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Posted by on Dec 21, 2012 in Feminism, Freethought Blogs | 37 comments

What Is Rape?

Recently, Rebecca Watson tweeted the following:

“If you have sex w/ someone who is drunk, they are unable to consent & that is rape.”

Screencaps of this are everywhere, so I won’t bother posting another one here. But I do have a few comments to make:

1. If this weren’t the case, I’d still be a virgin (if we don’t count the one incident of actual rape, along with another one I managed to escape).

2. Someone needs to learn a bit of grammar and, no, Twitter character limits aren’t a challenge: Here’s a far less offensive statement with even less characters, to boot: “If you have sex w/someone who’s drunk & unable to consent, that’s rape.”  So there goes Watson’s excuse for being unclear and offensive. Took me about a second to fix.

3. If this applies to men, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t apply to women.

4. Every man I know is a rapist by Watson’s definition, and I don’t mind that a bit.

5. No means no. Learn it, accept it, and abide by it; unless in your particular sexual relationships role play and safe words are involved.

6. No one should take advantage of someone who is *too drunk to consent.* But this is not nearly as black and white as it seems.

7. Yes, women do have morning regrets when they realize that someone just isn’t that into them.

8. Yes, sometimes women who like random sex are viewed as slutty, while men are not; and I wish that would change. Screaming “rape” when it doesn’t exist won’t help.

9. Women should hold some responsibility for how drunk they get. No, this is by no means an excuse for sex without consent. But it leaves a huge grey area where a guy (who may also be drunk) might think that things are going just as they should, especially if the woman he’s being sexual with is an eager, willing participant. And that’s fine. It isn’t rape.

10. I don’t need to drink to enjoy sex; in fact sex, for me, is much better if I’m completely sober, and if someone knows me and is willing to listen to what I like and need. All of my serious relationships have been like that, and these days, that is the only way I’ll engage in a sexual encounter. But it took me a while to learn this, and I don’t regret the mistakes I made along the way.

____________________________________________

Finally, and most importantly, if we start conflating trivialities with rape, people will stop taking rape complaints seriously, and I won’t blame them. Rape and sex you regret because of your own actions are two different things. As for an invitation to coffee in an elevator? Oh. My. Gawd.

  • hardlyever

    As I assume Ms.Watson knows, lack of consent – for whatever reason – is the defining factor in rape.
    When I first saw the Tweet, and the ensuing discussion about whether
    Watson meant exactly what she wrote or something more like “too drunk to
    consent…”, I thought that it had to be the ridiculous and offensive
    former because, if she meant the latter, she could have just said ” If
    you rape someone, then that is rape.”

    And, I wish we weren’t talking about her choice of topic, again. Or still. She really is a master media manipulator.

    • bluharmony

      This is the entire issue. The gullible are taken in; he manipulators benefit; and everyone else gets hurt.

      • hardlyever

        The callousness with which she operates is astounding. And the breadth of assent of her behaviour disheartening. When “rapist” and “male” are conflated to the point of being virtually synonymous – which seems to be the inevitable destination of this train wreck, if we’re not already there – then what of the generation of young men and women raised on this lunacy? Do Ms.Watson and her assenters want young women to assume that their male peers are not just possible, but now probable, inevitable violent violators of body and trust? That their behaviour, their choices are of no consequence? And young men to assume responsibility for not just the safety, but now the perceived safety, of their female counterparts? That they are destined to act out or, at the very least bear the responsibility for, the original sin of maleness? I believe these issues are real, and the consequences frightening. And yet Ms.Watson’s contribution is a flip and cynical tweet, designed to drive traffic and spill ink. My uneducated assumption (hope?) is that simple immaturity is an explanation for her behaviour, which means that there is a possibility that she will grow up some day, and then try to make this right.

        • bluharmony

          Sadly, very sadly, I don’t think that’s the case. I’m so happy I don’t have to live in the world she’s “trying to build.” I’m even happier that I didn’t have to when I was young, curious, and not entirely hideous (and, notably, neither did she). Learning from experience isn’t a bad thing. No one can protect you from the “bad guys.” You need to figure out who they are on your own. Some women are better at this than others. But I’m relatively content being me.

          • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

            That seems to be the reductionist way the whole conversation around rape prevention is cast. Basically, the only ethical form of rape prevention is “Don’t rape someone”.

            I understand the sentiment behind it – somebody who’s raped shouldn’t be held responsible for being raped – what they wore, how drunk they got, whether they were flirty, what their sexual history was, etc, really shouldn’t be the focus, because none of that justifies rape.

            But on the other hand, it also has to be acknowledged that there are a lot of less-than-good people out there, and like it or not, one has choices that can lower your chance of victimization by such people. Whether those choices in terms of constraining one’s behavior are a good tradeoff of freedom vs safety is something people will have to decide for themselves. Obviously, as a society, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that women can dress and party the way they want without being targeted for sexual assault, but that’s never going to entirely eliminate dangerous people who just don’t care about other people’s rights.

            I think one can look at it like burglary. If you don’t deadbolt your door or lock your windows and you get burglarized, you certainly aren’t morally responsible for your burglary. You were victimized by a criminal that needs to be caught, punished, and made to pay restitution. But on the other hand, there *clearly* was something you could have done differently that would have prevented the burglary.

    • http://twitter.com/AtheistExile Jim Ashby

      Lack of consent is NOT “the defining factor in rape”. For Christ’s sake, didn’t you read Maria’s post? Words have meaning. Use them properly. “Lack of consent” includes occasions when consent isn’t mentioned or otherwise specified at all. It’s not rape until consent is DENIED. No means no. It’s not complicated. There’s absolutely NOTHING confusing about it.

      • bluharmony

        One exception — when someone can’t consent — for example, a woman is passed out and the man goes ahead. That’s rape. But the law handles this much better than RW could ever imagine. Or maybe she could, but that’s not, in my opinion, her goal. Divisiveness over nothing +blog hits and speaking engagements = win!

      • bluharmony

        One exception — when someone can’t consent — for example, a woman is passed out and the man goes ahead. That’s rape. But the law handles this much better than RW could ever imagine. Or maybe she could, but that’s not, in my opinion, her goal. Divisiveness over nothing +blog hits and speaking engagements = win!

      • hardlyever

        I did read the post and yet, I’m still able to form my own thoughts. Funny that. I fail to see how this is substantially different from what I said. When you do not consent to having sex with someone, whether because you cannot or have explicitly said you will not, I think, is rape. Consent is not only communicated in words (Didn’t you read Maria’s post?). No consent IS denied consent. (For Christ’s sake).

      • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

        It depends. Many say the standard should be “affirmative consent”, basically, “yes means yes”. I’m not convinced this should be a legal standard for defining sexual assault, but I do think “affirmative consent” (which doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal) is clearly a best practice that people should strive for. “S/he didn’t say no” is a pretty low bar when you think about it.

        • hardlyever

          I absolutely agree. When I say “consent”, I mean consent/agreement/acquiescence, in whatever form that may take: affirmative response as to the proposition of sexual activity. Without that affirmation, I assert, the act is rape.

          • hardlyever

            Therefore, “lack of consent is the defining factor of rape”. “No” means “no”, and not “yes” (affirmative response as to the proposition of sexual activity) also means “no”.

        • bluharmony

          I think that saying “no” is a pretty easy thing to do. If someone doesn’t accept that, it’s legitimately rape. If you’re incapable of saying no (outside of sex play), it’s rape. I’m not even going to touch the “sometimes no means yes” line of thought, but to deny that it can happen (without being rape) would be silly. But as far as men are concerned, no means no. End of story. Is she unable to say no or understand what’s going on? That means no.

          Women have it much easier. Under RW’s standard, I’m surely a rapist. Who wants to be my next victim?

          • hardlyever

            I am in full agreement with all of this. I take great pains to teach my children to say what they mean. When they tell me “no”, even if I know they don’t mean it, I respond to their words, not my perception of their intent. That way, they learn that if they want someone to perceive “no”, then they better say “no”.

          • hardlyever

            And, I don’t believe that is RW’s actual standard. As you make clear in your post, making every man a rapist and every woman a victim does an egregious disservice to those who have actually been violated.

          • hardlyever

            One more thing. That one little line, “Women have it much easier” is surely a capital offense in RWland. Better get a good lawyer. Wait…BE a good lawyer!

          • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

            “No means no” might be well and good for a bottom line legal standard, but it leaves a lot of room for pushing someone into sex they really don’t want. It seems to me like as a best practice one should be trying to get enthusiastic or affirmative consent – if not a verbal “yes” (or OMG, yes!), then certainly the non-verbal equivalent. And certainly if there’s any ambiguity, it never hurts to ask.

            The alternative leaves a lot of room for sex with someone who’s just basically caving in or going along with something they don’t want, is scared for whatever reason, etc. Maybe not legally rape, but that’s kind of a low bar in terms of sexual ethics.

          • bluharmony

            I would agree with that, but in my experience it hasn’t come up. When’s someone’s trying to push sex on you, they’re not really taking no for an answer. You have to repeat it over and over and over again, physically push them away, and so on. And that’s a problem.

    • Neil Terry

      “Master media manipulator”…I think it’s more like “chronic master baiter”. Always gotta squeeze in one more righteous wank before the attention dies down.

    • Neil Terry

      “Master media manipulator”…I think it’s more like “chronic master baiter”. Always gotta squeeze in one more righteous wank before the attention dies down.

    • Neil Terry

      “Master media manipulator”….I think it’s more like “chronic master baiter”. Always gotta squeeze in one more righteous wank before the attention dies down. She should put on a show for Jen McCreight, I hear she’s interested in that sort of thing.

      • hardlyever

        Ha!

    • bluharmony

      Why would someone even tweet that? Why not just tweet the state rape law? Or rape shield law? It’s bizarre.

  • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

    “If you have sex w/ someone who is drunk, they are unable to consent & that is rape.”

    Well, such a statement shows Watson’s typical level of nuance, doesn’t it? It’s unfortunate that she’s somebody who’s well-known enough that people even feel the need to respond to her.

    • bluharmony

      No kidding. But a statement as stupid as that can only be intentional. And look! It worked.

      • hardlyever

        this this this. Blagchk!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.f.brunton David Fletcher Brunton

    Does anyone feel a faint underlying theme of vicitmization in her post?

    While watson didn’t specifically mention gender it seemed to imply men getting women drunk.

    Many of her posts, and those of her affiliates seem to frame any ‘rape’ as inherently a male on female thing (whitness PZ accusing Justicar(an openly gay man) of wanting the power to corner women and make them uncomfortable), simultaneously making the men out as ur aggressors and women as helpless victims.

    Maybe I’m reading to much into it, but it comes off that way, at least to me.

    • bluharmony

      No, that’s exactly how it is, and that’s what leaves so many of us womyns feeling offended. Nor can I imagine what it’s like for young men to be told they’re monsters all the time.

  • Desperanto

    This whole attention seeking malarkey reminded me of a hilarious scene in the film Cherry 2000 were people had to sign various lengthy legal documents before engaging in sexual activities. That scene from the 1987 film was made with R. Watson in mind.

    Perhaps it takes a bit of fun out of the hanky panky, but at least your arse is covered.

  • http://twitter.com/tropical_london Tom Mason

    I’m sure others have brought this up, but what if both people are drunk? Have they raped each other?

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.f.brunton David Fletcher Brunton

      What gender are they?

      • bluharmony

        I’m assuming gender is irrelevant, but I don’t think that’s what RW was getting at.

    • bluharmony

      As long as both are able to consent (meaning they can both appreciate the nature of the act), and do so verbally or non-verbally, no. But according to RW’s statement, yes.

      • http://twitter.com/tropical_london Tom Mason

        Yes, sorry. I was refering to RW’s statement, not what you wrote in the article.

  • tkmlac

    Thank you for clearly laying out a complicated subject. I was “taken advantage of” when I was seventeen in this very way. The way I see it, I was too drunk to walk, I was too drunk to consent, and the person who did it to me was far clearer-headed than me. That being said, I also woke up a year later with someone who was as drunk as I was and so the balance of power between us the previous night had been equal. It’s a complicated situation, right? To simply say drunk=unable to consent was just a way that she could get people to look like they were defending rapists. It worked, because Ed Clint was their next witch of the week when they took a screencap of his facebook out of context and posted it all over their blogs. It’s sad to me that they’re using these situations for their own political gain. What an insult. Rebecca Watson doesn’t care about victims. She tries to make herself one with things like elevatorgate, but she’ll never know until it happens to her.

  • Guest

    If a girl is too drunk to consent, but you are sober enough to initiate, then it is rape.

    • bluharmony

      Agreed. The question then becomes what “too drunk to consent” means.