Also, if it isn't obvious enough from the title, its a very sensitive subject. I am definitely not trying to offend or upset, but I am deliberately trying to be real, which means not being "politically correct" or sensitive for the sake of sensitivity.]
A friend of mine sent me a link to an internet blog article recently:
It was reasonably infamous among feminist bloggers, and induced quite a number of responses - none of which I’ve read.
So much of the discussion was so good already that I had nothing to add.
If you are interested in the topic, and have a few hours to kill, I recommend reading all of the comments from the beginning.
Even those that pointed out potential mitigating factors always went of their way to say “but, obviously, it was still totally wrong”. Then someone else would come along and say “this is cut and dry – this guy is a selfish creep, he knew what he was doing, end of story.”
Maybe they just have very poor imaginations.
But I don’t think that’s it. I think its really more that we have all been socially conditioned to have certain absolute reactions to certain topics, and that those reactions aren’t based so much on logic or reality or harm to others, they are just based on drilling a message into each person at a young age, lifelong repetition, and the fact that everyone around us acts horrified at the same thing.
The possibilities I’ll point out a bit later seemed fairly obvious to me, at least as possibilities, on first reading. Yet for so very many others these possibilities did not even cross their minds. Is it merely a lack of imagination? Well, even among the reasonable, thoughtful, open-minded commenters who had long back and forth dialogue, only one, it seems, considered any such possibilities… and even when that person suggested it, no one, not even the people involved in a conversation with him, ever acknowledged it. Other than that one, even though we were never told as much, everyone assumed the protagonist was fully conscious and aware of his actions, and aware of the lack of consciousness of the woman he was with. The author, without ever confirming to us that he knew (or even that she believed he did), spoke about it as if it were a given, after having skipped over the crucial few moments preceding the event in question in the story. And on the basis of that assumption, most felt justified in drawing absolute conclusions.
People find anyone interested in viewing child porn to be morally detestable, even if that person never acts on that interest, even if they do not film it, do not pay for it (thereby encouraging its production), and do not share it (thereby supposedly spreading the interest). The mere fact that they own and view it in the privacy of their own home, which does not affect any other person in any way, is both legally, and in the minds of many, morally, a crime.
A whole lot of people see it as morally unacceptable for one person to initiate sex with the other if one is asleep even if the sleeping partner has EXPLICITLY given permission beforehand. They feel this strongly and without any room for flexibility. Now granted, that is most certainly not what happened in the case of the blog article. But having this opinion makes it impossible to even talk about implied consent, and whether getting into bed naked with a person you have been verbally and physically suggestive and seductive with might constitute it.
For thousands of years, sex in all but the most carefully controlled circumstances – one man, one woman, in a religiously or government sanctioned committed partnership, for the express purpose of reproduction – was considered sinful.
Fortunately, times have changed, and many now accept the legitimate (non-religious) version of morality I mentioned above, and that means that pretty much anything people choose to do is ok, so long as no one gets hurt (unless everyone involved is into BDSM, in which case even that might not apply!)
But humanities collective conscious had been convinced that sex was a Really Big Freggin Deal, and the emergence of atheism and birth control couldn’t very well change that overnight (or even in 60 years), so in order to reconcile sex not being a Sin with it still being a RBFD, in many minds it became Sacred instead.
Even those who don’t consciously think it must be either Sin or Sacred, still – apparently – hold that it is a RBFD, an act for which, by virtue of its Big Deal-ness, things that apply to every other area of life don’t apply.
Change the word “kiss” to “sex”, suddenly all of the rules change.
- It is
entirely possible that they had begun to have sex before either passed out – and that, due to their intoxication,
neither remembered it. Or they
could have woken up at some point, begun having sex, and one (or both) passed back
out. It is easy to forget things
that you do in between sleeps.
Surely it is not uncommon to, for example, mention to your partner (or they mention to you) something about a brief conversation you had after one of you got up to use the restroom at night, and the other doesn’t remember it? And that’s without any drugs or alcohol. Similarly, it is even entirely possible that there was verbal consent, but again, that neither remembers it, given the situation of mutual intoxication.
- It is entirely possible that the two of them were completely naked, both aroused, and spooning, and he was in a position to get inside of her, either before or during sleep, without actively trying to.
- It is possible that he was not aware that she was unconscious – anyone who has slept with another person more than a few times has thought the other person was awake because of the way they turned over, or moved or breathed, and it turned out they were asleep, or thought they were asleep because they were perfectly still, but it turned out they were awake. Again, that mistake is easy to make when you are not intoxicated. It would be a lot easier to make when you are drunk.
In fact, almost any living human would understand those actions – if she had in fact been awake – to be very clear non-verbal communication. Even if one has learned and chosen to apply the rule of not acting without explicit verbal communication to avoid misunderstandings, the meaning of those actions would still be understood.
There is NOTHING in the story, as we are told it, to make it seem an unlikely possibility. In fact, the way I read it, it sounds like a very likely possibility. Obviously I don’t know, I wasn’t there, just like the other commenters passing judgment, just like the author of the article. It is absolutely realistic to think that that did happen that way.
What does it mean imply about society that no one even thought to ask the question?
In the comments the author does eventually say that the woman in the story, upon waking up, did not resist nor verbally ask him to stop.
Because if she didn’t say no even after she woke up, that means he could reasonably have believed it was confirmation of his interpretation of her implicit consent.
Why should the rules be any different if the context is sex instead of money?
Consider this story from the comments:
I’m not a betting person, but I’d put down money that not only is this a true story, but it is not entirely uncommon.
This allows us to imagine that sexuality is a matter of pleasure and/or love first and foremost, which just happens to also have the side effect of reproduction. Our culture and even language reinforce this idea. For example, we refer to any pleasurable genital contact as forms of “sex”, when, technically, sex is a process of allowing the two complementary gamete cells a chance to come together. Anything which could not result in pregnancy is, in the strictest, most literal sense of the word, not actually sex at all. The entire reason sexual contact is pleasurable is because without incentive to engage in it, nobody would. Any specie which did not have a drive toward reproduction would die out in a single generation.
This is in no way to suggest that people “should” only have sex for reproduction. It is just an observation of biological fact. And its important to keep that fundamental fact in mind when considering any of the more complex areas of human sexuality. Otherwise one may come to conclusions which don’t make sense, and that can lead to action plans that are not effective in the real world. One example of this is abstinence-only sex-ed, or a complete lack of sex-ed all together. Some people choose to believe that the only reason teens are interested in sex is because they are told that they should be, that they wouldn’t even think of it on their own.
All of these quotes are, of course, taken from the context of the events in the story. But they are still illustrative of this idea that individuals are obsessed with sex because of something taught to them by peers and media. People aren’t obsessed with sex because of images in media, or because of cultural bias. Pretending that means any theories or strategies for combating sexual violence are guaranteed to fail. Men see sex as a goal, or women’s bodies as prizes, because without sex with women, the DNA which makes them who they are dies with them, and even though they may have no conscious awareness of it, ultimately everyone’s genes has the final say in their most underlying motivations.
In some cases, it certainly is true that violence and dominance add something positive to the experience for a rapist. In a great many cases, probably not. If it were actually true that it the only appeal was forcing one's will upon another, then any time a potential victim consented to sex, the potential rapist would lose all interest. That obviously doesn't happen. People have sex drives. Some (especially males) have very strong sex drives. To those whose isn’t so strong, sex may seem like just a pleasant thing to do now and then. To others, it may feel like a necessity. If it were easy for some people (mostly, but not exclusively, men) to take it or leave it, prostitution as an industry would barely exist, if at all. Gathering food, protecting one’s body from harm, and having sex, are the most fundamental drives of any multicellular organism.
In order to understand rape, we first have to admit to ourselves that at some point in our lives we have felt a desire for sex. Not just a desire for human contact, or for love or acceptance. It’s not a desire to “express your feelings physically”. It’s horniness. It’s natural.
Today almost everyone will object to that claim, they will insist both that it is about power and control, and that it isn't about sex. If that was true, then why would sex be a part of it at all? If one person were to assault or kidnap another, or wrestle them to the ground and hold them there for 20 minutes, or twist their arm and make them say "uncle", then they have established dominance over another human being. That doesn't happen.
In the vast majority of cases where a potential victim used any form of physical resistance, whether punching, kicking, or biting, or simply running away, the resistance is effective in preventing the rape from occurring. Given that the average man is stronger than the average woman, one might expect physical resistance to make little difference. Given the additional factors that most rapes occur by someone known to the victim, in one of their homes, there are frequently psychological reasons why women submit. Given that in over half of all rapes the victim was intoxicated, attempts at resistance might be less effective. However, even considering those factors, when the victim fights back, it is effective 85% of the time. If it was about really about violence and proving dominance, then you would expect that the victim fighting back would add to the appeal of the experience - a cat doesn't play with a dead mouse because its no fun if the mouse doesn't try to get away.
The rapist, however, is not looking for a fight. They are looking for easy sex.
Most of us would never consider raping someone, no matter how horny we got. But that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine what it might feel like to be someone who would. Most people would never punch someone in the face either. Most wouldn’t break into someone else’s house or mug them at gunpoint. But I can understand why some people do.
When someone breaks into another person’s house and steals their TV, nobody claims that the real reason they did it is because they wanted to establish dominance over the person who lived there. The motivation for stealing is obvious – they want the material value of something that someone else has. They believe it will be easier to take it from someone else rather than to earn it themselves. If, for whatever reason, a person felt like getting another person to voluntarily have sex with them was not a realistic option, that person might be tempted to try to get it by whatever means necessary, up to and including by force.
To admit something is natural, or may be based on instincts, is not to condone it. The first step is to acknowledge what is, if you want to effectively change the world into what it should be. Sometimes that means admitting something that we really don’t want to be true – like, for example, that maybe the reason some people commit rape is the same reason a person takes anything without permission: because they really really want sex, right in the moment, and it isn’t being given to them willingly.
Nobody wants to believe that because it “reduces” sex to an animalistic behavior, when we want to think of it – of ourselves as humans – as “higher”, more meaningful, more beautiful, more noble. But to admit that sex is a basic instinctual behavior doesn’t cheapen sex or deny its ties to the feeling of love anymore than admitting we need calories to prevent dieing denies the culinary arts its place. Sex is neither sinful nor sacred. If we can stop pretending that it has to be at least one of those things, we can look at what the most realistic likely motivator for taking it without asking might be. We don’t have to come up with justifications of “rape culture” or sexism or privilege, just like there is no need to invoke capitalism to try to explain why some people steal, or to point to video games and movies as the cause of violence.
These instincts are in all of us, and the only difference is some of us do a better job repressing them than others. Aside from true sociopaths, everyone tries to repress them. Aside from the occasional saint, nobody succeeds 100% of the time.
This seems intuitively obvious, but we don’t want to admit it to ourselves, because we have all felt horny at some point in our lives. If that is the driving force behind rape, then that would imply that we ourselves could be a potential rapist! That makes it much harder to divide people into distinct categories of “good” and “evil”, which is a very comforting way to look at the world. To admit that on some level every human (including one’s self) has a physical craving for sex challenges the notion that sex is sacred, not merely a biological act, but something with a spiritual component. Something tied to love not just via oxytocin and vasopressin, but by something more meaningful. If sex is just sex, then that reduces us to level of “mere” animals, and we want to believe that we are more important than that, more special. And if sex is sacred, then that means that anyone who would “take” it without permission is not merely selfish and criminal, as the burglar is, but fundamentally an evil person.
This forced commitment creates a similar risk for males that exists due to biology for females – unintended pregnancy can obligate him to waste resources on raising children – only in his case, in addition to not being able to choose the timing of them, if his partner has sex with someone else, he may be duped into raising children which don’t even share his DNA.
Because it isn’t ancient times. It is today. Birth control does exist. Abortions do exist. And having successfully decoupled sex from reproduction we can and do use it for our own pleasure – no different from how we have been able to decouple food from nutrition by inventing things like ice cream. In addition to using it for pleasure, we use sex for various social reasons, manipulating in both ourselves and our partners the release of love-and-commitment-enhancing hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. So long as nobody gets hurt, there is nothing wrong with any of that.
But culture progresses much more slowly than technology, and somewhere in the very back of all of our minds, we are still thinking that rape is destroying a woman’s most valuable asset – that of not being pregnant.