Here we are at day thirteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and Lisa Jervis’s essay “An Old Enemy in a New Outfit: How Date Rape Became Gray Rape and Why It Matters.” Jervis is the founding editor of Bitch magazine and her essay is another that will contain concepts very familiar to most feminists. It focuses on the idea of “gray” rape, which is an updated spin on the “date rape is not as serious” victim-blaming discourse that’s been around, well, probably as long as dating culture. What I wanted to highlight here is the connection between the “gray” rape discourse and modern messages about women’s sexuality.
I have to admit that for a large chunk of my life, I never really thought about or talked about rape. I know that rape is an issue that weighs heavily on many women’s minds, whether it’s because they or someone they know is a survivor, because it’s what makes them afraid to go out alone at night, or whatever else. For me, it was just never really like that. Part of it is that, as cowardly as this is, I always assumed if someone raped me, I would just kill myself. It seemed horrible enough that I would have no desire to live afterwards, but as an extreme a response as that is, it was sort of an open and shut case for me. It seemed very unlikely that rape would actually happen to me, and if it did, I had my solution. As for fears of being raped, I wasn’t really concerned. I’m a tall woman, and I have a very no-nonsense dress style. When I’m striding down the street at night, if there isn’t enough light to see my face or the breasts tucked underneath my jacket, you probably can’t tell I’m a man. I figured this made me fairly low-risk for the sort of “drunken man jumping out from behind a building” urban legends you always hear about.
There was, however, one thing about rape that really fucking pissed me off, and that’s victim blaming. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and in the fall I studied rape law in a Criminal Law survey course. I’ve started to get rather fired up about the whole thing. Also, I finally had a friend who told me she was raped. I always suspected that I had friends who’d been sexually assaulted or raped – kind of like having friends that are gay, most people do – but no one had ever said to me “I’ve been raped.” It made me think about the problem in a little more of a personal way.
Now, unsurprisingly, I’m even more pissed off about victim blaming. But that’s not all. I’m pissed off that our culture always, always, has an excuse when it comes to rape. I’m a native North Carolinian, so I had the Duke lacrosse thing shoved down my throat for a while, but that’s just one example. It seems like it really is not that uncommon on American university campuses for a woman to be gang raped by some sort of sports team while everyone else in the room cheers. I thought The Curvature did a really excellent job of explaining how there is always an excuse in these cases in her recent post.
In short, rape apologism shifts. When it’s a “date rape” people will say “how do we know she didn’t consent? It’s not like she’s covered in bruises.” When she’s covered in bruises, the victim in question will simply “like it rough.” When the woman is unconscious and therefore can’t just “like it rough,” she will be accused of misidentifying her attacker, or people will argue “well, she didn’t say no.” When she does say no, it’s “why didn’t she fight? He didn’t have a weapon.” When she did fight back or he did have a weapon, it’s “well there’s no DNA evidence.” When there’s DNA evidence, it’s “well he probably did it, but it’s not like there were any witnesses . . .” When there are witnesses, three of them in fact, who are willing and eager to testify?
When there are witnesses, they just won’t be allowed up on the fucking stand.
It is embarrassing and unacceptable that the American legal system treats rape cases this way again and again. Most, if not all, of the fifty states badly need rape reform. The Model Penal Code, a front-runner in many areas of legal reform, is hardly inspiring when it comes to rape. I hate to run around being the Man-Hating Lesbian, but at the moment, I do have to blame it (at least mostly) on men. There are some women who fuck up in this area too, but my God, the men are just… aaaarrrgh.
So you get men who think it’s okay to rape, or who think that if everyone’s drunk and it’s a party and there are some sympathetic buddies in the crowd, they’ll probably just get off. And they’re right. This is ridiculous. I’m in favour of a positive model of consent. If a woman doesn’t say “yes,” then she might as well be saying “no.” If she’s so drunk she can barely get the yes out, she’s also as good as saying no. If she is saying no, even in a playful, teasing, sexy, flirtatious, whatever the hell your poor ears are hearing way? She’s saying no. There may be times in a relationship where no doesn’t mean no – in a BDSM context, for example – but that’s why BDSM has safewords. It’s a context based on mutual understanding and trust. If she (or he) says “no,” it may not mean no, but the two of you have agreed that if she (or he) says “alligator,” or whatever, you’d better stop what you’re doing right away. If that’s not the context, and you just think your wife or girlfriend or whatever means yes when you says no, there’s something wrong. There needs to be a conversation. It’s one thing if people have talked it out and a woman has been very clear about how she says no “for real” and what the man should be looking out for, but in most of the cases I’ve read, that isn’t what’s going on. If there’s a mixed message, the rapist gets the benefit of doubt.
Also, one last thing that pisses me off. My hometown paper, The News & Observer, ran this article on how victims in North Carolina have to pay for their own rape kits. The article says “part of the cost,” but for uninsured victims, that can be hundreds of dollars. What a great way to further discourage rape victims from reporting rape and getting treatment. Thanks to Harry for the link.