Like banging my head against the wall

It was bad enough when Cosmo was spreading lies about the existence of “gray rape” — a “sexual encounter” in which it is “impossible” to tell whether or not there was actual consent — and then refusing to apologize for it. It’s pretty damn frustrating when you explain the very simple concept that “if you did not see or hear your partner consent, she did not.” But in our rape culture, it’s still all about waiting for the woman to say “no,” and then “changing her mind” (raping her) when she does. But now Cosmo is also getting supposed experts in on the act — and getting the NY Times to cover it.

When Robert D. Laurino, chief assistant prosecutor for Essex County in New Jersey, told a friend that he was speaking on a panel about the topic of “gray rape,” the friend was confused. “Are you talking about the rape of the elderly?” the friend asked.

An article in the September issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, “A New Kind of Date Rape,” defined “gray rape” as “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what.”

A standing-room-only audience packed the lobby of the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice this morning to listen to a vigorous panel discussion on the idea of “gray rape” — and whether the term is even meaningful, helpful or harmful. Not too many events in the intellectual life of New York City bring together Jeremy Travis, the legal expert and former city police official who is the president of John Jay, and Kate White, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, which sponsored the event.

The panel had four women and three men and was moderated by Ashleigh Banfield, the Court TV anchor. Ms. White promised a “very scintillating discussion.”

Of course, they fail to point out that not a single victim’s advocate was on the panel. Or that in Stepp’s Cosmo article, all of the rape victims clearly expressed that they had said no.

But here’s a bright side: now we actually know some of what the hell went on inside this thing. The results are, as could be expected, fairly depressing. “Scintillating,” somehow, seems like the wrong word.

Ms. Stepp’s article and her comments generated a wide range of reactions from the other panelists. Some panelists, in particular, were concerned that the concept of “gray rape” could be used to exonerate men from their culpability in violent sexual crimes.

“Rape is still rape,” said Neil Irvin, director of community education at Men Can Stop Rape, saying it almost “seems cliché” at this point to have to remind people that no means no.

Ms. Banfield pressed the issue. “Is it possible that you could acquiesce at the beginning of the evening and by the time you’re too drunk to be heard or understood, it would be unfair for men to try to decipher when the no ends up actually arriving?” she asked.

Joseph Samalin, who as a student at State University of New York at New Paltz and at Columbia University was active in groups that oppose women’s violence, did not buy that premise. “There were a lot of things in the article that concerned and frustrated me,” he said. He said that intentionally or not, the article might have the effect of suggesting that “you can be a woman in charge of your own sexuality … but not too much because these are the consequences that will happen to you.”

Mr. Samalin added: “We still need to hold a lot more men accountable for their actions, their behaviors and the violence they commit. I’d rather be at a panel here on that.”

. . . Dr. Raghavan said that some women do feel ambivalent about negotiating sexual relationships with men. She said: “They want to be able to say no but still maintain a particular kind of image: ‘I don’t want to have sex with you, but there’s nothing wrong with my sexuality.’ They don’t have the vocabulary to articulate no. Or they’re saying no, but it’s not in a vocabulary that’s being heard.”

Interestingly, it was the two male antiviolence activists, Mr. Irvin and Mr. Samalin, who seemed to take the hardest line on male violence.

Mr. Irvin spoke of a “culture of masculinity that says we take advantage of women’s bodies because we’re men,” while Mr. Samalin said, “The majority of men who aren’t committing violence are still benefiting from a society that’s based on male privilege, power and entitlement.”

Banfield, the moderator, seems to have by far been the worst when it comes to understanding what the word “rape” means — coming second perhaps only to Stepp.  Then again, some of the listed panelists aren’t quoted.

Based on what they did quote, it doesn’t seem like the female panelists were terrible.  But none of them are quoted as maintaining that gray rape does not exist. That was left up to Irvin and Samlin. And that’s pretty depressing. Not because I think that men can’t be great allies — clearly, they can be — but because it’s about fucking time that women are ready to defend themselves. Reading the comments on the article (which I don’t recommend), there are tons of women saying things like “I can take care of myself, stop acting like I can’t.” Actually, no one said that you couldn’t. Being able to take care of yourself has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you’re raped. And suggesting that it does not only fails to make you look big and bad, but it also insults and marginalizes rape victims. There are also lots of people trying to conflate rape with sex that you regret in the morning, and then acting like anti-rape activists are the ones claiming they’re the same.  Which we’re clearly not.  When the hell did women become more concerned with seeming “independent” than with keeping themselves and their friends safe? When did we start worrying more about our right to fuck while drunk than our right to not be raped?  Both, I think, are rights, and they’re not mutually exclusive.  But assuming they were, it seems to me like there would be a clear winner.  When did women start taking the message “Men, stop being rapists” as an insult?

Oh, but yeah, no rape culture.

I would like to thank Irvin and Samlin, though. Though I find the fact that this panel even took place to be an insult, I do appreciate that someone showed up to point out precisely why the panel was bullshit, and that there are a hell of a lot better discussions to be spending resources on. Bringing up patriarchy at a discussion panel sponsored by Cosmo? Fuck yeah, that deserves some gratitude. I’m with Samlin: where’s the panel about how to hold men accountable for raping?

0 thoughts on “Like banging my head against the wall

  1. Redstar

    Hey there, you and others (Jill over at Feministing, for instance) got me to revisit my thoughts on Unhooked, which I read back in March (not impressed). I just wrote a long piece about it over at my blog. I hope you’ll >check it out.
    Thanks for keeping the spotlight on this issue. It’s total bullshit.

    Reply
  2. secondhandsally

    I’m glad you posted about this. Although I wish, like you, that we had heard some great quotes from the female panelist critiquing the concept of “gray rape,” it makes me feel much better to know that *someone* was there doing it.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Teach the Children « The Redstar Perspective

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