slut-shaming.


Jane Galt comments:

There is a strain of feminism that encourages women to behave as if we have arrived in some feminist utopia where rape is impossible. This stems from a very admirable desire to put the responsibility for rape on the men, not the women, and is an understandable backlash to rape trials that used to investigate whether the woman was "asking for it".

Nonetheless, it's stupid. Not only are we not in this utopia, we are never, ever going to be in that utopia. Even if we achieved a marvelously gender-blind society, there would still be some people who want to have sex with people who do not want to have sex with them. Indeed, the variety of human sexual fantasy being what it is, there will be some people who are almost exclusively interested in that sort of activity.


Jane Galt is right, of course. The idea that all men can be prevented from raping is just as absurd as the idea that all people can be prevented from killing, or stealing, or assaulting others, or abusing children. In an ideal world, you should be able to ask a total stranger to watch your baby, or to let a total stranger borrow your car. It would be nice, to be sure. But it ain't gonna happen.

Is "victim-blaming" in our society somehow uniquely directed at women? Well, let's do a little thoguht experiment. Suppose "Nick" is a guy who decides to go to a bar and pick up a couple of chicks for some three-way action. They take him back to their place and then one of the women hands him a drink that tastes a little funny. Suddenly, Nick starts to worry that the women could slip him a mickey and rob him blind when he passes out. Maybe he even starts to worry that the women could have a male accomplice who could be hiding in the other room and who could beat the crap out of him if he tried to leave. Nervous and no longer in a particularly sexual mood, Nick scrambles into his clothes and leaves.

Would anyone be particularly sympathetic to Nick's complaint that he doesn't live in an ideal world in which he can't trust two women he only just met?

In fact, let's take this a step further. Suppose things didn't end quite so well for our male Nick. Suppose he actually does get drugged and robbed by the two female strangers he picked up in a bar for sex. Do you think Nick is going to encounter a lot of sympathy for his plight, from men or from women? I seriously doubt it. In fact, I suspect that the response is going to be mainly along the lines of, "he had it coming." (A male friend to whom I outlined this scenario said, "The word 'dumbass' comes to mind.")

Let's continue with our role reversal. One of the commenters at Jane Galt's made an interesting point:

I'm actually kind of disturbed by Nick's posting. Specifically, she points out that she was sober while the paratroopers in question were drunk. She specifically went with them to have sex. Switch genders for a second. Now, any male under 40 will tell you what that is considered these days: statutory rape.
Sorry, Nick, you raped them before they even thought of doing anything untoward to you.

Now, I don't think "statutory rape" is the correct term, and I don't think that the law automatically classifies sex with an intoxicated partner as rape unless the person is actually incapacitated. But many feminists certainly advocate such a definition, and it is incorporated into the codes of conduct on quite a few college campuses.

Leaving aside the issue of rape for the moment: Nick thinks it's sexist that people are being judgmental toward her unconventional sexual behavior. (And yes, I'm sure that the negative reaction to her story has to do in part with perceived moral wrongdoing, not just risk-taking.) But how would people judge a man who proudly proclaims that the only kind of sex he finds satisfying is casual sex with female strangers (sometimes two at a time), that he deliberately goes to bars seeking out such encounters, and that he refuses to subordinate his sexuality to "female authority" by entering a relationship? The vast majority of both women and men, I think, would see such a man as emotionally immature, damaged in his capacity for intimacy, and prone to objectifying women; many would likely suspect him of having a misogynistic streak.

I know that the traditional sexual double standard still lingers in our culture. But alongside it, another type of double standard has developed as well: one that views unconstrained, selfish, hedonistic female sexuality as "liberated" while condemning similar male behavior as sleazy and exploitative. In this new double standard, the promiscuous or adulterous male is a pig, while the promiscuous or adulterous female is a rebel against the patriarchy.

This kind of feminism is not about equality and not about female empowerment. It's about female entitlement.

Update: Ampersand (Barry) responds, and makes two principal points.

Barry is shocked that a friend of mine thought a man who got drugged and robbed after picking up two female strangers in a bar would not be a sympathetic victim, and in fact "had it coming" to some extent. He thinks this supports his view that "many conservatives are far more anti-male than the typical feminist is" ("It's not feminists, after all, arguing that men are incapable of controlling themselves and need to be civilized through marriage to women; that sort of argument is reserved for conservatives like Maggie Gallagher"). Then, Barry backtracks and adds, "For all I know, the friend Cathy quoted was a flaming liberal."

Well, I don't know about "flaming" but my friend who made that comment is certainly no conservative; he is an independent with eclectic politics, and certainly with liberal views on social issues. A male Maggie Gallagher, in other words, he's not.

Male-bashing in conservatism and feminism is actually an interesting issue that I'd like to discuss, at some point. (I think Barry lets feminists off the hook too lightly, but I myself have discussed the fact that social conservatives sometimes engage in male-bashing that mirrors the radical feminist variety.) But I am puzzled by the notion that my friend's comment was "anti-male." I think he was simply saying that to put yourself in a vulnerable position with total strangers for the sake of some sexual thrills is not a good reflection on a person's intelligence or character, regardless of gender.

Barry also takes issue with my comments about the new feminist double standard; he thinks that I'm creating a straw woman here, and that there's no evidence of any actual feminist being inconsistent in their attitudes toward male and female sexual behavior.

Exhibit A:

In 1997, The New York Times Magazine published an essay by Katie Roiphe discussing a new tendency in popular culture to treat female adulterers sympathetically while condemning the male variety. Judith Lorber, noted feminist theorist and author, then dashed off a letter to the magazine (New York Times Magazine, November 2, 1997) offering this justification for the new double standard: "A woman's affair redresses some imbalance of power in a marriage; a man's intensifies it." (To quote Dana Carvey's Church Lady: "How conveeenient.")

Exhibit B:

Several years ago while visiting the campus of my alma mater, Rutgers University, I picked up a copy of The Caellian, the student weekly of Douglass College (the women's college at Rutgers). The opinions page featured two articles by Douglass students: one complaining about sexual harassment on campus and the other proclaiming that women are now coming into their own as autonomous sexual beings. I don't have the articles, unfortunately, but I remember being struck by the fact that the second article celebrated some of the same behaviors by women that the first one condemned in men -- e.g., ogling or making sexual comments about attractive individuals of the opposite sex in public places.

Now, Barry may well say that these were two articles by two different people. True. But I think that their coexistence side by side adds up to a certain general impression of the kinds of attitudes one finds in the feminist press. Particularly since the second author did not pause to add, "And by the way, if we're going to exercise our freedom to treat men as sex objects, why don't we stop whining about men treating us as sex objects? What's sauce for the goose..." etc.

In a larger sense, I don't think it's in dispute that a major strand in feminism has been a critique of male sexual objectification of women. A lot of feminist work on sexual harassment, for example, condemns not only sexual coercion or extortion in the workplace or in school, but all "sexualization" of women in these settings (and sometimes, by extension, in all public spaces). It is commonly assumed that a "sexualized environment" is a hostile environment for women. I, for one, certainly see a contradiction between this attitude and the affirmation of a "liberated" female sexuality that includes the objectification of men.

39 comments:

Dean said...

Cathy, I was wondering if you would comment on this. I've been avoiding it: I've been following this, but I've been too annoyed to say anything about it.

I keep saying this, but I'm going to say it again: your post takes a very reasoned approach.

To which I'll merely add that, at the point at which the 'rape' almost occurred, Nick had already agreed to and was engaging in sex with the two strangers. The rape would have occurred because Nick wasn't having the kind of sex that she wanted ie, with a condom.

Is that rape in any but a technical sense? I guess, by the way I phrase it, that you know what I think.

Yes, Nick has the right to agree or not to specific sexual acts. But, considering the fact that she was already engaged in intercourse with the man in question, doesn't her attempt to term this a case of near-rape cheapen REAL rape? You know, where actual force or threat of force is used?

This whole thread disturbed me, from Nick's initial post to the legions of defenders who jumped all over anybody who suggested that perhaps picking up drunk paratroopers and expecting them to do exactly what you want to do is a dumb idea.

Cathy Young said...

Dean -- I think the issue is, was there force or not?

Consent, once given, can be withdrawn. If you promise to donate $100 to my website and then change your mind, I don't have the right to forcibly take that money from you, do I?

Mind you, it's not a crime for me to try to talk you into changing your mind. Likewise, I think that if Nick said no and the paratrooper either verbally talked her into saying yes or continued non-violent, non-threatening physical advances until she agreed to have sex with him, I don't believe that should qualify as rape. But physical force is physical force.

Richard Bennett said...

I used to read Ampersand's blog quite a bit, have left comments on it from time to time, and once shared a few beers with Barry. This story typifies the reason I've pretty much stopped reading it. Barry is a paternalistic male feminist, who sees his mission as protecting helpless women from the patriarchy, and the women who post there come across as damaged goods with huge chips on their shoulders and a militant opposition to any form of personal responsibility at all. The key element of this story, to me, is the drinking. Rape laws in the US have moved toward a model of "informed consent" based on medicine, in which the intake of significant quantities of drugs or alcohol render a person incapable of giving proper consent for sex and therefore defined apparently consensual sex with such persons rape. In some states, this provision is triggered by the standard for DUI/DWI, which can be as little as two beers in an hour.

The story sounds like the men in question had consumed considerably more booze than that, and it implies that Nick was encouraging them to booze up. That being the case, we're descending into a huge chasm of hypocrisy in holding them responsible for exercising Spartan self-control.

If we can't assume that a women is capable of informed consent after two beers, how can we assume that a man is capable of self-control in the same condition?

Well, these men were, either because of their good character, their military training, or simply because they didn't find "Nick" all that attractive. But for that they should be commended, not held up as examples of the need for perpetual "rape culture paranoia".

Anonymous said...

Dean,

Nick is obviously a spoiled brat who expects the world to conform to what she wants. On top of that, she did a really stupid thing in picking up those guys.

That being said, condom use is more than just a 'kind of sex'. It is significant protection from pregnancy and STD's, including AIDS. Clearly, before the sex started, he must have agreed to use one and put one on, or else she wouldn't have said that he was 'no longer' wearing one. In the midst of the act, he either removed it, or it, somehow, came off. As he made it clear he wasn't interested in wearing one after she discovered what he was doing, I am leaning toward the view that he deliberately removed it and put her at risk.

Granted, it was really, really stupid of her to put herself in that situation, but he should be condemned for his irresponsible behavior, too.

Revenant said...

That being said, condom use is more than just a 'kind of sex'. It is significant protection from pregnancy and STD's, including AIDS

If the paratrooper knew that he was free of STDs, then the only risk was his -- i.e., that he might get infected by Nick.

What gets me is this part of the story:

"He was physically stronger than me, and drunk enough to be deaf to reason."

"Too drunk to reason" = "too drunk to consent". Nick is admitting, here, that it was her opinion that the man she was preparing to have sex with wasn't capable of thinking rationally. Reverse the genders and Nick would be in prison now.

What are the legal implications of being raped by somebody you yourself were about to rape? If I go to a bar and pick up some girl who's blitzed out of her mind, take her back to my place, get her clothes off, but then change my mind at the last minute, could I honestly charge her with rape if she then forced herself on me?

I don't think so. I think no jury in the world would convict her.

Richard Bennett said...

I think no jury in the world would convict her.

Indeed they wouldn't, but that wouldn't stop every radical feminist in the world from claiming that her trial is an example of the partiarchal oppression of women.

Anonymous said...

Revenant,

Yes, but what if he is the large group of people out there who don't want to know and don't get tested? Or the small group who know they have a disease and don't care? And what about pregnancy?

And with all due respect to all of you making that argument, if he was THAT drunk, he wouldn't be able to ... um ... perform.

That restriction on sexual activity doesn't exist with women. A man can have sex with a woman who is so drunk she is completely passed out.

Dean said...

On rereading the original account, and my own comment above, I see where I wasn't clear.

And how I've painted myself into a logical corner. And how difficult questions like this are.

Yes, absolutely, if force is used, it is rape. But if that act had occurred, if she had said no and he had re-penetrated her, would she not be at least guilty of contributory negligence?

Or put another way, is it still a criminal rape? Surely it isn't the same as a woman raped at knifepoint?

My issue, really, is with the drawing of equivalence between this case, and real cases of violent rape. Nick and others are attempting to use this extremely borderline case to prove that there is a culture of rape, and that all males benefit from it. That is what I mean when I say that I think that this cheapens real rape.

(and yes, I am backpedaling, or at least clarifying. I don't want to be seen as holding a position that I do not.)

Cathy Young said...

Just a quick comment, for now. I don't see any evidence that Nick was actually encouraging the men to get drunk.

Richard Bennett said...

Here's what she admits to: I met a couple of likely men in the pub - they'd been drinking all evening, while I stayed completely sober because of my pregnancy - and went with them back to their camp...He was physically stronger than me, and drunk enough to be deaf to reason.

If a man had written this about a woman, we'd say he "got her drunk"; certainly, she didn't discourage them from drinking.

Cathy Young said...

Point taken.

Incidentally, a female friend of mine who read Nick's first post is convinced her story was made up.

Revenant said...

Yes, but what if he is the large group of people out there who don't want to know and don't get tested? Or the small group who know they have a disease and don't care? And what about pregnancy?

She was already pregnant.

I agree it's possible that he was infected and didn't know it, but if he thought he WAS clean, disdaining the use of a condom shouldn't be held against him -- he thought he was taking all the risk. Besides, if you want to talk about knowledge of risk, the question arises of whether Nick was up-front with the men about her sexual habits. The soldier himself might have been more concerned about condoms if he knew he having sex with a person who seemingly makes a habit of promiscuous sex with a wide variety of strangers. I wouldn't want to sleep with a woman who had those kinds of sexual habits, even WITH a condom, unless she could produce the kind of recent medical tests the porn industry requires. Condoms aren't perfect, after all, and there are STDs that they don't protect against.

Of course, all of this is moot. Even if the soldier knew for a fact that he was HIV+, that still wouldn't turn sex into rape -- he'd be guilty of a felony, sure, but not felony sexual assault.

And with all due respect to all of you making that argument, if he was THAT drunk, he wouldn't be able to ... um ... perform.

That's not even remotely true. First of all, drunkeness makes it more difficult to maintain an erection -- it doesn't make it impossible. Many men are capable of having sex even while so intoxicated that they cannot, the next morning, remember what they did the night before.

Secondly, you don't have to be that drunk to lose your ability to make rational decisions. This may sound callous, but there are countless men in the world who, after sobering up, have looked at the woman they spent the night with and thought "what in the hell was I thinking?".

A man can have sex with a woman who is so drunk she is completely passed out.

If the legal standard for "too drunk to consent" was "passed out", that would matter. But it isn't -- all you need is for your reason to be significantly impaired, which Nick herself says was the case with these soldiers.

Revenant said...

Just a quick comment, for now. I don't see any evidence that Nick was actually encouraging the men to get drunk.

I don't think that actually matters, legally. Having sex with a person incapable of legally giving consent is, I believe, considered to be rape regardless of whether or not the rapist was responsible for the victim's state. There might be a worse penalty for premeditation, but I'm fairly certain I'd be at risk of jail time if I had sex with a drunk woman who later regretted it, even if I had nothing to do with her being drunk.

Dean said...

but I'm fairly certain I'd be at risk of jail time if I had sex with a drunk woman who later regretted it, even if I had nothing to do with her being drunk.

I suspect that you're right.

Man, am I glad I'm not dating any more.

Dean said...

Incidentally, a female friend of mine who read Nick's first post is convinced her story was made up.

On what basis?

I read a few more of Nick's writings, and her profile, and having read them, her rape post doesn't seem at all implausible.

It seems to me that if it were made up, the almost-rape would have been more dramatic. As it is, it's a pretty borderline case.

Cathy Young said...

Well... my friend felt that the scenario of a pregnant woman seeking casual sex with two men in a pub near a military base was inherently improbable. But then again, she hasn't read Nick's other writings...

Emmetropia said...

Nick has another blog at LiveJournal. After she became a featured blogger on Barry's site, I took the time to read all two + years of her journals - basically because I found her decision-making, so puzzling.

She tends to leave important details out of her posts on Amptoons. The male relative who attempts to "slut-shame" her, after her pull-a-para-weekend, was her father who gave her a month to find another place to live after she brought a third paratrooper home to spend the night, on the evening in question.

She inteprets that request as an attempt to make her submit to patriarchy.

Color me a self-hating woman, but it doesn't seem an unreasonable request to make of a 28 year old, university-educated daughter, who has intentionally gotten pregnant ( a child is a "right" in her book), while living on the dole.

Things may be different in the UK, but I know a lot of single female parents who maintain a "my house, my rules," policy.

While she is unwilling to "submit to male patriarchy," she has no problem submitting to male beneficence.

Tom said...

Cathy:
I had a conversation about a loosely similar situation with a feminist cut from the same cloth as Nick several months ago. I raised many of the same points you have, and she countered with this argument: "The Patriarchy" is more psychologically and physically harmful to women than "The Matriarchy" is to men, ergo the double-standard doesn't harm men, ergo it's morally acceptable to apply such a double-standard. The comment stupified me, and I was woefully unprepared to refute it. How does one respond to arguments like this without name-calling, mudslinging, or the evasive-sounding "I'm not going to dignify that with a response"?

thecobrasnose said...

In a more sensible world, the behavior of this lunatic Nick would be too far beyond the pale to inspire debate.

Tom said...

The more I read about male-female relations, the happier I am to be gay. Even with religious weirdos running rampant it's just so much easier.

Cathy Young said...

Tom, please don't judge the entire female gender by Nick. *G*

Emmetropia, thanks for the info. Frankly, I'm floored. Sure, there are lots of effed-up people out there who have livejournals, but why turn one of them into some sort of spokesperson for feminism?

Richard Bennett said...

This is what Barry specializes in, Cathy. All his female writers are borderline pyschotics who behave outrageously and blame the patriarchy for everything that happens to them.

Cathy Young said...

Richard, I think we're veering too much into personal attacks here.

I agree that to some extent Nick has made herself fair game for, shall we say, blunt discussions of her personal traits by posting at length about her personal life and behavior.

But now you're making a sweeping and highly disparaging statement about all the women who blog on Barry's site.

I'd like to maintain a more civil level of discussion here. Thanks.

Richard Bennett said...

Cathy, do you see Nick as somehow atypical of Barry's co-bloggers? She doesn't seem that way to me. That site has a heavy atmosphere of blame-shifting, paranoia, and victimization. Barry occasionally escapes from it himself, but the female co-bloggers never do.

Cathy Young said...

Richard, I will freely admit that I have not read any of Barry's other female co-bloggers. I'd like to keep this discussion focused on the thread in question, though.

lucia said...

Richard,
I got busy doing other things and stopped blogging at Alas. Still, as a female former co-blogger, I do need to ask, when did I ever blame the patriarchy for anything at all? :)
Lucia

Richard Bennett said...

OK, let's put the point in more delicate language: if you're out to prove that middle-class American white women are victims of some sort of conspiracy, the empirical evidence is not your friend. Data on lifespan, net worth, hours worked, occupational injuries, job satisfaction, educational attainment, and spending on medical research isn't on your side.

So what to do? Well, what all rascals do: use anecdotal stories instead of evidence, and where better to collect them than from "effed-up people?"

I think that answers the question you posed about Nick's status as a spokesmodel for feminism on Barry's blog.

The Happy Feminist said...

I'm a little late to this thread but I wanted to answer Dean's question:

"Yes, absolutely, if force is used, it is rape. But if that act had occurred, if she had said no and he had re-penetrated her, would she not be at least guilty of contributory negligence?

Or put another way, is it still a criminal rape? Surely it isn't the same as a woman raped at knifepoint?"

As a former criminal prosecutor, I can answer that question. If force was used in the circumstance Nick described, it is criminal rape in the same sense that it would be rape if a stranger had jumped out of the bushes and attacked. However, the fact that the encounter began as consensual sex would probably be considered a "mitigating factor," and a judge would surely give him a less severe sentence.

This is a mitigating factor, however, NOT because Nick is considered to have "contributed" to the offense. There is no such concept as "contributory negligence" in criminal law -- if you steal my car, you are just as much as a thief whether I left the keys in the ignition or not. It is a mitigating factor simply because this guy poses less of a danger to the general public than the guy jumping out from the bushes.

bearblue said...

I have no problem with promiscuity. She can sleep with two or five or however many brings her happiness. But I do believe in responsibility during consensual play.

She brought them home (or went with intention to bed). She should have provided the party favors and made both of their lives easier.

That said, if he refused to put on the condom, and jacking the guy off was out of the question... then hard luck for both of them. They'll both have to do without.

If he'd pushed the issue and forced a finish to the coupling, then yes, it would have been rape.

Cathy Young said...

happy feminist -- thanks very much for the explanation. Makes a lot of sense.

P.H. said...

I've just stumbled across this, and it rather made my skin crawl (although I do tend to have a rose-tinted view of female sexuality). However, after reading through all the comments, I wanted to explore the scenario which was averted, seemingly by luck: what if that paratrooper had, in his crapulent state, simply disregarded the woman's mid-coital protest and completed what he was doing? Clearly this would have entailed restraining her until he had finished, but wouldn't necessarily have injured the woman (assuming, at least for the sake of this argument, that he was STD-free). The law is unequivocal that this would have constituted a rape. But exactly how reasonable would it have been to then decry the paratrooper as a monster?

Now this is probably the thorniest issue I've ever commented on, and so I'd better state that I'm not out to try to change the rape laws, but rather to gain a better understanding of how men and women see such incidents. In order to try to remove the lines which are usually drawn on these matters, I'm going to use Cathy's trick of reversing the genders: this will, I hope, create a scenario which is so alien that one can study it dispassionately!

So suppose 'Nick' is, to quote Cathy, "a guy who decides to go to a bar and pick up a couple of chicks for some three-way action". He finds two strapping infantrywomen who are "drunk enough to be deaf to reason", and propositions them. They agree, and Nick follows them back to their barracks. For a while, things, in Nick's words, "proceeded in a way that satisfied us all". However, suddenly Nick notices that the woman he's been penetrating has whipped off his condom, and he starts to panic. He tells her to stop, and offers her two options: she could find him another condom, or she could abandon the idea of having sex. However, since she's really enjoying her romp with Nick and is "drunk enough to be deaf to reason", she decides to use her superior strength and simply pulls Nick's hands away from his crotch and pins him to the bed. Nick has little choice but to watch as the woman straddles him and continues the coupling while he remains aroused. Once she is finished, she climbs off him and Nick - uninjured but shaken - flees, clutching his clothing and reports the incident to the police.

What exactly should the police do here? Would criminal prosecution be warranted? What difference would it make if Nick discovered that the woman had given him an STD by her actions?

And most importantly, what difference would it make if the genders were reversed?

Anyway, back to the story... He gets nowhere with the police. The people to whom Nick subsequently relates his story tend not to be very sympathetic to him, and accordingly he complains,

"The attitude that men have the responsibility to protect themselves from rape is, at the most generous reading, an uncritical acceptance of the idea that women cannot be prevented from raping. At its worst, it is yet another example of the way society makes men responsible for anything women dislike."

His family suggests that he try a more conventional and less risky type of relationship. However, Nick is defiant:

"These 'solutions' might well have no effect on my risk of being raped. But even if they were guaranteed to protect me from all risk, they wouldn't be worth it. I think I'd rather be raped than spend the rest of my life turning aside from what I wanted and settling for something less. I know I'd rather take risks than allow fear of rape to control my expression of my sexuality."

Lastly, hearing Nick state that his "desires outweigh my fear of rape", they give up.

I hope that the contrast between the male and female versions is illuminating. It's certainly prompted me to reconsider exactly what is reasonable and what isn't, and question a few of my idees recus. It'd be interesting to see what the male/female divisions are on this: I think our consensus about rape tends to fall apart as we move from the severest cases (involving muggers, violent partners, date-druggers, etc.) down into the greyer areas where a sexual encounter has been actively sought and engaged in. My hope is for reasoned and harmonious gender-blind agreement on this, but experience suggests otherwise!

Finally, I agree with Cathy's remark that, "social conservatives sometimes engage in male-bashing that mirrors the radical feminist variety": I've just been reading Cathy's comments in an old Salon article about Wendy Shalit's book - they sure explain why "Modestly Yours" seems to veer into feminist caricatures of men (chaps appear to be either chaste or churlish - a mirror image of the old "sluts or saints" view of women).

Anyway, good luck with the blog, Cathy, and I wish with you for a true gender equality movement: I live in the hope that some day men and women will at last disarm themselves and climb out of the trenches!

Anonymous said...

Writing from the future into the past into a blog now largely abandoned.

Here is the double standard from Pandagon and their readers.

Pandagon on Nick Kiddle
http://pandagon.net/2005/11/22/this-is-what-they-mean-by-rape-culture/

(They agree that Kiddle is the victim of near rape.)

Pandagon on Genarlow Wilson
http://pandagon.net/2007/06/19/prosecuting-for-the-crimes-actually-committed/

(They agree Wilson is a rapist and it's a shame that the law is such that he should be released.)

Anonymous said...

It's me from the future again.

If anyone should ever see this, here are links to the Nick Kiddle live journal article at the time her near rape happened.

Note: when she blogged about it at first she really didn't seem to consider it rape. In fact she says,

http://ksej.livejournal.com/91097.html

Lessons from Arnhem weekend
Once a year, there's a celebration in our village called the Arnhem Reunion weekend. There are various attractions, like a parachute jump (weather and budget permitting), a fair, and a church service, but the one that gets the most attention is the fact that a horde of paratroopers camp in the village for the weekend. Hence the nickname "Pull-a-Para weekend".

This is the first year I've really appreciated that aspect of the weekend. Last year I considered pulling a para, but for various reasons mostly having to do with the entanglement of sex and procreation that still existed in my mind, I failed to summon up the nerve. This year, not a problem.

Not only did I have fun, I also learned plenty of lessons that may or may not be useful to me in later life. I present them here, just in case they're useful or entertaining to you.

If you offer a drunk squaddie a blow job and he laughs rather than saying yes or no, this doesn't necessarily mean, "Are you kidding? You're so ugly I'd rather fuck my dog." It could equally easily mean, "Um, the trouble is, I think I've drunk too much to have a hope of getting it up, but I'm not about to admit that with my mates listening." Similarly, the oft-used line about how men are clearly the hornier sex because if you put a man and a woman in a bar and let them both offer themselves to strangers the woman is far less likely to be turned down does not apply in every possible situation.

The kind of threesome I've always fondly imagined (a guy at each end) comes close to living up to expectations even under less-than-ideal conditions. (Less-than-ideal conditions meaning on the floor, in a tent, in pitch darkness with both guys having consumed more alcohol than is strictly conducive to sexual performance.) The kind of threesome known as a sandwich might, in ideal conditions, be pleasant, but you really need three sober participants for it to work.

The dividing line between enthusiastic enjoyment and the fear that you could very easily get raped and no-one would believe you didn't participate voluntarily can sometimes be as thin as latex. Drunk squaddies are not the easiest people in the world to convince that whether they have a spare condom makes all the difference, actually, no matter how many times they promise not to ejaculate.

On a related note, "Be Prepared" is the motto of the Boy Scouts, not the Airborne Division. Squaddies cannot be relied upon to carry condoms. (Naturally, I provided my own, but I apparently underestimated my power to attract horny squaddies: I assumed two would be enough.) However, one wonderful lad not only had one in his wallet, he was also willing to give it to his mate, who proceeded to render his sacrifice somewhat wasted. I sneaked the wonderful guy home, where we had the unparalleled luxury of a bed and fresh supplies.

Having sex on the hard ground with horny squaddies while pregnant is a lot of fun at the time, but in the morning (and indeed for most of the rest of the weekend) your muscles and ligaments will hate you with a firey passion. I still think it was worth it, though.

If you go into the pub the following evening and the squaddies are still there, word will have got around, and you will have to field irritating questions like "Is it true you like two at a time?" and "Will you fuck my mate?" (To which the answers, in my case, were, "Yep," and "Not unless I get proof that he really wants me to and this isn't a tedious joke," respectively.) The fact that you weren't drunk will elicit some surprise, your reason for remaining sober less so.


It's not clear when it became rape. Her father did evict her:

http://ksej.livejournal.com/91827.html

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Mike Jancis said...

This post is pretty old, but I just read it and wanted to comment anyway.

I was especially intrigued by the thought experiment, about the hypothetical male Nick, who gets drugged and robbed by two women he picked up in a bar. But when I did the thought experiment for myself, I came to a different conclusion. I actually think Cathy is wrong about how people would react.

Would he get much sympathy? Probably not. Certainly there would be no tearful, candlelight vigils bemoaning the tragedy. (Not even if he was injured, instead of just being robbed, probably.) But would people say "he had it coming", essentially blaming him for his own robbery? A few might. But I honestly don't think most people would be that harsh, even accounting for negative views about a man picking up two (willing, mind you) strangers for sex. I think most people would still be able to recognize that the only people in that story who intentionally harmed someone were the two robbers.

Actually, with a male victim, I think it's highly likely that most people would simply have no strong opinions whatsoever. But what they would have is a shared assumption that the police, simply as a matter of routine, were taking the matter seriously, making reasonable efforts to investigate; and that if the perpetrators could be found they would be arrested and prosecuted.

When I did the thought experiment in my head, I also asked another question: Would people have believed him, initially, or assumed he was lying? And I'm sure this question would never even have occurred to most people, unless there was some evidence revealed to contradict his story (and it would have to be something other than the usual "I didn't do it"). And if it did occur to them, then I'm pretty sure that most people would, again, basically have no strong opinion; something along the lines of "Of course there's always a chance he's lying, but let the police worry about it." Now switch the genders back ...