Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Laura Sessions Stepp's "Gray Rape" Idiocy

For some time now, it's been well and rightly concluded that Laura Sessions Stepp is a writer of silly, stupid things. Her take on contemporary sexuality is so out of step with just about everyone currently participating in it that it's hard to imagine that she exists in the same time-space continuum as the rest of us. And what she sees horrifies her on some level, but she's thus far failed to grasp is that it's not us, it's her. Her confusion is what causes her horror. Of course, her confusion only excuses her so far--she's resolutely concerned with the way other people perceive her: she's so desperate to prove she's hip and not a scold bent on raining on the whole sexual liberation parade, that her message gets royally fubared every time she tries to translate it.

But, while it's a given that Stepp is a writer of silly, stupid things, we now have to face up to the fact that she's a downright dangerous writer as well. In the recent Cosmopolitan, she cements this by advocating for the existence of something called "gray rape." And in so doing, her writerly output has veered terrifyingly close to outright delinquency.

What's ridiculous about the whole concept of "gray rape" is the fact that rape is perhaps one of the least "gray" crimes imaginable. It's less "gray" than even murder. There's no "manslaughter" equivalent of rape. There's no such thing as "rape by misadventure," or "criminally negligent rape." I can't think of any situation in which one might commit rape in self-defense or rape someone because one thought one was in imminent harm.

No, there's really nothing "gray" about rape at all--and that's the only perfectly sensible stance to have on the matter--after all, the gold standard for proper, legal sexual behavior is well known: "between consenting adults." There's really not much wiggle room there. "Adults" eliminates children, and by any standard of reasonableness it also explicitly means "adult human beings." And there's very little gray area when it comes to consent--either there is consent, or there isn't. And anything that stops short of consent is, well, the absence of consent.

I am willing, up to a point, to entertain the notion that maybe, maybe, the issue of what consent means has been obscured by the popular "No means no" rhetorical flourish. It would be better, perhaps, if the bumper sticker statement was something more like, "Only yes means yes." That way, nobody would be able to wriggle out of taking responsibility for their criminal behavior by saying things like, "She may not have said yes, but she didn't say no." But, remember, I'll only entertain that up to a point--once you find yourself in the act of "wriggling out"--parsing the middle distance between explicit consent and everything that falls short of explicit dissent, you basically need to face the fact that you are in the act of attempting to get away with something you know full well you shouldn't have done.

But, from what I gather, this isn't even the defining circumstance of what constitutes "gray rape" for Stepp. This is:

Oh, the gray area -- that insidious "if I hadn't gone to that party" place, that "if I had only stopped after one beer" place, that "if I hadn't worn such a revealing top and come on to that hot guy" place where young women go when someone they probably know lays siege to their most private parts and everyone assumes it was at least partly their fault. More than half the time, they're drunk and can't remember details, and most of the time they don't press charges. ...some defense lawyers and even some students have taken to calling such episodes "gray rape" out of a mistaken belief that when both parties have been drinking heavily, responsibility for what happened falls into a gray area.
Ack! So much poor reasoning! Nuts to circumstances that could lead to "everyone assum[ing] it was at least partly their fault!" "Everyone's assumption" has exactly zero bearing on whether the crime of rape was committed! "Everyone's assumption" isn't worth a hill of beans. And the "mistaken belief" is in the existence of a "gray area" in the first place. If one party sticks their body part inside another person's body without their consent, it's pretty effing clear who was responsible! Think about it: if you awoke tomorrow morning to find that your roommate had shoved a garden rake inside your rectum, would you allow your roommate to reason that his action was permissible because you never said it wouldn't be okay? Of course not!

For the stupid and soft-headed, maybe this gets confusing because of all the bullshit you've heard about relationships and flirtation and biological imperatives, but it really boils down to this: I will direct you, specifically, where and when you are allowed to place objects inside my body. You, in turn, will wait for my specific direction. And that's the end of the conversation.

And by the way, I've got no pity, no sympathy, no fellow-feeling for anyone who would shove their dick into the Great Unknown. If you find yourself thinking that it's a good idea to stick your dick into an unconscious body, then, Christ, you need to get your fucking head examined. You should respect your cock enough to know that if you cannot ask your would be sexual partner, "By the way, that bottle of Valtrex is your roommate's, right?" and get a cogent answer, then you ought not to be waving your junk around. Your dick is not indestructible. If it was, most guys would dispense with the agonies of courtship altogether, find themselves a sturdy board with a serviceable knothole, and go to town.

In fact, if Laura Sessions Stepp wanted to dispense some actual good advice on sexual gray areas, she'd restrict herself to simply saying: "You see that gray area? DON'T PUT YOUR COCK IN IT." If you are going to have good sex, the sort that neither subjects your would-be lay to harm nor places your own interests or well-being at risk, you'll eschew anything even remotely resembling a "gray" area. Instead, you'll wait for the green light, and then everything will be black and white (but, you know...pink where it counts).


Rusty said...

I think the only "gray area" with rape is how long one must stop boning after removal of consent. There was a case in Maryland where a couple was going at it, the lady took away consent, and he didn't pull out for five or ten seconds. He got charged. (I would find the case in the WaPo archives, but, lazy.)

Obviously no consent is no consent, but what dude wouldn't say "Uh, are you sure?" Followed by a "Wait, really?" That's five seconds right there.

As for the gray rape thing, yeah, it is dangerous. And stupid. And you make a better case against it than I could have. I just wrote a bunch of swear words and then used some bold type for emphasis. This is much better.

SAS said...

And let it be said, DCeiver, you are the only person who could make me laugh out loud when picturing anal rape with a gardening tool.

gwen said...

I know this is a serious post, but all I could think of was an Onion article about a new McDonald's mascot called the Hammurderer..
"The Hammurderer is quickly becoming regarded as the worst-received advertising mascot since Kool-Aid's 1989 discontinuation of "The Grapist," a huge purple monster who sodomizes thirsty children."


Anonymous said...

i disagree with you.. after my situation this cosmo article is the only thing that made me feel any better about what happened..

i had a boyfriend and went on a trip with my friends... i was hanging out with a guy alone after i had already had a lot to drink. The conversations i remember, i had said things like "i wouldnt do anything with you, you've been with a lot of girls.." and telling him not to try anything like that with me. So we went back downstairsand when we were with everyone else he offered me his vodka and gave me an energy drink chaser.. i was on vacation, i was with my friends, and i wasnt passing up free alcohol so i drank it... which i now realize was stupid. i dont remember a thing and i found out 6 days later that it even happened.. how do i know if i consented to it? is it rape because i told him when i was somewhat sober that i did not what to do anything like that? or does him getting me more drunk after i denied him have anything to do with it? but what if i flirted and consented to it, is he off the hook? and i was a virgin at the time of this so it's not like sleeping around is something i do

i think thats a pretty gray area..

Anonymous said...


It was rape. No gray area. If you were drunk, then by definition, you cannot legally give consent. Hey guys, if you get a girl drunk to have sex with her, you are committing rape. If you run across a girl who is drunk and you have sex with her, you have committed rape. If a girl consents to have sex with you, but before she does she becomes drunk, you have just lost consent.

wwworldclique said...

I am SO happy I came across this post, because it cemented in my mind what a Cosmo is a piece of sexist garbage written by people with a male chauvinistic dating back to the 1950s.

I mean, the concept of "gray rape", IMO, is absolutely no different from the ambiguity that used to circle rape BEFORE the feminist's movement. Before then, certain types of rape (like date rape) were "hazy and hard to define" because according to the cromagnons at the time, you couldn't really tell if it was rape because she had "gone up to his apartment and given mixed signals."

Now the author is trying to claim that the type of rape that might happen if a woman unknowingly leads a man on while partying is "grey." Gimme a break!

Anonymous said...

Ok I've had sex with a girl when we we were both shit-faced. I hate to tell you but, when people have sex, the girls usually doesn't say "ok i give you permission to have sex with me".

It usually starts with making out, then you round the bases, and if no one says they want to stop, and both participants take off their own clothes....im pretty sure that isn't rape even though there was no "yes".

And yes I myself have had sex where the girl doesn't remember her actions, I've also had sex and not remembered the entire night.

I will amdit when you don't remember having sex, and you find the girl less than attractive; you kind of feel raped. BUT no man or women should claim rape when you simply made a drunk decision. Unless of course you were strapped down and someone forced a beer bong in you like a trach tube, and then pumped you full of vodka, maybe then shit faced = rape.

But from my experience, when one participant doesn't remember the encounter due to alcohol, they are usually the more sexually aggressive of the two people.