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No Shades of Gray

Posted by A birch tree on April 9, 2008

So late last year, this article about a panel on “Gray Rape” came out in the New York Times. Actually, it’s an article about what a panel of experts said about another article, but I digress. I was pointed to it, and found, much to my great consternation, a blog post that will pretty much write itself.

The article, aside from the lousy nickname given to a class of acts that, as far as I can tell, are pretty clearly rape with no gray attached, was pretty good. The panel they had discussing the topic was very bright and articulate. Some excerpts, with my comments:

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.”

The article didn’t just “suggest” that; basically, all of western society has been outright screaming that at women for decades now. It’s a great disincentive for women to take the proffered control of their own sexual pleasure, because doing so involves intense risks which the woman must bear alone, and if any of those risks manifest themselves, it was her own fault for not being careful enough. It is nice, however, to see a paper like the NYT acknowledge that message, even if it does so from the roots of a big hedge.

Ms. Banfield maintained that gray areas remained one of the most fraught areas in discussions of sexual violence, especially on college campuses. She cited the case of Adam Lack, a Brown University student who in 1996 was accused by a fellow student of sexual misconduct. The accuser said she could not remember the events of the evening but said she was too intoxicated to be able to consciously consent to sex. Mr. Lack maintained that the student had initiated the sexual encounter and that he was not aware she was drunk. No criminal charges were brought, but Mr. Lack was subjected to academic discipline.

This is just one example of how we try to use patented Male Logic(tm). Under this model, it is far more probable that men in these situations, who have every possible reason to lie their fool heads off, are inherently trustworthy while the women in these situations, who have every possible disincentive in the world to ever tell anyone the truth about what happened, are assumed to be lying bitches.

We are making the assumption that when it comes to a man’s story and a woman’s uncertainty, or even her certainty to the contrary in many cases, the obvious choice for our benefit of the doubt is the dude. Even when said dude’s story is obviously suspect. Case in point: “he was not aware she was drunk”. Oh, come on. How stupid are we expected to pretend to be in order to give these guys a pass? If she was so inebriated that she can’t remember events except for a fuzzy impression and the distinct emotional feeling of violation (thus, why she said anything at all about it), how can anyone, from an adult male to a small child to a half-braindead Jack Russel Terrier, not notice any level of intoxication about her? Is this girl such an intense alcoholic that she doesn’t even appear tipsy or carry the scent of alcohol when so drunk as to succumb to backouts?

Not to mention, dude gives away his knowledge with his choice of weasel words. I’ll probably make a post about weasel words sometime, but take it for now that I am an expert, having made liberal use of weasel words in my less-than-illustrious past as a nasty predatory fuckstain. Specifically, look at the phrase “was not aware she was drunk”. I can only assume that means he said something to the effect of “I didn’t know she was drunk!”, because if he maintained she was not drunk, he would have said “she wasn’t drunk!” and the article would have said “Mr. Lack maintained that the student… was not drunk.”

A natural reaction to being told “That girl you fucked was drunk as a skunk” when you had no evidence to that effect, so much so that you believe having sex with her to be a perfectly ethical act, would be to say something to the effect of “No she wasn’t; she was sober!” Because if you don’t know she’s drunk, you’ll perceive her as sober, and thus your reality will conflict with what you are being told. And, as a male, our reality is always right, so we endeavor, as a first instinct, to correct the person who is presenting an untrue version of reality by providing the real one. Imagine:

A: “Dude, that car is stolen.”
B: “No way! I bought that car from Joe, and I’ve known him since I was 4!

vs.

A: “Dude, that car is stolen.”
B: “I didn’t know this car was stolen!”

vs.

A: “Dude, that car is stolen.”
B: “I had no way to know that car was stolen!”

Which, dear readers, is the more believable response? The one where a man corrects an obviously incorrect version of reality by contesting it with his own, or the ones in which a man immediately accepts the opposing reality as true and moves right into denial of responsibility?

To my experienced ears, the weasel words “I didn’t know she was drunk” are a strong indicator that he did, in fact, know she was drunk and is simply playing the “plausible deniability” (which, in this case, is not even plausible) card too early in the hand.

Many studies have shown that rapes often do not involve physical violence or coercion, because the mere threat or potential for physical harm is enough to make victims submit,

I can’t express how happy I am to see this statement in print in a major mainstream news publication like the NYT, even though I wish they had given a cite or two for the studies. This is the absolute truth; a simple, pseudo-threatening display can turn the tide of an argument or otherwise get a man what he wants out of a woman, even if he is incapable by lack of physical or mental means to actually hurt the woman, for the simple reason that other men will hurt her, she knows it, and doesn’t want to find out if you’re one of them.

So, dudes, when you “get so angry” that you “have to” turn and punch the wall, or throw an object across the room, or pull your shoulders back, run your hand through your hair in a choppy aggrivated motion, narrow your eyebrows, drop your voice a couple of octaves until it’s a deep gravelly growl, and say something nasty and quasi-threatening, you’re using the fact that she knows other men will hurt her, and is uncertain whether or not you will, to get whatever you’re going for, be it sex, silence, or whatever.

So, again, it makes me really happy to see this kind of statement made so openly in the mainstream news media.

…studies have shown that women’s sexual interactions do not change appreciably if they have been drinking and that serial rapists maintain (inaccurately, of course) that their victims did not resist and in fact wanted to be raped. She said that the discussion of alcohol “is endemic of how we blame women,”

More goodness I completely agree with. Rapists always contend that their victim was consenting. And yet somehow, we always make the determination that the guy we’re specifically speaking to must be telling the truth, because, duh, why would men lie about rape?

“Men use alcohol all the time to ply their dates, whether they are drunk or not,” Dr. Gentile said. “It is the way in which they get their dates to be submissive enough to get raped.”

Yes, yes, yes! Alcohol makes women submissive, incommunicative, and unable to resist even the smallest amount of physical force. Men are very familiar with this property of alcohol, and frequently express it in the common “humorous” rhyme: “Candy is dandy, buy liquor is quicker”.

Dr. Gentile said that rape is one of the crimes least likely to be falsely reported and one of the crimes for which prosecutors find it most difficult to secure a conviction. “I see on average two women a week for what is obviously a rape,” she said, and yet in five years, none of the students has ever decided to press charges and bring a case in the law-enforcement system — even at a college that is dedicated to studying criminal justice.

I have nothing to say about this sad, disturbing fact, except that it needs as much exposure as possible.

Mr. Laurino said that Dr. Lisak’s research showed that even the “nice guy next door” will use alcohol strategically. “The predator uses alcohol because they know it’s going it impair the credibility of the victim, which is extremely important,” he said.

This is something I haven’t heard discussed enough, even among feminist circles: that whether or not alcohol is used in sufficient quantities to cause impairment, its presence in even the smallest amounts dramatically topedoes a woman’s credibility. If booze is present, and a woman claims she was raped, it was either her fault for drinking (“what did she expect?”) or else she just got drunk, had a bad hookup, and is crying rape now. And men, since they hang out with the “what did she expect?” crowd, and occasionally watch the news, know this. So they use it.

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.”

This is yet another nugget that needs to be said more often in national mainstream news. Privilege and entitlement are subjects that must must must be discussed on a far broader level than they actually are.

Now, of course, we have to balance out the good with the stupid. That’s right, folks, the comments to the article. I’ve chosen a few select examples to pick apart or praise, as the case warrants, but the overall tone decreased my IQ points by about 20. I hope I’ll recover before tomorrow morning.

Um, just don’t get drunk. Then you can know when you say no.

— Posted by JRM

Why don’t we tell men to not get drunk, so they always know how intoxicated a woman is and don’t get caught by false rape claims? Oh, right, because we’re implicitly admitting that men do, in fact, rape drunk women and a woman’s only defense is to stay sober and voluntarily deny herself liberties that men take for granted and can use with little consequence.

There needs to be (if not already in place) a legal definition (and associated penalties) for women ‘raping’ men.

— Posted by Adam

Because we can’t have a discussion about rape if we’re not devoting 50% of our time and energy to 0.0003% of the problem.

(I had the actual number lying around on my harddrive somewhere, if I can fish it out I’ll stick it up here)

And this one’s really scary: “Many studies have shown that rapes often do not involve physical violence or coercion, because the mere threat or potential for physical harm is enough to make victims submit, she said.” What if the perceived threat isn’t real? Can a man be raping a woman and not even know it?

— Posted by AJNY

Most of the time, I’d be willing to bet, the pervceived threat isn’t “real” as men define “real”, which is to say the dude doesn’t believe he’s even making a threat. Men are often pretty ignorant of how often they engage in all the non-verbal cues of dominance and threat display, like moving into another person’s space, enlarging the visual perception of the chest, leaning foward, giving a “smile” that bears one of the canine teeth (as opposed to the incisors), making direct eye contact, putting a hand on her hand (dominance position) or her arm or shoulder (leverage position) and saying in an even, quiet tone (the primate equivalent of a growl) “But I thought you liked me.”

Talk about using a fear-up harsh technique to put a poor woman into the limbic state, where blood rushes away from the higher cognitive brain or rational thought and into the sympathetic nervous system of instinctive self-protection by the safest means! Even if a woman doesn’t consciously recognize those indicators as threat signals, her lizard brain has been evolving in the human “carnivorous pack primate” dynamic for a couple million years now, and it will most definitely respond by hitting the little button labelled “Red Alert” and hitting the hillariously mis-named “fight-or-flight” mode.

Why is it mis-named? Because it was named from a male perspective. There are actually several ways the mind can react to danger on an instinctive level; it will take what it perceives to be the least-dangerous path out of that danger. Men like to assume they they are faced with the choice to either evade the danger, or kick the danger’s ass. Of course, “play dead” is also an option. When we hit the limbic state, we do whatever it is we’ve been trained over and over and over to do, which is why things like self-defense classes emphasize reptition and muscle memory. That way, the proper actions and reactions will be taken automatically, without you having to think about it cognitively… since, well, you can’t.

Men are trained, by society and culture and media, to respond to unfamiliar situations with agression and violence. Often that agression and violence ends up looking pretty humorous to bystandars, for instance, watching a fist fight between two untrained drunk dudes. Not exactly cirque du soleil there, let me tell you.

Women, by contrast, are told over and over again from childhood, by parents, culture, and media, that they’re expected to submit, obey, and quietly do what they’re told. Thus, when faced with danger, especially from human threat display, that’s the path most womens’ limbic brains will take to remove the danger. It’s not a free-will choice made with the cognitive brain, but an instinctive reaction to overt signs of agressive threat, coupled with societal training.

Wow, that was one hell of a digression. Anyway…

My complaint is that I spent so much time reading this article to the end. Are there really so many parents who don’t tell their daughters facts which have been around for a million years or more?

— Posted by paul st pierre

I’d like to hear this man actually articulate these mysterious facts. My suspicion is that they include “men will rape you if you let your guard down”.

Another thing everyone forgets is that young adults, including women, think they can take care of themselves. However, honest women have been overpowered, assaulted, and in some cases killed while stone cold sober. Amazingly enough, if and when the perpetrator is caught, it always was “consentual sex.’

— Posted by Joan

Hooyah, Joan!

As far as men using alcohol to “ply their dates” it seems to me that I rarely see men, at least in a college environment, not drink as well. Why is it that it is always the men who are viewed as the rapists in these cases, even when their judgment has been equally impaired too.

— Posted by Pedro

I will say this: It requires a lot more agency, that is to say, more conciousness, more decision-making ability, and less physical impairment, to stick a penis into someone than it does to lay there and have a penis stuck into you. If you have the cognitive ability to remove your clothes, take your dick out, and manuver it into a woman, you are probably sober enough to consent to sex. On the other hand, there’s no way to tell how much more or less sober a woman may be when she’s just laying there naked. Thus why men have the greater responsibility in cases of inebriation: if they’re sober enough to get it up, get it out, and get it in, they’re probably more sober than the other party, even if they claim blackouts are involved.

Unfortunately, that’s not worded as cleanly as I’d like it to be, but it will kind of have to do for now.

I think what is being recommended is in an extension of the statutory rape law- ie you cannot have sex with someone who’s blood alcohol level is great than ‘x’.

— Posted by John T

That’s an excellent idea, and I think it should be implemented immediately.

According to those quoted in this article, men should take responsibility to superhuman levels of mind-reading and telepathic blood-alcohol analysis.

— Posted by Jeff Weiss

No, although you’d like to think that so it gets you out of having to change your behavior. All men should really take responsibility for is keeping their collective dicks in their collective pants until they can ask consent from a sober woman. If she wants to have sex with you drunk, she’ll probably want to have sex with you when she’s sober too. If not, do you really think it’s your right to have sex with her anyway?

If someone can’t remember what they said the night before, and can’t remember the sexual act… then that falls under the category of “morning after remorse.” If it was truly rape, there wouldn’t be any “gray area” about it, as anyone who has been raped will surely tell you.

— Posted by Shawn

Weasel word alert: the last line indicates very clearly that this man has had no experiences with rape or rape victims whatsoever, regardless of what he says after being called out on it. If he had any credibility to establish, he would have lost no time establishing it rather than waiting for someone to ask.

As for the rest of it, perhaps he should be pointed to the studies that show how the brain fails to properly encode experiences into memory when flooded with cortisol during the limbic state. These are called “shadowy memories”. To quote Army interrogator Gregory Hartley:

“If you aren’t trained to think under stress and, for example, you’re raped or captured, your brain has the capacity to create shadowy memories. The limbic system transfers information into memory – that’s normal – but, if that happens in a highly emotional state, then the way you recall the memory could happen in unpredictable ways.” – Hartley and Karinch, How to Spot a Liar, Career Press, 2005, p.39

Which means that an inability to clearly remember events may not even be due to the alcohol, but to the DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones that drench the brain during highly charged danger situations.

Ok, maybe this whole issue has been confused by using the term “rape” when a better one would be “unconsentual sex.”

— Posted by T in NOLA

Wow. Just wow. Talk about a cognitive disconnect.

Mentioned time and again is the idea that a woman will “cry rape” merely because she had consensual sex and had “regrets.”

Does that really make any sense at all? Given that it is almost impossible to get a rape conviction in this country, why would anyone frivolously accuse somebody of rape? Especially a stranger.

“Ew, you’ve got a lot of moles. My friends will make fun of me forever if I don’t do something. I know! I’ll simply accuse you of rape and open myself to intense and unfair scrutiny of my sexual history so that you can walk away scot-free anyway!”

— Posted by Elizabeth

Good call, Elizabeth!

I saved this next quote for last, because it properly sums up everything in a single, succint, beautiful sentence:

Just to clarify — by “Gray Rape” we just mean that we don’t believe the woman, right?

— Posted by Deborah

And that’s exactly the truth.

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2 Responses to “No Shades of Gray”

  1. brodyxhasxskills said

    Love this article!!! These insensitive men quoted in your article need a wake up call!
    Hello, I mean, these women could be their mother, wife, etc.
    What if their wife went to a supermarket at night, and was kidnapped and raped while she was coming back? What would they do then? Bitch about what a slut she was because she supposedly had sex with a man but regretted it???

    Wow. Talk about disconnected with reality.

    But yeah, so great post. You hit the nail right on the head. I mean, I thought about this for a while, but I never could articulate it. GREAT JOB!

  2. stormy said

    I was well aware that some male sexual predators used alcohol to make their victims compliant (without the need for force), but your point that some actually use it because they (actively) know their victim won’t be believed, was a good one.

    The issue is never whether the victim was drunk/sober, but whether the victim was raped or not.

    I like your “weasel words” term 😛

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