Feminism and Rape

The slow work on the article continues, but I have found myself mulling over the following frustrating question:

How do I reconcile my (young, hip) broad, traditionally feminist definition of rape with the grey areas that are incredibly apparent to me?

Because, yes, there are times when adolescents do stupid things (don’t ask for permission in times and places where they should), and depending on how things go from there, people may or may not get hurt. That is, the study performed by Dean Kilpatrick in 1992 that said that 1 in 8 women is raped had a question that many people who contest that number take issue with. That question was:

4. Has anyone ever put fingers or objects in your vagina or anus against your will by using force or threat?

Which would, and seemed to often (many of the respondents that were listed as having been raped by this study said the incident occurred when they were 17 or under), include instances of adolescent heavy petting where things went further than one party wanted them to. I find I have to agree with one blogger when she asks “Does that make the young man a rapist?” Well, no. I don’t believe he should be incarcerated for however many years for something this complicated. Do I believe he may have done something destructive to the young woman whom he penetrated against her will? Well, yes.

The thing is, the things we learn as an adolescent are, however capable of change and maturation, still a significant part of how we will learn to treat other people for many years. Until we can teach our young men that you should do things like ask for permission, or learn to look for signs of “no,” (because saying “no” can be hard, because adolescents are insecure and want to appear calm, cool, and collected), etc, then not only are frat boys going to keep having sex with drunk and/or unconscious young women, but Nice Guys are going to keep pushing it, even when they shouldn’t, and they’re not going to know that what they’re doing is wrong.

The real issue here isn’t about always asking for permission (spontaneity is something that should be savored… in the right context), the issue is about the expectations we set up for people, and what roles we tell them to fulfill and how we teach them to interact with each other.

Because if we let the boys off the hook when they’re 15, 16, 17, then we’re not teaching them not to expect girls to say “yes.” We’re not taking the time to teach them that, no that wasn’t okay, and next time you need to ask. We’re already apologizing for them, so it’s going to be that much harder to teach it to them when they’re 18, 19, 20,… Because by that point, they don’t know any better, not because they’re young, naive, innocent and fumbling their way through complex, adult processes they’re probably not totally prepared for, but because by 18, 19, 20,… We haven’t taught them any better.

And that’s looking only at one half of the equation. We always tell girls that it’s just a matter of saying “no”. But the second we say “heavy petting” that means that she might want to continue with one thing, but not all of it. And adolescents are notoriously bad at figuring out minutiae. She may want to keep kissing him, but get his hand out of her underwear, but that can be hard to express, particularly in a society that doesn’t equip us with these scripts. It doesn’t happen in the movies, we don’t talk about negotiation. We talk about “red light/green light”. It’s either all okay, or none of it is okay. So we’re setting up the expectation that girls have had before and have long after, not just in this but in all areas of life, of compromising your own desires to get some of the things you want.

Girls are always saying, “Well, I wish it wasn’t like x but it still has y which I really appreciate, so I’ll take it.” Whether we’re talking about female protagonists on TV shows or in books, or jobs, or how our friends talk about and look at us.

Both sides lose here, except on the whole, one side loses more. So this time, I’d rather make a different kind of compromise, a different bargain;

Boys, it’s not ideal, but I need you take one for the team here. Help me, help us, fight for better education, not only of young men, but of everyone, about consent and asking for it and giving it, so that we can all learn how to do it. This way people will have a better chance of getting what they want without having to get hurt in the process. Let’s learn to negotiate so that we can stop maiming each other, and leaving each other with the kinds of scars that don’t have good stories, that don’t make for learning experiences, and sometimes don’t heal. You can keep the sexily-attired, skinny girls on the TV, you can have the monopoly on heroism in the novels, we can argue about those later. Give up a little bit of your perfect world, so that girls can have a better chance of making it through unscathed. (And let’s not forget that you have plenty to benefit from this compromise. Though no one mentions it, you’re also in danger and I want to protect each and every one of you, too. We all need to learn how to ask.)


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