A reader writes:
I think one of the things that is being missed by most of the contributors to this thread is that male-on-female rape is rarely about sex. Typically, it’s an assertion of power on the part of the male, not a desire to get off sexually without seeking the consent of the other. But in most of the stories sent in by your male readers about non-consensual sex, the dynamic seems different. In none of those stories does it seem like the female is trying to exert power over the male; it seems like the females just want to get off. Maybe that’s why the guys respond so differently to being “violated.”
Interesting conversation you’ve been having about the many forms of rape and how we as a society perceive them. I actually think language is posing an obstacle here. Look at “killing”. All killings end with the same result: death. But look at how many legal names we have for it. There’s murder (and even murder one and murder two), manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. There’s also justifiable homocide, killing in self-defense, suicide, euthanasia, assassination, killing during war – all these distinctions and definitions to describe a variety of traumatic acts that end in the same exact result: death.
And yet we use the word rape to describe a widening range of actions with a vast range of outcomes.
We use rape to describe a man hiding in the bushes, pouncing on a woman in the dark and penetrating her while holding a knife to her throat. And we now also use it to describe a man buying a woman too many drinks at a bar and having sex with her while she’s conscious but inebriated. Both acts are wrong, but do they really deserve to be described with the same word?
Yes, we do sometimes distinguish between rape and statutory rape, but even there, when a male authority figure coerces a young child into sex, is that the same thing as a high school senior smoking a joint with his sophomore girlfriend and engaging in sex that is seemingly consensual, even if the law doesn’t recognize it as such?
And now we bring in the variety of male-victim rapes, many of which are certainly as traumatic as those of the female variety. However, having a stronger man force himself upon you and penetrate you is not the same thing as waking up to find your girlfriend using your sleep-induced erection for her pleasure without your permission. I was once the “victim” of the latter, some 15 years ago. Prior to that, had you asked me, I would have said that waking up to such a scenario might be fun. But it wasn’t. It was annoying, disturbing and felt like a violation. I expressed my displeasure, she apologized and then I felt a little bad for making her feel bad about it. I forgot about it shortly after and never think about except at the rare times like now, when the topic is brought up.
Had it been reversed, had she woken up with me on top of and inside her, I’m pretty sure she would have been far more upset and far more traumatized. In the instance of my being violated, I think it would have been a gross overreaction for me to call the police and cry rape, but in the reverse scenario, that might be a reasonable reaction.
There is a double standard, or a multiple standard, and one of the key factors is penetration. I think I would have felt differently had there been a digit or object inside me than I felt waking up inside her. And I think the distinction is enough to give the two acts different names. One is rape and the other is… something else, maybe harassment?
As for the story that started this all, that of Chris Brown’s loss of virginity at 8 to a girl of 14, it seems there are so many distinctions that keep it from feeling like rape to my mind, and the fact that he is male is NOT one of them. First, he was underage, but so too was the girl. Second, according to his description, she did not in any way seduce him; rather the desire was mutual. And finally, while there was pressure put upon Brown, it did not seem so much to be from the girl as from his environment. You could blame those around him who applied the pressure, but then who would be the culprits … 11 and 12 year old neighborhood boys?
Did the incident in question shape Brown’s attitude toward sex and later actions? Possibly. Probably. But does that make it rape? I just don’t see it.
One more story:
Ok, you finally have provoked me to respond. I unfortunately have a lot of thoughts on this subject. For one thing, I have unequivocally been “taken advantage of” by a girl before. In my college days, back in the ’90s, I went to a friend’s apartment, and when I arrived, I was invited in by her roommate. Her roommate was extremely attractive, and in the process of waiting for my actual friend, somehow she talked me into taking a pill. Now, I liked pills back then, and this is not about my genuine lack of good judgment at a time when I was totally reckless. Besides, I think this girl could have talked me into just about anything.
Regardless, it was a Rohypnol, the infamous roofie of date rape fame. What ensued that night was a total blur. I remember bits and pieces, like ending up at a party with the girl, but not what happened at the party, or what happened when it was over. What I do remember, however, was waking up the next morning, naked in the bed with her, and then taking a shower with her (we were both late for class), as if it were perfectly normal, and wondering, “what the hell just happened?” I wasn’t upset over the thought of having been with her. I was upset that I couldn’t recall any of it. Not one bit. The most satisfaction I got out of it was seeing her naked, and wondering.
Now, I clearly was culpable in the sense that I freely popped a pill which I didn’t have any experience with. But as other readers have pointed out, had the gender roles been reversed, I would clearly have been the aggressor, and she the victim, and subject to prosecution had she desired it.
The bigger picture here is that we, as a society, are using one term, “rape,” in an overly broad fashion. Rape is a crime of sexual violation, with elements of aggression, violence and/or control. What happened to me, was not a crime of aggression, was not violent, and arguably was not about control, as I more than certainly would have had sex with the girl freely, if my consent had been solicited.
Therefore, it can not be rape. It was a non-violent exploitation, maybe even some violation of me (was the violation sexual? Or was it a violation of trust?), with a sexual component, and it didn’t live up generally accepted ethical standards, but it wasn’t rape. Unfortunately, we don’t have a criminal system that recognizes “ethical lapses” as very real, albeit misdemeanor, classes of sexual misconduct. The lack of such distinction, however, means that many people are wrongly accused and convicted over a minor ethical lapse for the same crime as legitimate menaces to society; conversely, many people are never brought to any kind of justice because (in my case) there is no way I would make an accusation of rape against that girl, even if what she did was “wrong,” and I am sure there are many examples of women who have been wronged that aren’t prepared to make a rape claim for similar reasons. And even worse, the contorted legal standard creates the terrifying reality that men in emotionally abusive relationships have to live in fear of being accused of rape, as at least one of your readers alluded to.
As usual, thank you for airing such a sensitive topic.