Saturday, September 28, 2013

The New Chivalry, Feminist Style

Let’s get one thing straight. I think women are equal to men. I don’t hold any quaint notions of a “woman’s place,” or believe that men and women are obligated to fulfill prefabricated roles, in the home or anywhere else. And while there are certain physical advantages and brain chemistry differences that, on average, cannot be denied, I believe each man or woman should be judged on his or her own individual merits, and not those of their gender.

Which is why it drives me nuts when well-intentioned people try to protect women from themselves.

Feminism, as an ideology, considers chivalry and other forms of sexism that would seem to benefit women, ”benevolent sexism.” The idea is that men opening doors for women, expecting men to give their female partners their jackets when cold, defending a woman’s “honor,” all the way up to excluding women from military combat, all are rooted and in turn perpetuate the same core ideas that women as a group are physically inferior, more delicate, weaker, and in general, in need of a man’s protection. The implication in wanting to eliminate this along with other forms of sexism is that women do not need a man’s protection; we are strong, we are independent, we are empowered! RAWWW! GIRL POWER!!

And yet, there are some curious double standards and inconsistencies going on here. And nowhere is this “new chivalry” more apparent than in the area of rape prevention.

To start, did you know that drunk sex is rape?

Going forward, I want to be very clear here: I am not talking about:

  • Sex with a person who is unconscious, or so close to it that they are incoherent (incapable of walking, talking, recognizing where they are or who they are with, etc.) 
  • Sex with a child (“child” for the purposes of this discussion being under the legal drinking age of 21) 
  • Sex with a person who has been drugged against their will or without their knowledge (roofies, spiking punch with alcohol, etc.) 
  • Sex with an unwilling person who happens to be drunk 
But that’s not what some people are talking about when they talk about alcohol and rape.

One blogger opines:

The “hookup” culture of young people is where the newest rape myth, “gray rape,” is most insidious. Gray rape promotes the idea that it is hard to identify what constitutes consent or non-consent and that many situations described as rape, especially when alcohol is added to the mix, are confusing or simply unknowable. Legally, a person who is drunk cannot consent to sex and having sex without consent is rape. But alcohol consumption doesn’t completely diminish the ability to consent to or decline sex. It is only in situations where the person is unconscious (blacked out) that consent isn’t possible. [emphasis mine]
Let's start with the distinction between "blacking out" and losing consciousness. The New York Times carried an excellent article on just this subject a couple years ago. Some highlights include:

When drunk, people sometimes pass out; they become unconscious. Or they could black out — a condition in which they’re conscious but not storing memories.
Yet a person in that condition can still be conscious and “interacting with people, talking, driving a car, having sex, engaging in all kinds of complex behavior,” said Kim Fromme, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has researched alcohol-induced blackouts.
Scientists still do not know whether some people are predisposed to blackouts. One study found that people with a history of blackouts may experience them at a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent.
In other words, "black-out drunk" can and often does look just like regular drunk, and does not require excessive amounts of alcohol to achieve. "Blacking out"-- not being able to later remember what happened-- has nothing to do with how coherent or conscious a person was at the time, or how much they've had to drink.

Now, back to the assertion that legally a drunk person cannot consent. The rape laws in most states actually usually have some clause concerning alcohol to the effect that someone cannot so intoxicated they cannot give consent. But what constitutes "too drunk?" There really is no clear line. Again, just to emphasize, I'm not talking about someone who uses someone's diminished physical capacity while drunk to force then to have sex; that is clearly rape. I'm talking about the girl who gets giggly, flirty, kissy, and just downright affectionate while drunk. Yes, a "good guy" would straight arm the inebriated lass, telling her that if she's still interested after she sobers up, here's his number.

That's how a gentleman would act. If he's feeling particularly gallant, he will fend off his more caddish peers, escort her home, and see that she makes it safely back to her dorm room/apartment/parents' house.

Seriously? Why not just issue white steeds and suits of armor while we're at it?

Don't get me wrong: protecting, defending, and helping out someone who's had a bit too much to drink is something to be encouraged, no question. But it should be done regardless of genders involved.

And that's not how it's being done. On college campuses across the country, men are being told that because 99% of rapists are male (a completely manufactured statistic, as I previously discussed), it is not only every guy's ethical responsibility, civic duty, and moral obligation to not just take it upon himself to decide when she's had too much, when she means it and when she doesn't, and to resist drunken come-ons (regardless of his own state of inebriation), but to vigilantly police the behavior of every male in his vicinity.

Or this information page on “Alcohol and Consent” from Men Against Abuse Network at Stanford University:

Specifically related to the issues of intoxication, it should be noted that if a person is unconscious or their judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally they are unable to give consent. These types of laws are meant to protect people from being taken advantage of when they are intoxicated. A common question is:
“What if both people are drunk? Are they both assaulting each other?”
First, if both people are drunk and they have sex and neither feels that they have been violated (feeling violated is not the same as feeling regret or embarrassment), then no crime has been committed. However, if someone does feel violated, then the culpable party is the one who actively engaged in sexual behavior or advanced the situation towards and through penetrative sex.
According to this, whether a rape occurred hinges solely on how participants "feel" afterward. If a woman consented-- even enthusiastically-- but in retrospect "feels violated," then she has made a case for rape.

We have a legal drinking age for a reason. That reason is that we do not expect minors to have the necessary experience, judgment, and perspective to make informed, mature decisions when it comes to alcohol: where and when to drink, with whom, and, of course, how much. We don't expect kids to be able to stand up to pressure to drink, or be able to cope with the effects of drinking too much.

Adults are-- or should be-- another matter. And every adult woman is able to say, "No, thank you," to any drink offer. And many women-- I would go so far as to say, the majority of women I've known-- often socially drank at parties or on dates precisely because it acts as a "social lubricant," that it lowers inhibitions and helps relax hang-ups. They drank, in short, because they found it easier to have sex while drunk, and made a conscious decision to have drunk sex. But those same women, if they came onto and slept with a guy that perhaps wouldn't have been quite up to their sober standards, didn't blame the guy.


It doesn't go both ways. Either women are full adults (as I believe), equal to men, who can make mature, informed decisions regarding their own alcohol consumption, who can say "No" if they don't want a drink, who can own their poor decisions made while drunk as to whom they willingly slept with, or they must be treated as children who cannot make such decisions for themselves and prohibited from drinking. As an adult woman who takes responsibility for herself, I insist on the right to make my own decisions about my drinking.