Monday, October 15, 2007

Rape in its' Myriad Forms

There is a lot of discussion right now going on around rape, prosecution of rape, and the term "gray rape" which Feministing labels a bullshit term.

I agree it is a bullshit term if it's used in any way to describe the action of rape, or what rape is.

However, as you will see from some of these posts, gray rape as a term has some importance when it comes to describing how people who are raped react to that rape, how they feel about it, and how they define it.

With that in mind, read on.

Un-Cool: The Grey Area
Fact is, it is so easy to say that if you don't want it, it's rape. Pure and simple. But what about what is feels like? Did it feel like rape or not? This is where the whole process starts, so it's important to engage with that.

Confessions of a College Callgirl: The Number is 8
I have been sexually assaulted more than once. Each time that it happened to me, I felt that extenuating circumstances kept it from truly being rape. I was working as a prostitute, he was my boyfriend, I was drunk, I got in the car. I never believed that I had fought hard enough. I made excuses for the men who hurt me; I told myself "he didn't know what he was doing." When I spoke about my experiences with sexual assault (which I did very rarely), I would say only that “a lot of bad things have happened to me.”

The Naked Truth: Not Asking For It
We are told that rape isn't sex, it's violence. So when rape occurs in a situation where sex is customary, or implied, or possible, rather than in a dark alley with a knife held to our neck by a stranger in a raincoat, we question whether it really was rape. We want to give the benefit of the doubt, because we don’t want to think that someone we know is capable of rape, and we don’t want to admit that we put ourselves in a position where we were able to be taken advantage of. If nothing else, it challenges our perception of ourselves as independent beings, able to take care of ourselves, and to live without fear.

No, Or Maybe Yes
These men were not “rapists”, of course. They backed off after a bit of scratching and kicking and yelling – they had no plans to actually harm me. They just thought they wouldn’t mind fucking me if I could be scared into shutting up and lying still.

Feministe: On Rape and Power
And that’s the problem — rape, as most people understand it, is an act of extreme violence perpetuated by a stranger. Even the term “date rape” paints a picture of a woman attacked by a male friend. Women themselves have difficulty identifying their own experiences as rape...But the definition of rape itself is a sticky one — not because the concept is actually difficult, but because of all of our assumptions and prejudices when it comes to sex, courtship and gender relations. If your idea of sex is something that women have and men want, and your idea of courtship is men trying to somehow “get” the sex that women are so selfishly withholding, then situations like this — where women voluntarily go out with men who later rape them — are just part of the deal.

There are more but these are the ones I have been reading.

And the guys being talked about in the last two quotes have got to come to understand that they are fucking rapists!

To complicate the matter further, there is the role of communication between regular sexual partners and the issue of rape as a fantasy. A common fantasy for many women. What place does this aspect of our sexuality have in the rape discussion? Or is that a different topic for a different day?

No, Or Maybe Yes
I say no, and I expect the person hearing it to work out if it's a No, don't even think about it, or a No, but let's talk about it, or No, not now, maybe some other time, or a No, OK, go on, try it, and we’ll see. I sometimes have a tendency to scream No! Just before I orgasm - I do rather rely, in that case, on the other person NOT saying: “Oh, OK, honey, I’ll stop doing that now”.

Dominatrix Next Door: Not Ready To Tell My Number
I could not believe how helpless they seemed in thrall to their desires. Teasing terrified me. I felt as if I were playing with fire, that tease (which they were paying me for) was tantamount to consent to sex. Bound they couldn’t touch me, and they couldn’t force me, and I could provoke them as much as I wanted. Bondage was freeing — on them, for me.

How horribly, ironically ass-backwards that I felt empowered about not being raped.

Eileen: When "No" is Not a Safeword
This distinction needs to be made. Not just in BDSM; everywhere, to everyone. Teach a child that having a fantasy does not mean they’ve consented to the reality, and maybe that child will grow up able to recognize rape...

Why don’t we teach all children and adults what safewords mean? We ignore the issue of consent, assuming that our children will grow up knowing their own rights and the rights of others. We assume that “no” is a safeword, when almost any kinky person will tell you that you cannot assume your safewords.

Feminist Review: Time Out New York; Sex Issue
Let me just first say that rape is not sexy.

How do I feel about all this? It's such an important issue and yet... I feel almost worthless weighing in. I've never been put in this position. I've never been raped, molested, or even harassed more though a cat call here and there. I don't think I have the right to pass judgment on other people's experiences... But here's the thing... Read Jezebel's account of the Jeffrey J. Marsalis case. I go back and forth, all of these posts I've highlighted are incredibly well thought out and each add something to the conversation, especially where they disagree with each other. I also understand that "gray rape" might really be the appropriate term for people's reactions to their own experiences. And that the concept of "gray rape" being in existence might help them explain their feelings on those experiences.

But what about people outside this generally supportive circle of feminists and sex positive people?

What about those people who don't have any conception of what it means to blame the victim?

What about those potential rapists in the population (and the lawyers who will defend them)?

Are we setting a dangerous precedent by accepting there is any gray area?


  1. Thanks for highlighting these various posts. I haven't got round to responding to the comments on my blog yet, but did want to reply to this: I think there are inherent dangers to giving too much importance to the gray areas, and I say that as one who has been profoundly affected by the gray. my fear is that by giving too much legal importance to the gray, we diminish the violence of uncontested rape.

    That probably sounds pathetically wishy-washy, but I think we do a disservice by giving equal weight to all degrees of rape and assault. Which is not to say that the harm done by the lighter shades of gray should be unacknowledged: we need far more support for women in this situation.

  2. I don't think that's wishy washy. I think it's essentially the same conclusion I came to.

    Within these supportive communities I think this is a valid concept. And obviously something about the black and white way that rape is portrayed is not getting the message across. The amount of women who don't consider their rapes to in fact be rapes attest to that.

    But legally? Legally fact is that sex you don't consent to is rape, and the legal system needs to take that more seriously. Because honestly? They're failing us. They're failing the victims on both sides, rapes and false allegations. It seems like every time I turn around the right person isn't getting the consequences, and they've made up some new bullshit law that will have all sorts of consequences that does nothing to get men like that fucking Marsalis behind bars.

  3. I am very glad that you posted this. Very often I feel that rape is rape, there is no grey area and suggesting that there is will create legal leeway for rapists.

    However, I also understand that the language we have is very limiting. No one wants to be a 'victim' and yet that is how we describe women who have been assaulted. I sympathize with their desire not to be seen as victims by denying that they were violated, but it is just so problematic. Perhaps the change we need is more language but 'grey rape'E is just not good enough.


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