"I Dunno, He Was A Bit Rapey"

I read a blog called Seriously Shiny, which you should probably check out, although the writer is an American and so some of her posts are things about which I know nothing and which are not at all relevant to us in the UK. And recently several of her posts have been about an incident at Yale in which frat boys, in some sort of offensive hazing ritual, marched blindfold around a (largely female) hall of residence courtyard shouting obscene things like ‘no means yes, yes means anal’ and others.

Personally I do find this highly offensive, and Shine takes the view that it is completely unacceptable, and in many ways I have to say I agreed with her (I’m not sure if I still do or not) until I read an article on Jezebel to which she linked, with which she did not agree. Shine’s take on this is that the article urges us to ‘Chalk this one up to boys being boys, because they were obviously just trying to get attention’, but I’m not sure that’s what it says at all. The writer of the article, Ms North, clearly thinks what happened was offensive and it’s clearly symptomatic of a deeply disturbing attitude held by many young male American students – but it was also clearly an attention-seeking manouvre and ‘a ridiculous and desperate attempt to bait anyone willing to take it seriously’. Which just means that ‘Yale students…fall into stereotypical campus roles – frat boys say dumb things, feminists get mad, frat boys apologize (we’re sure they’re really sorry), nobody learns’.

The thing is, it’s not things like this that are outrageous. It is, after all, a plea for attention – but it is symptomatic of a far more insidious trend in which rape is treated as something which is humourous, and not just in the way that dead baby jokes are seen as funny. I have no problem with humour which is funny simply because it is deeply politically incorrect. Humour which knows it has leapt well over the line. I can’t possibly say that jokes about dead babies or Madeleine McCann or horrible diseases which I encounter in my textbooks are completely OK, but that jokes made in a similar vein about rape and sexual violence are not acceptable.

This does put me in a position which seems to confuse some men in which certain varieties of rape joke will pass me, completely above board, I’ll laugh, everyone’s happy. And then someone will say something casually like ‘H raped a girl last night’, and that’s not funny. That’s an old example, to anyone who has ever talked to me in real life or heard that tale before, but it’s the clearest example I have to hand. The girl in question turned up at H’s house utterly wasted one night whilst he was entirely sober, and he had sex with her when she really was too drunk to consent or otherwise. And this was seen as hilarious by H’s friends, as well as, presumably, H himself.

To clarify: sex with a girl too drunk to consent was seen, by girls and guys alike, as hilarious, and I find it pretty troubling that everyone thought that was absolutely fine. Because it is surely exactly the same as if someone had given her Rohypnol, and then H had found her passed out due to said Rohypnol and instead of making sure she got home safe or calling an ambulance, he had gone on to have sex with her.

So it’s not that there’s a ‘rape culture’ per se, it’s more almost exactly the opposite. Society’s definition of what constitutes rape is actually getting more and more narrow – and what constitutes ‘informed consent’ is getting broader and broader. No wonder the conviction rate is so low. No wonder so few women even consider pressing charges – it’s not that they don’t think those charges will stick, but that we ourselves as women have such experiences and then chalk them down as being both our fault and entirely regretful but not in any way immoral, let alone criminal, on the part of the man.

And yes, you’re right, C. There is very little way to write about this kind of thing without sounding like a hysterically hairy Scary Feminist, and I am not one of those.

Read this whole post again, and try and imagine a gay man in place of every woman noted here. Or, try and imagine the gender roles reversed. Imagine a drunk friend of mine turned up at my house. Imagine that perhaps subconsciously he does rather like me, and imagine that I don’t like him like that in return, but he turns up at my house drunk, and I invite him in, and instead of allowing him to pass out on the sofa, I take off his clothes and have sex with him (imagine also for a second that biology is an irrelevance – obviously if he was as drunk as this girl apparently was he’d not be able to get an erection). Imagine that, the next day, I joked about the situation with my housemates. How would that not completely outrage you?

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28 responses to “"I Dunno, He Was A Bit Rapey"

  1. Mia

    Oh, here we go with the rape jokes…again. Seriously, it’s just tasteless now.

    And anyway, I don’t really understand how one can differentiate between a joke that would go “completely over the board” and at which one would laugh, and a joke that is not OK. What is it that makes them different? And is that not a bit of a double standard?

    I personally wouldn’t laugh at any of those (don’t find them all that amusing) but I know many people would, and quite frankly I think it’s insulting (to the victims, at the very least!) and I don’t think those jokes are OK. It’s like you say, Jenny – what if the roles were reversed, and it was a guy getting raped by some girl he stumbled upon whilst inebriated? Would it still be hillarious?
    Probably not.

    And no, before anyone attacks me, I am not a Germaine Greer follower. I just don’t find rape funny, in any case, ever.

  2. See, I can’t think of many examples, but I know I have laughed in the past at jokes themed around rape. I also know I have laughed at other inappropriate things. I think this is one of hte ways human beings process the utterly horrible, by laughing at it. And so when an integral part of the humour of something is its total inappropriateness, that’s kind of OK – but when instead it’s examples like the above, that’s not OK. I think it’s something one grows out of – after all, I can’t see my parents finding jokes about dead babies or cancer paticularly amusing – but I think that applies to similarly themed rape jokes, too. I wouldn’t find those kinds of things amusing if the people making those jokes – my friends – weren’t entirely aware of their inappropriateness and shock value.

    I don’t think we can say, therefore, that jokes made in that way are not OK, because I think it’s a way of coping with the bad things in the world. I know that since my gran’s death and funeral, I’ve had to bite my tongue so many times rather than making quite grimly dark jokes about the whole thing. Because it is a way of processing the bad in this world.

    However jokes which make rape out to be sort of acceptable, or which diminish the seriousness of the subject – they are not OK. I think that’s at least what I’ve tried to say here.

  3. Clare

    I’ve utterly failed to bite my tongue when wishing to express recently-deceased-grandparent related gallows humour, something I imagine I’ll have to be perhaps more conscious of when back in the bosom of the family… because you’re right, it helps to rationalise it. It almost helps to remind myself that yes, she is gone.

    Moving onto the Rape Jokes Rage. Because, as we were just saying on the phone, the issue with ‘rape jokes’ is not that it’s somehow an issue magically declared to be UNACCEPTABLE TO JOKE ABOUT in a way that child-murder is allowed to be funny. It’s more to do with the fact that you pointed up, which is that to be honest, we live in a society in which the context for rape jokes is extremely dodgy. When no-one has a clear idea of what constitutes consent; when a significant proportion of young men interviewed would have sex with a woman whilst she was asleep, too drunk to consent, or drugged; when a significant proportion of young men think that non-consensual sex (or rape) is acceptable when the girl has been flirting, or has initiated some form of lesser sexual contact, and when the population at large agree; when over 100,000 rapes or sexual assaults occur every year in our country but only 6% of those ever result in a conviction, making a joke about it is somehow more problematic. Because unlike cancer, or child murder, or AIDs jokes (not that I’ve heard many of those) which we can all agree, and probably (hopefully!!) all do agree are morally wrong, rape somehow remains ambiguous.

    Whereas with rape, it’s almost as though the definition of rape is based on an outdated or sensationalist conception of the crime as a stranger in a mask who jumps out from behind a bush. Fewer than 17% of all rapes are committed by strangers to the victim, and fewer than 13% of rapes or sexually-motivated attacks occur outdoors. But the reality of rape as something more pernicious and ultimately less out-of-the-blue and violent is somehow unrecognised in our society. And because of this mythologising of rape into something different to what the overwhelming majority of cases reflect, somehow the morality of rape and sexual crimes have been allowed to become a ‘grey area’. Like, she was wearing a short skirt, so she ought to have expected it. She invited him in, what did she think was going to happen?

    Rape is not like a sudden rainfall. You can’t take an umbrella and hope that you don’t get caught out. 1 in 4 women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. And yet because the conversation about what constitutes rape and what constitutes consent seems to be rarely had with anyone, particularly not young people just embarking on their formative relationships with the world, rape has become – as you said, J – narrowed and narrowed and narrowed down so that what is recognised as rape is almost totally alien to the reality of it.

    On the other hand, ranting at stupid boys like those at Yale isn’t going to change anything. Maybe someone ought to have a quiet, calm word with one or two of them, in a serious context, and hope that their attitudes start to change, but the sad fact is that they are representative of a wider social attitude problem, and the only thing that can change that is wide-spread (calm) education….

    And I hope that wasn’t too much of a rant!

    Cxxx

  4. I find all manner of offensive things funny, but not because it’s shocking, I laugh more for the fact to make jokes in such a manner is pathetic – it’s why I find Cartman so funny. He’s harmless, though, what with being a 2D character and all. It’s those who act like this genius comic creation, who think and act like him without realising the actual joke, without realising what odious morons it makes them to enjoy the shock-factor of making casual jokes about rape as if it were as part of jovial banter as knock-knock jokes and a comical trip over a pothole.
    I think that may be a grammar fail but it’s nearly 2am and I has tireds.
    The frat-stunt angers me more because it makes the act of making rapetastic jokes seem so casual, as if it’s part of a chore for their ever so witty initiation. This plays right into stereotypes of terrible teen comedies, but in reality it means these thoughts are so ingrained in their heads that it’s easy to believe at least one of those twat-sorry-frats (now who’s being so very witty) will be embroiled in the kind of scenario that ties in with what you’re saying – a girl claims she’s raped, and deliberation and speculation occurs. She was drunk, she was dressed like a skank she should have expected it, he wasn’t wearing a mask and there wasn’t thunder, lightning and a menacing orchestral piece soundtracking it for the Lifetime airing.
    Desensitisation to something horrific because ‘it’d be funny bro, we’ll totally upset the scary hairy feminists. We’ll have our wangs out and everything.’
    I can laugh at offensive things because I’m laughing at the idea of saying it without believing you’re playing the fool (does that make sense?) I’m laughing at someone being pathetic. But things like that prank are pathetic. Even Cartman wouldn’t laugh at that.

  5. Antony

    @Clare I think that was very much an argument and very much not a rant. Alas, I shall not be able to make any serious comment about not being in the kitchen… (I don’t seriously believe that by the way; it’s funny because it’s stereotypical sexist).

    I agree entirely with Phill, apart from the bit about Cartman. South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Amaerican Dad et all can all be burnt, every last copy.

    The essence here I think is the beliefs of the person making the joke underneath it all. If someone makes a dead baby joke and somebody else laughs and says “that’s a bit close to the line” and everyone is really thinking that, there’s probably no harm done. Inappropriate, yes, but everyone has pretty much confirmed they think it’s wrong.

    Likewise for rape jokes. You can step over the line, but you have to know it.

    I also think most jokes falling in the deeply over the line but acceptable category are current events jokes, rather than just *about a taboo topic*.

    Unfortunately in this case this is not a joke but an ideal these lads would very much like to be true and or a reflection of their general approach to relationships.

  6. There’s something fun about being risqué, isn’t there? I think you’re wrong, Antony, in claiming that South Park etc. ‘should be burnt, every last copy’. Life would be very dull if every joke were strictly vanilla, if we all discussed the approved topics and no-one ever poked fun at something that makes us all a little bit uncomfortable.

    There’s a little bit of a thrill in pushing the boundaries of acceptable. That magical combination of shocking taboo and high-brow wit is a mainstay of alternative and adult comedy. We like to be offended, just a little bit.

    There’s a line, obviously. There’s a limit to how far you can go; it all depends on the audience, the subject matter and how funny your joke actually is. You wouldn’t make cancer jokes to a cancer victim. You wouldn’t make ‘your mum’ jokes to an orphan. That line can be hard to judge. There are casualties. Jokes fall flat. Sometimes jests about rape get told to feminists.

    I believe that the frat boys severely misjudged the placement of that ‘line’. I’m sure their escapades were fucking hilarious when they planned it. H’s friend apparently made the same mistake.

    The key point I’m making is that the problem with the really offensive examples is not that they talk about something that absolutely should not be laughed about under any circumstances, but that they’re misjudged and unfunny.

    I might be wrong. Maybe rape is something that really should never be joked about – especially when the definition of ‘acceptable’ is so universally misunderstood.

  7. This evening (well, technically this morning, since I put it on at 1) I’ve been watching “The Life of Brian”. Once upon a time, that was considered to be over the line of what’s acceptable…

    Humour is always subjective; even for jokes that aren’t anywhere near being offensive, any two people will find different things to be funny. For some people (and I include myself here), jokes about “taboo” subjects – like rape – can be very funny. Probably because they are “unacceptable”. Going way past the limit of acceptability can take things into the realm of parody, which is funny.

    I agree with Dom (and disagree with Antony) that those programmes shouldn’t be burned. I’m not a massive fan of South Park, but the other shows all clearly venture into the realm of satire, and can be quite funny (The Simpsons less so, these days). American Dad in particular is very funny.

    Regarding the examples given in the post… Well the frat boys were stupid. As such, I personally don’t find it all that offensive – they are just idiots, and should be treated as such – but I can see why some people might. For the other thing, I really don’t get how anyone can think that having sex with someone too drunk to consent is funny. That’s just wrong.

    By the way:

    “when a significant proportion of young men think that non-consensual sex is acceptable when the girl has been flirting”

    A significant proportion? Really?

  8. Clare

    “A significant proportion? Really?” – I misremembered the survey, which didn’t just talk to young men. According to a 2009 British Government Survey (‘Violence Against Women Opinion Polling’, Home Office, February 2009), “43% of people think a woman should be held responsible or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she was flirting heavily with the man beforehand”.
    Admittedly that’s not saying they think it’s acceptable, that’s saying that they’d blame the victim.

    Here’s another survey:

    “Almost a quarter (23%) of the broad cross-section of the Scottish population (700 interviewees) who took part in research carried out by Progressive on behalf of Rape Crisis Scotland in August 2007 believed that women contribute to rape if they have engaged in some form of sexual activity. This corresponded very closely with other research findings:

    Research conducted by Amnesty International in 2005 found that over a third of people believe that a woman is totally or partially responsible if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner.

    A survey of 986 Scots carried out by TNS System Three in February 2008 for the Scottish Government found that if a woman was flirting before being sexually attacked, 25% of adults under 24 believe she should be held at least partly responsible, but among those aged 65 and over, that rose to 50%.

    Zero Tolerance research carried out in 1998 found that 1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls believed that it was acceptable for a man to force a woman to have sex in certain circumstances.”
    http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk/intimacy/#facts_tab

    So yeah. People do think it’s acceptable. I have seen another study which directly asked young men about when they thought it was ‘acceptable’ to have non-consensual sex (and/or rape) with women who’d been flirting with them or engaged in some form of sexual contact, but I can’t find the citation at the moment.

    I think you’ll find that’s a significant proportion.

  9. Clare

    “Sometimes jests about rape get told to feminists”…

    excuse me? That sort of makes it sound like we’re some sort of hedgehog like minority who can’t take jokes. My problem with certain types of rape joke (which constitute the vast majority of ‘rape humour’ that I come across) are the context in which they’re told. I have no problem with someone standing up and making an outrageous comment because they know full well (and want to expose) how ridiculous that is. The trouble is, that sort of humour is sadly in the minority compared to the sort of jokes which make light of, or in fact laugh at female suffering and the whole issue of violence against women, or – more damagingly, perhaps – perpetuate the idea that either (a) women like to be forced or (b) it is Man’s Prerogative, As A Man, to be able to force someone. That it is Manly and/or laddish behaviour conferring prestige. Can’t think of an example for you, but I’m sure you can imagine the sort of thing. Jen’s anecdote about her friend is close to what I mean – it’s along those lines even if that’s not exactly what I’m gesturing towards.

  10. Hmm.

    Rape jokes are like racist jokes. It is uncontroversial to say that racism is not acceptable, and that it deserves to be treated seriously; but this is not the same thing as saying that it needs to be treated without humour. There is a distinction between jokes that are racist and jokes that are about racism, and whose comic potential energy, if you will (I have yet to come across a decent vocabulary or theoretical framework for talking about jokes, so I’ll just ransack my GCSE physics) derives from queering racism. This is why Jews tell one another so many anti-semitic jokes: because it’s funny. (Or rather, why certain friends of mine – many of my best friends are Jews, ho hum – do so, anyway).

    One of my favourite party tricks, aged about sixteen, as the following joke:

    Q: What’s worse than finding a worm in one’s apple?
    A: The holocaust.

    People are either shocked, or they laugh. Those of us who laugh aren’t failed human beings: we’re laughing at how successfully the joke has managed and sidestepped our expectations. If we can accept this as at least an amoral thing to do (that is, neither morally virtuous or actively immoral), given that the holocaust was, qualitatively and quantitatively, a human atrocity of the first rank, we can accept the same for the following formulation:

    Q: What’s worse than finding a worm in one’s apple?
    A: Rape.

    There is, of course, the matter of sensitivity. I wouldn’t tell the first version of that joke to a holocaust survivor unless I knew them well enough to trust that they’d appreciate it. Likewise, I wouldn’t invite an acquaintance whose widowed mother had just married her former brother-in-law to take up my spare Hamlet ticket unless I knew it wouldn’t hit the wrong spot. But, just as with considering all women past puberty and pre-menopause to be “pre-pregnant”, considering all women as potential rape victims in non-threatening social situations feels like objectification. (And as has been mentioned above, men can be rape victims too).

    I think there is a difference here between the categorically immoral joke and the situationally unethical joke (that is, the joke which is rightly offensive in all situations and circumstances and company and the joke which is inappropriate in certain circumstances). I’m not entirely convinced that the former exists, but it’s a useful fiction. We can say, for example, that

    Q: Why did the man deserve to be beaten?
    A: Because he was Jewish

    might fall closer to it than my first example case. The latter joke is objectionable in a way that the former isn’t because its logic relies on the acceptance of racist logic. To return to the case of the frat-boys, if their joke is supposed to be funny because no does mean yes and yes does mean anal, then it falls closer to the category of “immoral” humour (which is a term I am uncomfortable with, but I have other things to do this morning); if it is supposed to be funny because of the stereotypes it raises, it is “unethical”. Of course offence and comedy are both to be found in the eye of the beholder, which only makes this more complicated…

  11. @Clare There are valid sorts of rape jokes other than those that expressly make a point by being ironic. I’d suggest that Anthony’s example:

    “Q: What’s worse than finding a worm in one’s apple?
    A: Rape.”

    Would be considered reasonably hilarious by many moral human beings. Doesn’t really make much of a point though, does it?

    Furthermore, I’d argue that the humourless way you managed to read so much into one line might prove my point quite effectively. I’m not trying to paint feminists as a fragile minority but rather to evoke the uncomfortable situation so many people have gotten into when an offhand comment gets taken far too seriously in service of one listener’s agenda.

    That’s how arguments start. And how conversations get derailed.

  12. Antony

    Nah, American Dad et all are on a par intellectually with toilet jokes and South Park is roughly HAHA TITS! In short, the humour of a 13-14 year old boy. I don’t do this “oh it’s acceptable for people to watch these things”. Basically it’s all shite. Yeah, it steps over the line… but it’s a controversy competition not something new and refreshing. And please don’t insult satire like that.

    As for those “what’s worse than…” jokes, erm, I’ll try and be polite about this. Again, stupid. Not because they step over the line but because there’s no skill in their telling, no satire of a current political event or social belief, it’s just look I can say beat the jews or whatever. I also have a 10ft penis, and I am the best shag in [location removed].

    Basically this all comes down to a complete lack of maturity. At 19 I was working every day with responsibilities. If I’d got drunk and been caught shouting such things regardless of the criminal outcome I would have been out of a job. I had deadlines to meet, budgets to manage and project managers to keep happy.

    What do these lads have? The arrogance of a 19 year old with absolutely no world experience acting like masters of the universe.

    I’m no killjoy, I just have intellectual standards. With this one I am firmly on the side of the hedgehog.

  13. Clare

    @Dom “Furthermore, I’d argue that the humourless way you managed to read so much into one line might prove my point quite effectively. I’m not trying to paint feminists as a fragile minority but rather to evoke the uncomfortable situation so many people have gotten into when an offhand comment gets taken far too seriously in service of one listener’s agenda.”

    As I said, depends on the [rape] joke in question.

    @Anthony (with an ‘h’) – point taken. My vague fumbling towards what I meant by jokes that are actually ‘acceptable’ (which, I agree, is a problematic term when used concerning humour) was a very feeble attempt to gesture towards what you said more accurately. Sailing close to the wind, done consciously, as in the case of the ‘what’s worse than a worm… etc’ model, or other forms (I’m not going to be specific as that won’t be helpful in this discussion) of jokes and humour is funny. It is good to be able to laugh at horrific things as it’s a human response to situations and issues which cause tension and anxiety or are difficult to rationalise. I occasionally get overcome with giggles when trying to talk about my Gran’s funeral for example. BIt awkward, particularly when I make slightly crass comments about it, but it’s an attempt to come to terms.

    I’m not ‘against’ humour which derives from or mocks rape, as I just said, it’s a tool for coping, for exposing attitudes, or for just lightening a mood, but – as in the case which prompted this discussion – it can either be gratuitous and harmful, or be something indicative of a darker attitude problem. Some people make ‘controversial’ jokes because they know they’re controversial and disagree with the attitudes they’re espousing. Some people make jokes which direct the laughter not at the attitude but at the victim… in a way quite unlike that which you, Anthony, were outlining. Whether that humour is anti-semitic, racist, sexist, homophobic or displaying prejudice in some other form against some other group, sometimes the laughter is invoked at the expense of the sufferer not ‘ironically’ or because ‘we don’t really think this’ but because actually the people there do believe what they’re saying and genuinely think it’s funny. That’s worrying.

    I also more dislike the sort of humour these Yale boys invoked (and which many, many people also utilise because they rather think that by saying something like this they’re being deliberately controversial and/or showing how Adult and Sexually Mature they are) because it is essentially a rather fourteen-year-old, unimaginative and unenlightened response to the whole concept. I don’t believe for a minute that any of them have ever anally raped someone; i’d be surprised if they had. But saying it, because they know they will shock and cause distress to the women living in the block they were parading around, is childish. It’s a very immature gesture of intimidation and could be seen as a way of attempting to assert [masculine] superiority. If you choose to read it in that way, it could perhaps be seen as an indirect form of sexual harrassment, and/or sexual intimidation, which a lot of ‘rapey humour’ is. It’s a way of asserting oneself over one’s audience or companions/people listening in.

    I hope that’s a clearer argument and i’m not coming across as some sort of ‘humourless’ stereotype of myself.

  14. Clare:

    Uh, the stuff you quoted, and the Rape Crisis Scotland study that is mentioned, (which is horrendously bad by the way) do not say that people think rape is acceptable. Frankly I’d be suspicious of any research that does, as it’s something of an extreme conclusion to come to.

  15. Adam

    Re: Yale Guys – what they did was stupid, no doubt – but equally if any of the women there saw it as being sexually menacing or threatening – they are equally moronic.

    Re: Woman are partially to blame for non-consentual sex… after several attempts at find the least inflamatory way of writing my thoughts, I’ve decided not to, beyond saying that I both partially agree and disagree with that sentiment.

    Re: Everything else… Is the implication that making jokes about something is a way of making that something more acceptable?? If I make enough jokes about a controversial subject, will it change attitudes about it?

    No.

    A lot of people, particularly with regards to edgy subjects – take jokes too seriously… If I make a rape joke or a dead baby joke, they look at me like i’ve raped a dead baby… If I, or the company that I’m in, make jokes about the Holocaust, are we saying that genocide is OK? If i make a rape joke, am I condoning rape?

    “I made this wonderful snow figure modelled around my wife. But then the snow melted and she escaped…”
    Did I just make the assertion that it’s OK to imprison a woman??

    In the interest of fairness, my view on dark humour is simple – nothing is off limits… To me, nothing is sacred – everythign is a subject for humour. If people get offended, no big deal – that’s almost the idea, some people will get offended, some will laugh. After all dark humour isn’t everyone’s cup of liquidised dead baby… If you find something offensive, that’s entirely your perogative – but just because you’re offended, that doesn’t give you the right to tell me what I can or can’t say; or what I can or can’t find funny.

  16. No, I think the studies Clare is pointing us to actually highlight how little people know about what does or does not constitute rape or valid consent. It also highlights peoples’ attitudes about sex and women and the complete lack of empathy and understanding people display. These surveys (some, admittedly, better-conducted than others, show that a significant number of people think that ‘non-consensual sex is acceptable when the girl has been flirting’ – which shows that they’ve basically failed to recognise what it would feel like if they were flirting with someone and then found themselves in a position where they were coerced into having sex with that person when that wasn’t actually what they wanted. The ‘asking for it’ argument is, frankly, repellent. I’m sure Clare will expand upon this point later.

    Meanwhile, Adam:

    Re: ‘Is the implication that making jokes about something is a way of making that something more acceptable??’ You’re entirely missing the point. All that has been said here is that making jokes about a taboo subject in some way helps serve to deal with or process one’s thoughts and feelings about a subject.

    Further, what those Yale lads did, I personally would find very threatening and menacing, however much I knew that their chants weren’t meant seriously. I still would not like to be sitting in my room, as a fresher, hearing men marching about outside chanting that sort of thing. It wouldn’t be acceptable, it would worry me, and it would make me quite anxious about what some of those men really think about women, even if the vast majority are perfectly decent guys.

    Women are NOT partially to blame for non-consensual sex. Sometimes, yes, consent is very much given, and regretted later. It’s sad, but it’s no-one’s fault, per se. If consent is not given then that IS rape, and that IS wrong.

    As for offensive humour, surely the key term there is humour. If all you manage to do is offend your audience/the company you keep, then, frankly, fail. Reconsider the jokes you’re making. If you manage to be genuinely and intelligently witty about something deeply offensive, and the people you’re with find it funny rather than (or, perhaps, as well as) offensive, that’s probably OK.

  17. I’m not really sure that the studies do say that. At least, I’m not sure that the evidence justifies those that do…

    I don’t want to get sidetracked by “blame”. It’s a whole messy topic, and I don’t believe it’s as simple as often made out. I took issue with the idea of “acceptability”, which is a very distinct concept from that of blame (which is almost definitely the wrong word to use, although it’s a lot more provocative and makes better headlines. Not that I’m cynical…). Nothing I’ve read, or have been pointed to now, has backed up the idea that a significant proportion of people think that rape is in any way acceptable.

    I don’t think anyone mentioned “asking for it”, so I’m not sure why you’ve mentioned it.

    For what it’s worth, I also think you’re being slightly unfair on Adam. I certainly didn’t think it was an unintelligent comment. And you shouldn’t presume what other people find funny; I thought the “liquefied baby” line was slightly amusing…

  18. Antony: I’m not convinced that the wormy-apple jokes don’t require any technique – like any joke, they’re improved by a deft delivery. I’d also take issue with your point that they don’t make a comment external to themselves – they’re not funny merely because they’re shocking, but also because when they cause their audience to reflect on the mechanism behind that shock they realise that their conception of ‘bad things’ had been pretty narrowly confined to having eaten a bit of a worm. I’d argue that it’s a pretty sophisticated way of pointing out hypocrisy, pinging the habitual mental firewalls people tend to use to let them get through the day without thinking about all of the terrible things that humans do to one another and pointing out how truly petty most of our day-to-day concerns are – but then it’s my joke, so I would say that…

    ‘With this one I am firmly on the side of the hedgehog.’

    You can never be buggered at all?

    Clare: It is precisely sexual harassment and intimidation. Run it as a thought experiment set at a building site (say) with a mixed workforce and ask a roomful of lawyers what their move would be & I’d imagine that you’d be advised to litigate.

    Adam: Re: Yale Guys – what they did was stupid, no doubt – but equally if any of the women there saw it as being sexually menacing or threatening – they are equally moronic.

    I’m not sure that that’s entirely fair. If we can agree that “no means yes, yes means anal” can be legitimately understood to mean “If consent is given by a person for another person to engage in a particular sex act with them then they have automatically consented to engaging in any sex act desired by the other participant” (that’s the “yes means anal” bit) and “if consent is refused by one person for another person to engage in a particular sex act, then that second person may assume by dint of the consent-apt nature of their mutual situation (i.e. that they were in circumstances such that sex acts were possibly appropriate) that consent is automatic” (that’s the “yes means no” part), then we can also agree that it can be legitimately understood to mean “we (the speakers) believe that we can ignore any limitations you (the listeners) place on the gratification of our (the speakers’) sexual desire by refusing to give your (the listeners’) consent to our (the speakers) engaging in sexual acts with you (the listeners) because you (the listeners) are not capable of withholding consent in such circumstances as have been already described”. If we can agree that (and if we can’t, please tell me which clause you think is mistranslated and I’ll try to clarify it) then we can agree that it can also be translated as “If we (the speakers) engage in sex acts with you (the listeners) without having obtained your (the listeners’) consent it will not be rape because you (the listeners) don’t really understand what withholding consent would be,” or, more simply, “if we (the speakers) wish to interfere with your (the listeners’) bodily integrity we can do so without your (the listeners’) permission, and that’s okay, and there’s nothing you (the listeners) can do to stop us, and you (the listeners) have been warned”. Even disregarding the clearly sexual element of “yes means anal,” that last translation clearly shows that the chants are an explicit threat. With that sexual element, I’d say that it was sexually menacing. And if you can see a group being singled out as the target of those threats (which I will freely admit isn’t entirely explicit in “no means yes and yes means anal,” because men are just as able to be anally raped as women are, although I think there’s a fair argument based on context to suggest that the message is aimed at female students) then legally it’s hate speech and a crime.

    Re: Woman are partially to blame for non-consentual sex… after several attempts at find the least inflamatory way of writing my thoughts, I’ve decided not to, beyond saying that I both partially agree and disagree with that sentiment.

    I’m perfectly happy to agree with you that there are things that individual women may do that may put them at statistically greater risk of being raped. One of those things is not wearing a full suit of plate mail at all times; another is not owning an Alsatian. Are women who fail to do either of these things in any sense to blame if they are raped? That’s clearly a rather silly example. (Warning: the remainder of this paragraph, and the two paragraphs that follow it require a trigger warning.) But let me put it another way. Let us suppose that I am a large, physically powerful male and I encounter a young woman out on the city streets without an escort and not wearing a burqa. I can see that she is an attractive young woman, and I decide that I would like to have sex with her. I overpower her without difficulty and have non-consensual sex with her. Is there any sense in which I am not entirely morally culpable for this crime? Clearly not. Could the woman in question have taken steps to reduce the likelihood of my being in a position to have non-consensual sex with her? Yes: she could have stayed at home, or not left the house without a bodyguard, or at the very least refrained from inflaming my passions by flaunting her flesh where I could see it (the shameless hussy).

    A world in which we blame the victim for encouraging the perpetrator is a very sad world indeed. At no point in my thought-experiment was I coerced into raping my victim. That all potential victims should have the onus put on them to take measures to ensure that they do not present potential criminals with opportunities to commit crimes against their person is a rather anti-social notion. (Consider the case in which the victim of a mugging was told that she was partly to blame because she had not appeared so threatening that her attacker hadn’t taken the risk, or because she had the temerity to possess – and wish to retain – something that her attacker had wanted.)

    That said, if I were to put a sign on my bike that said “Please take this bike! Love and kisses, The Owner,” and then complain that it had been stolen, I would be laughed out of court. And it might be said that a woman (because it is almost always a woman) who was dressed in a manner clearly intended to be sexually provocative and who was making sexually explicit comments and generally behaving in a manner suggesting that she wanted nothing more than for somebody – anybody – to use her body to gratify their lusts was metaphorically wearing a sign that said “Please rape me! Love and kisses, Me,” and that any complaints she might have about being raped ought to be treated in the same way. There is, however, one important factor: nobody can give consent to being raped. This is pretty tautologous: rape is sex without consent; sex with consent is consensual sex. And this is true in all and any circumstances. If I were to be having sex with my girlfriend and she were to ask me to stop and I didn’t, that would be non-consensual sex. That would be rape. The “sex – consent = rape” rule is pretty easy to remember. There are no circumstances in which I might get confused and think “sex – consent = rape” and “sex – consent = sex + consent”: in circumstances in which I ignore that knowledge, it’s entirely my fault and I am the person who has done the bad thing. That the victim happened to be hot and naked and conveniently already tied to a bed are hardly mitigating factors.

    Re: Everything else… Is the implication that making jokes about something is a way of making that something more acceptable?? If I make enough jokes about a controversial subject, will it change attitudes about it?

    No.

    A lot of people, particularly with regards to edgy subjects – take jokes too seriously… If I make a rape joke or a dead baby joke, they look at me like i’ve raped a dead baby… If I, or the company that I’m in, make jokes about the Holocaust, are we saying that genocide is OK? If i make a rape joke, am I condoning rape?

    I think in some circumstances, the implication of a joke is that views it expresses are acceptable. Suppose after my first day at my new job I’m invited to the pub with my new colleagues. After a few pints, one of them tells a joke that I find quite offensive: ‘What should you do if you see a Liberal Democrat lying bleeding in the road in your rear-view mirror? … Reverse back over her, of course!’ If I laugh, I am signalling that I too agree that running over Liberal Democrats is appropriate and entertaining. Of course, condoning violence is hardly the same as perpetrating violence… But if I happen to be a closet or even a proud Liberal Democrat, I am put in a rather delicate position. Either I can make a scene and make a terrible impression on my new colleagues (or, if they’ve had quite a lot to drink, risk a brawl) or I can pretend to laugh along (signalling that I agree with running over Liberal Democrats, and that I will continue to find such jokes acceptable) while secretly feeling sick inside.

    Liberal Democrats are hardly a vulnerable minority in our society. As the case of Stephen Timms showed, party-politically motivated attacks tend to be dealt with competently by the forces of law and order. Replace “Liberal Democrat” with “gay” or “Jew” or “person of colour” and the joke gets just that little bit less funny…

    In the interest of fairness, my view on dark humour is simple – nothing is off limits… To me, nothing is sacred – everythign is a subject for humour. If people get offended, no big deal – that’s almost the idea, some people will get offended, some will laugh. After all dark humour isn’t everyone’s cup of liquidised dead baby… If you find something offensive, that’s entirely your perogative – but just because you’re offended, that doesn’t give you the right to tell me what I can or can’t say; or what I can or can’t find funny.

    I’m usually quite susceptible to arguments against censorship and for free speech – in a lot of circumstances, I’m perfectly happy to lump myself behind Voltaire’s slogan: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. Usually.

    The problem with the right to free speech is that it assumes not only that all speech is equal but that all speakers are equal, and I don’t buy that at all. In the frat-boy example that kicked off this squirming can of worms, there’s a clear imbalance of power between the frat-boys and the victims, who weren’t in a position to make similar threats back in return. Free speech must be exercised with responsibility. I’m tired and I’m going to go to bed in a minute, but before I do, two quick examples of what we might call anti-social and irresponsible free speech.

    1) At three o’clock in the morning I sing my way through the collected works of Susan Boyle at the top of my lungs and wake up my entire street, who are none too impressed. When they inform me that they are unimpressed and would like me to desist so that they could get back to sleep, I inform them in return that I am merely exercising my right to free speech. I am arrested for breach of the peace, do not pass Go and do not collect £200.

    2) I walk up to you in a public place with my right hand conspicuously holding something in my pocket. I say: “I am holding a pistol in this pocket and I am pointing it at your daughter. Please put your phone and your wallet on the ground and walk slowly away. If you attempt to run away or attack me or raise the alarm, I will shoot her. Of course, I might be bluffing. It is entirely your choice whether or not you are willing to take that risk.” It just so happens that there is an off-duty police officer standing out of my line of sight and within earshot, and he disables me and arrests me. In court, my defence is that I was merely exercising my right to free speech. I don’t pass Go, and nor do I collect £200.

    There’s a line between thoughtcrime and utterence crime. The line is there because the things you keep in your head can’t hurt anybody, or contribute to their coming to harm. Things you take out of your head, on the other hand, can do both of those things.

    Jenny: I think my reply to Adam covers most of the things I agree with in your post in near-exhaustive depth. Whoops…

    Dickie: My understanding is that it’s less that people ever say that rape is acceptable and more that the circumstances in which they will recognise that a rape has occurred will quite often vary. Clare currently has my copy of Jenny Saul’s gloss on contemporary feminism (which is where I’d usually source studies and things) but there are some alarmingly suggestive studies that show how malleable that kind of thing is. To spring to Jenny’s defence before she gets there, I think her asking for it comment was in reply to Adam’s non-comment on women being partially to blame for being raped. (& I’d agree with you on the not-my-cuppa line. Milk? Sugar?)

  19. Ooh, now *that* is a comment! To pick up on a couple of things, even though they were addressed at people other than me…

    “I’m perfectly happy to agree with you that there are things that individual women may do that may put them at statistically greater risk of being raped… Are women who fail to do either of these things in any sense to blame if they are raped?”

    I think this is an important point. When people like to say that x% of people blame rape victims because of blah blah blah, is this actually what that x% of people said? That it’s their fault they got raped?

    I’m not saying that it is or isn’t, but I would be surprised if it’s as black and white as is made out (and this is the first of many reasons why these studies are generally really awful*; they massively oversimplify things). It’s possible to think that victims of crime (be it rape, assault, or even theft) are completely innocent, but (and I’m trying to word this delicately) misguided for doing something which might’ve increased the likelihood of the crime being committed.

    WRT the free speech thing, I think Adam was getting at something else. You have a right not to be threatened, or not to be woken up at 3am by someone singing Susan Boyle songs (or in fact to be disturbed by SuBo songs at any time, ever :-P). You don’t have a right not to be offended.

    “it’s less that people ever say that rape is acceptable and more that the circumstances in which they will recognise that a rape has occurred will quite often vary”

    Ah, now that’s an interesting point (and shuts me up, because I don’t know enough to say much about it. Intuitively though, it makes sense). And yet people do go around saying things like “x% of men say that rape is acceptable in such-and-such conditions”. Which I think is quite sad really, but ho-hum.

  20. Clare

    Anthony (and I’ve lost track of which h-spelling variant relates to which Anthony, but judging by the fact that I’ve still – sorry – got your book, I’m guessing you’re the Anthony I’ve met, hello!) – HURRAH. Coherent, beautiful, and very useful comment.

    Dickie – the surveys I’ve often seen about these (and if you give me a while to dig through the books that are now two deep on my shelves, I’ll come back up with the citations…) ask not “do you think that rape is acceptable” but “do you think this is rape”. Or at least, the more interesting studies tend to. And that although (as with a lot of studies) this comes out in the media/of the mouths of feminists as “MENTHINKRAPEISACCEPTABLE!ARGH!RAGE!” (and yes, I’m guilty of that, out of the desire for over-simplification) it does raise a telling comment on attitudes towards rape.

    Frankly, although I agree that sometimes situations can get messy and people can get the ‘wrong signals’, I have huge reservations against the idea that women can put themselves in danger of being raped. The attitudes about this come out of a cultural myth about what causes rape. The idea behind it is that rapists act out of an inflamed and uncontrollable sexual urge which short-circuits their brain so that they have no idea what they’re doing. Now, I don’t know what it’s like to be a man with an erection/desire for sex, but on the other hand, I do know that not every man I know gets horny and has to jump on the first female-shaped (or male-shaped, if that’s his preference) thing he sees. Which says to me that men must be as capable as women of controlling their sexual urges, and the implication that they’re not, and that instead they are brute animals controlled by their huge desires is, frankly, insulting. I’d be insulted if I saw myself as male.

    Rape, therefore, is not exactly about being so turned on that you just can’t stop. Obviously, it probably has something to do with it, particularly in situations where you’re in bed with your girlfriend/another sexually attractive person with whom you’ve been physically intimate in the immediate past, and she (or he, or other, depending on preference) suddenly says no. I can appreciate that that is really annoying. But if you then carry on, knowing full well that your bed partner (or floor partner, or wherever you happen to be) has said that he/she/other (which is why we need better pronouns) doesn’t want to continue, then what you do is rape. And acting on your sexual desires whilst knowing that the other person has refused consent is NOT just about your sexual desires. It is also about your privileging your own rights and wishes above someone else’s, and above their fundamental right to the integrity of and autonomy over their own body. As such, I’d argue that rape is also about something akin to ‘power’ but perhaps a less loaded, and more grey term.

    Do you see? It therefore means that any argument which claims that the woman put herself in “danger” by dressing provocatively is invalidated. Contrary to popular opinion, women’s bodies are not sexual magnets. It is possible to resist one’s urges, and the implication that it isn’t and that therefore women ought to be more restrained in their dress to avoid putting men in that tricky position is insulting to both sexes.

    Another common argument dictates that drinking/drug-taking render someone at least partially responsible for any rape that occurs. Again, I would argue that if one partner is more compos mentis than the other, and that they are aware of this fact, then the less compos mentis person’s ability to give free consent is impaired, and that therefore it’s probably safer not to have sex with that person. Obviously, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes someone gets horny when they’re drunk and wants to have sex NOW, and if you want to have sex with them and you do, but they (or you, or both) regret it the following morning then yes, it’s sad, but no, it’s not the same thing as rape. It’s a regrettable, unfortunate occurence.

    On the other hand, if the injured party has the remembrance of being unwilling at the time, and attempting to voice that (no matter how keen he/she may have been earlier in the evening) and that attempt to stop it was disregarded, then you can see, surely, that someone in that situation is rather more culpable than the other. Sadly, of course, that vague awareness that you get after you’ve been drunk probably won’t stand up in court, and it’s a very tricky area, but with improved legal/police/victim support services, we could see a more sensitive process which would aim to un-knot these unfortunate happenings in a way that was fairer and more appropriate for all involved.

    And the final example – if a woman has been flirting, or sexually intimate, should she be held partially responsible for any rape that later occurs? No. Still no. As I said earlier, I find it very hard to believe that men are irresponsible sexual animals and HAVETOHAVETHEIRDESIRESAPPEASEDNOW, after they’ve been aroused. If a woman, or a man, says no to sex and that denial of consent is ignored, it is rape. No matter how they may have been behaving earlier in the evening, it is rape.

    I often get criticised by people telling me that I’m a “feminazi” (a word I find incredibly distasteful and distressing) who wants to make everyone “sign a consent form before undressing”… No. That’s ridiculous. That would cause an uncomfortable amount of awkwardness in situations which are already liable to becoming at least mildly awkward anyway. It would really rather ruin the whole occasion. But instead of a consent form, I’m not entirely sure what’s exactly wrong or unsexy about one partner saying “yes?” and the other partner saying “yes.” or “no.” in return. It takes a matter of seconds, and really does not ruin the spontaneity, certainly not more than trying to put on a condom, and even that’s not exactly a moment-ruiner – it just increases the anticipation, I’d suggest.

    So far from advocating a rigid world where a group of lawyers stand round every bed taking notes on every sexual encounter just in case someone has an issue later, I’m advocating one in which the sexual lives of individuals are just as free as ever, but with a more healthy awareness of and respect for individual autonomy and the integrity of the human body.

    In fact, I’d argue that a world based on this model would be ultimately far less restrictive than one in which women have to watch every step they take in case they do something which could provoke a pack of rapist man-wolves to come flooding after them. So that instead of getting ready for a night out and thinking “crap, if I wear that, someone might think I’m gagging for it”, or “I’d better not walk home alone, someone might jump on me” or “I’d better not drink/better not flirt with him even though he’s hot” women’s experiences could be free from the limiting anxiety with which we are taught to fence in our social lives and we could respond naturally to social experiences without worrying about the potential risks and consequences. A world like this, I’d argue, would also be more liberating for men, because it would make sexual encounters more egalitarian and probably less fraught with anxiety.

    There is more I want to say, but during the composing of that comment, I’ve forgotten it. I’ll weigh back in another time.

    Meanwhile, Anthony, do you want your book back? I meant to give it to Jen at the start of this term, and failed…

    Cxxx

  21. Re the “more interesting surveys”, I think I basically responded to that in my comment to Anthony. Asking “is this rape?” is, I agree, much more interesting. And I agree that it definitely leads to “a telling comment on attitudes towards rape”. But it’s extremely frustrating when it gets spun to mean something different (like “men say rape is acceptable!!!111!”), and that’s what I took issue with. To be honest, I think it’s weird that so many people seem to unthinkingly repeat things like that and that it doesn’t send off some sort of ‘bullshit alarm’! It’s actually slightly offensive, and more than a little hypocritical. But anyway!

    I think I actually agree with most of the things you said in the last comment; my main disagreement with you has been on (mis)interpreting what other people think. I’m not entirely sure that I would say that it’s impossible for someone to put themselves in danger of being raped (although I think I’d agree thar dressing provocatively really isn’t going to do that, for all but the most deranged sociopaths…), but that’s not to say that a victim is to blame in any way if they have done that; and I think it’s simplistic when people automatically draw that parallel.

    Btw I don’t think that anyone who has commented here has come across as a “feminazi”. You’ve not dismissed the opinions of any of the men who have commented as being irrelevant because of “male privilege”, or crap like that…

  22. Antony

    Nah, Claire’s not a “feminazi”, or a slightly more appropriate term “zealous feminist”. Such people cannot take part in a debate.

    @Anthony (the one with the h…) I still disagree w.r.t worm in apple jokes. It isn’t the controversy that bothers me particularly. It’s the content, or lack of it. Like I said, on a par with “PENIS!!!11!!” and “POO!!!”. I’d ask if such jokes are told in adult circles? I once lived with a guy who watched family guy and american dad on repeat because he “found them funny”. He also slept with a married woman whilst I was there and is currently on two ex-wives with two children. I know I’m a judgmental shite sometimes but I can’t help it seeing such a lack of responsibility displayed by a 40 year old “adult”. I suppose I associate family guy/american dad/the simpsons with 13 year old teenage boys and people like him, who failed to grow up and get a grip, or rather somehow have the permanent belief that it’s “not their fault”. And hey, I know a thing or two about accepting my own faults, specifically that it is difficult.

    As for the whose responsibility/is it rape debate, it is very difficult. I think Claire basically pretty much sums up what I think: taking advantage of another person is unacceptable and probably rape. Ignoring a clear “no” is definitely rape. I don’t approve of two people becoming unable to consent then having sex, but I don’t think it is rape either.

    The difficulty comes in interpreting the no. “Remembering not wanting it / trying to vocalise it” is so borderline and case dependent I don’t think I can pull any conclusion from it. Did the person push the other person away? Did the other person treat that as foreplay? Was no said in a way that said “not yet, carry on doing what you’re doing for a bit then it can be yes?” It’s so hard to unknot. “Rape” or “misunderstanding”?

    I do agree a more sensitive approach would be wise. It also helps to talk about no go lines and what you want to try before just jumping into bed.

  23. Flix

    This is why forums > blogs for these sorts of discussions. I can’t even begin to make sense of this…

  24. Antony

    @Flix actually, something along the lines of the stackexchange platform would be better than this. Where you can upvote/downvote answers and earn reputation. As an example of what I mean, take a look: http://stackoverflow.com/users/257111/ninefingers (me).

  25. Flix

    I don’t really get what that website is, but surely this is more about discussion and agree/disagree rather than ultimate right or wrong?

    I was basically just plugging that forum cos when new members join/post I get free cake 😉

  26. Dickie: The problem with writing huge essays is that one can’t shake off the habits when it’s time to disengage one’s brain from academia. Apologies to all concerned… :p

    WRT the free speech thing, I think Adam was getting at something else. You have a right not to be threatened, or not to be woken up at 3am by someone singing Susan Boyle songs (or in fact to be disturbed by SuBo songs at any time, ever :-P). You don’t have a right not to be offended.

    That’s a good call, but the two points can still be elided, and they tend to be. I completely agree that feeling personally offended is a private problem – but when such cases coincide with what I’ll call “anti-social utterance” for
    want of a better term, it feels like there ought to be a case for saying that we should have a right to object (which is related to being offended, but isn’t quite the same thing). If Jenny were to publish a post that claimed that I was a bit of an arse in a pejorative sense, I could be offended, and she would be within her rights to have offended me. If, on the other hand, she were to claim that I was a no-good athiest in a pejorative sense, then I could legitimately object to her use of the descriptive term ‘athiest’ in a pejorative role. (I’m not entirely convinced by this, but it does seem to fly…). Objectionable “speech” tends to be classified as merely offensive in that kind of argument by right to free speech, which probably is why I disagreed in the way I did.

    Clare: As I possibly said in the text, I’ll hopefully be seeing you and Jenny in your natural habitat at some point, so I can pick it up then…

    … Which says to me that men must be as capable as women of controlling their sexual urges, and the implication that they’re not, and that instead they are brute animals controlled by their huge desires is, frankly, insulting. I’d be insulted if I saw myself as male.

    Broadly, yes. Hence my self-identifying as a feminist; traditional masculinities can be just as unpleasant in some ways as traditional femininities. It’s similar to the offence taken (and the objections raised) at recourse to the “All men are bastards” trope in the face of individual men behaving badly: not only is it sloppy thinking, but as syllogism it requires that I, being a man, must also be an agent who behaves in a bastardly (and also, presumably, dastardly) fashion, which is generally something that I do my best to avoid. (Although if I were capable of growing the right sort of moustache I would doubtless cultivate the habit of twirling it is a dastardly fashion, because it is a practise that I think deserves to be preserved for posterity). Addictive-compulsive behaviour covers a pretty narrow band of cases, but the majority of human behaviour tends not to fall within it – that’s why myths of vampires and werewolves are so interesting and pernicious…

    As such, I’d argue that rape is also about something akin to ‘power’ but perhaps a less loaded, and more grey term.

    One of the more bizarre elements in the discourse around rape, and the rather larger discourse around sex as a whole, is the discourse around consent. Consent tends to be spoken about as effectively a contractual agreement: A and B both explicitly agree that they consent to such and such a mutual intimacy, and ensure that the other party is made aware of this agreement. This isn’t entirely surprising, because this is roughly how rape is constructed as a crime within the legal discourse. (Flix, if I’m wrong, correct me, because it would be quite embarrassing).

    Unfortunately, consent is not contractual, and so this necessary legal fiction causes rather a lot of confusion. Consent is based on trust. This is how sexual encounters that do not involve explicit statements of consent can not be rape, and why cases in which parties actually have complete, explicated pre-coital agreements before sex seem so oddly counter-intuitive. All parties to a consensual sex act correctly hold it to be the case that the other party (or parties) perceive that they hold that party’s exercise of non-coerced autonomy as a good to be preserved. (I think that’s a formulation that works, anyway). Explicit discussion of the bounds of such consent is generally rather helpful in obtaining this state of affairs, for obvious reasons, but isn’t technically necessary – hence how established sexual partners might take consent to be weakly assumed unless its withdrawal is communicated, rather than querying consent on each occasion such that it is required.

    Contractual relationships assume that both parties are in a position to exercise equal sovereign power. Trust relationships don’t have that as a requirement for their validity. I feel this ought to satisfy at least some of your worries on this point…

    (As I said above, it’s hard to take my brain out of essay-mode, so apologies to anyone who doesn’t find rather bland technical language particularly inspiring…)

    Antony: I’m pretty sure that scatalogical humour is a staple of a lot of adult comedians’ routines. Whether or not that’s vulgar is mostly a matter of taste; although I would point out that Jonathan Swift ran a fine line in excellent and sophisticated satire involving the eighteenth century equivalent of pointing at things and saying “Poo!”, as did Samuel Johnson. It’s not the words you use, it’s how you use them…

    As for the whose responsibility/is it rape debate, it is very difficult. I think Claire basically pretty much sums up what I think: taking advantage of another person is unacceptable and probably rape. Ignoring a clear “no” is definitely rape. I don’t approve of two people becoming unable to consent then having sex, but I don’t think it is rape either.

    That’s quite a good point. I suppose we could characterise rape as one person consensually acting in a way contrary to the preservation of another’s consensual autonomy as it relates to sexual acts, or something similar, but that would bring with it all sorts of other problems regarding individuals unable to consent…

    Flix: Enlightened self-interest? :p

  27. Clare

    I have a thought, and it is a flippant thought.

    I think it would be both hilarious, tragic and hilariously tragic were all sexual relations to begin with a list of different activities and a contract stating that “such and such are the things I consent to” and signing things.

    I think I mentioned that before, only I’ve now got a really amusing mental image of two slightly bewildered looking adolescents, half naked and faced with all the legal documents, and trying to work it out. Sort of like making a will, only not.

    Beautiful… Or at least mildly funny, no?

    …which is basically why feminists don’t really want contracts. If nothing else, it’s just a bit silly, and you’d end up laughing too much to have sex. (Is that possible?)*

    *I have now been away from University for just under a week. You can tell, because my brain has stopped functioning.

  28. Flix

    Again, apologies, as I comment again without having read much, apart from – “Flix, if I’m wrong, correct me, because it would be quite embarrassing.” and I got all excited (embarrassing people is one of my favourite things :P), though with my very limited knowledge of the legal system in the UK, I fear you wouldn’t think enough of my word to feel embarrassed. I suspect you meant Fiona.

    Now, what were you saying about self-interest…?

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