Hi, I'm Kelly McGillis, and I'm hare to talk to you about rape.
Ladies, look to your left.
Now look to your right.
Statistics indicate that both of those men will rape you.
--Family Guy S4E15, "Brian Goes To College"
I make a point of reading Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail every Saturday. I rarely agree with her, which is why I read her. Today's column, which is about yes and no, provokes anything but a clear-cut reaction for me.
"Can she agree to sex after drinking?" Wente asks. That's thorny.
First off, I should get my bona fides up front here where people can see them. I remarked to Eva last night, not for the first time, that a heavily disproportionate number of my friends are of the female persuasion, Ironic, in an Alanis Morissette kind of way, for a guy who couldn't catch the eye of a woman for so long, for friendship or anything else. "I think it's because you're seen as a safe man", she said, then stammered a little, thinking I'd interpreted 'safe' as 'sexually repulsive'.
I hadn't, actually: I knew she meant 'happily married', and I am that. But my reputation for safety extends back long before I met Eva. I am the man who has slept with women -- that's plural, as in two different woman, years apart -- without so much as kissing them, and by 'slept with' I mean "got into bed, fell asleep, woke eight hours later and got out of bed'. In some alternate universe wherein Eva didn't exist I'd be perfectly capable of doing that with any number of close female friends. Doesn't matter if they believe that or not: it's true. If that's not 'safe', I don't know what is.
No, it's sexual repulsiveness. Shut up, peanut gallery.
Would I, again speaking entirely hypothetically, do that after alcohol had been consumed by either or both of us? An emphatic 'no' to that. I have very limited experience with alcohol, but I have been drunk enough, and suffered the consequences of so being, that I don't trust myself inebriated and I wouldn't ask anyone else to trust me either. (Actually, 'suffered' is too harsh; I enjoyed some of those consequences, and that's what frightens me.)
Okay, let's drop the 'cuddle/sleep' scenario and substitute this one: Again, you're not married, you've never met Eva. You're sober. A woman you know is tipsy or drunk and she throws herself at you, just oozing sex. "Give me a tour of your ceiling", she breathes into your ear. Now what?
Now I'd assume she'd have had to drink to do such a thing. Probably on a dare or something. Low self-esteem reinforces that 'safe' vibe. See how that works? In any event, I'd never under any circumstance get anywhere near a bed or any other horizontal surface with an intoxicated woman. Too much of a chance for serious regret on her part.
But I'm weird. I've spent the last ten years telling you that, haven't I? Most men seem to view alcohol as foreplay. Consent does get a little difficult to assess when one or both parties aren't themselves.
What if the woman is the sort--and there are more than a few of this sort--who would like to have sex with you, but sex in general is a Big Deal for her and it demands some Dutch courage? If she drinks to vanish her inhibitions, is that consent? And how would you know that was her purpose?
"Any unwanted sexual attention is tantamount to rape", we boys are told, starting before some of us even think of girls as anything other than yucky. We're also told that virtually every woman we'll ever met has been the object of unwanted sexual attention at some point in her life. I long ago determined that in my personal moral code, rape is a far worse crime than murder...because I can think of several instances wherein murder is morally justifiable, and I can't even begin to imagine a defence for rape in any context.
Wente questions the prevailing wisdom that most women have been sexually assaulted--which is something only a woman can get away with doing. I know the plural of anecdote is not data, but I've met more than a few survivors of rape...and I've also been a not-so-keen observer of male behaviour, on college campuses and elsewhere. Frankly, it amazes me more women aren't raped, given the level of boorishness on display and the amount of alcohol sloshing around university dorms. It makes the news, reliably, twice a year: at Frosh Week and again around Finals Week. But I can assure you that it's not like the douchebaggery just bubbles up at the beginning and end of a term. I've lived through it and I was lucky to escape first year with my sanity. Trust me, university males drink to excess on days ending in -y and as for sex? It's like starving men and food, it's all they ever talk about.
(The year I arrived at Wilfrid Laurier was the year the panty raids were first prohibited. That was a tradition that dated from the university's inception and I don't doubt the female half of the student body was glad to see it end. The male half, though...they were pissed. There were protests.)
So yes, as a rule I'm all in favour of anything that clarifies consent and minimizes unwanted sexual attention. However, I would suggest this More Than Yes campaign makes legal sex virtually impossible. Enthusiastic consent, given continuously at every stage in the process? Does that mean she must scream out your name and give play-by-play? Silence means no, does it? Maybe she doesn't want her room-mate to know what she's up to.
I'm exaggerating...slightly. But the truth is that these guidelines actually do make virtually every man a rapist at some point in his life. Certainly not by intent, but there are times when one partner may not be fully into sex at first, or even at all, and still agrees to it out of a sense of obligation. Under these rules, that's rape. Should it be?
To say nothing of the fact that any woman can utterly destroy a man's life with an intimation of sexual assault that she conflated out of an innocent touch...or nothing at all. (Whereas a man can't be the object of unwanted sexual attention...everyone knows men want sex all the time, from everyone.)
As a man, I find the whole issue of consent to be frankly intimidating. I'm glad I'm not on the dating block nowadays...I'd be awfully tempted to carry sexual consent forms with me ("the aforementioned agrees to ____first base ___second base ____third base ____ a grand slam ____ a relief pitcher by the fifth inning". The problem there, though, is that the mere sight of a sexual consent form could be seen as an act of aggression. Better, maybe, to just let the woman dictate every step. And if she's not willing or able to do so, since women are still heavily indoctrinated into thinking that asking for sex makes you a whore? Well, then I guess nobody's having sex tonight.