Recently, the following controversy over the views of an editorial writer (Alex Knepper) for American University’s student newspaper was brought to my attention. You can click here for the original column.
I read both pieces and at first was simultaneously dumbstruck and not completely unsympathetic. But because I often feel I cannot fully grasp sexual assault and rape because I've never experienced either, I almost decided not to respond.
Because when I sat down to write I thought, “What could I possibly lend to this topic? I am one of the lucky ones.”
And then I thought very critically about that sentiment.
I consider myself lucky because I have never been sexually assaulted or raped. In considering myself lucky, that necessarily points to an idea that rape and sexual assault are so normal, so routine and such a common occurrence that if I haven’t experienced it, I am amongst a charmed few to escape something that is so pervasive it has become normalized.
Although I am one of folks who sees the sexualized world we live in through a slightly more nuanced lens than others, I am still a part of the culture which I so carefully critique. When I use the word lucky to describe the fact that I’ve never been raped or sexually assaulted, I am contributing to a cultural consciousness that is permissive of rape because I am essentially saying that rape is something that is destined to happen.
Because I believe in a world where that someday isn't true, and because I know that my silence is just as permissive as using the word ‘lucky,’ I realized that I perhaps can contribute to this conversation by, at the very least, critically looking at Alex Knepper's argument.
To begin, and perhaps controversially so, Alex Knepper’s opinion piece does not make me feel that he is pro-rape.
He is in my opinion, however, deeply entrenched in and a contributor to rape-permissive culture.
Although I feel that he expressed himself in possibly the douchiest way available* (not to mention I think his ideas about feminism are antiquated, his notions about the gendered nature of sexual passion are narrow, and he is misguided if he thinks that rape and hate violence against gays aren’t interconnected…), I don’t think that his sentiment is wrong.
What Alex Knepper was trying to say, if I’ve got the story straight, is that there is a level of personal responsibility that, as adults, we need to keep in mind when we’re engaging in any activity.
In his specific example, if you go to a party and get blasted, there is always a chance that you’re going to make a bad decision and bang someone you shouldn’t have banged. In which case, you shouldn’t go crying rape afterward just because you regret it. I totally agree.
(This is COMPLETELY different than if you go to a party, get blasted, and someone forces you to have sex. Then, of course, it is well within the purview of rape, and you should definitely report it, in my opinion.)
However, where Alex Knepper fails, and where he will continue to fail in his argument, is that he only seems to put personal responsibility on one party. He basically says that if you’re a lady, and you have hella drinks, and you go to someone’s room, you’re giving them the hint that you want to have sex. If they end up banging you and you regret it, sucks for you, because the responsibility is all on you.
But as the cliché statement says … it takes two to tango … so where is male responsibility? He says that as adults, there are certain responsibilities that we all need to keep in mind. So where was the part where he reminds guys that there may be all these ladies drinking it up and when they’ve got 5 drinks in them, no matter how much it may seem like they want to bang you, there is a good ass chance that they don’t. That it’s the alcohol talking and not them. So if a lady goes back to your room, maybe instead of trying to bang her right there and then, as an adult, it’s your responsibility to be like, “I’m cool, let’s bang when you’re sober.**”
Where was it?
It wasn’t there. Why? Because Alex Knepper, younger than me though he may be, has grown up in the same rape permissive culture I have. He has grown up in a culture where we tell women and girls, “Don’t go out alone at night, don’t wear certain clothes, don’t get too drunk at parties, and say ‘No’ when you don’t want sex. Rapes are probably going to happen, but you can maybe avoid them if you follow these rules.”
Although I personally chafe when I hear some of those messages because they feel a little bit like victim blaming, they are nonetheless, not bad messages. Although I might teach them a little differently (the word “don’t” is not often an inspiring teaching tool), these messages teach the responsibility piece that Alex Knepper is talking about.
The issue is that this is an unbalanced message. We don’t teach personal responsibility to would-be perpetrators.
We don’t teach boys, “Don’t drink too much, don’t sleep with drunk girls, don’t assume that because she hasn’t said no that she means yes, and just because you can see her cooch hanging out the bottom of her skirt, doesn’t mean she wants you to put your dick in it. Keep these things in mind, and rape might not happen at all.”
Don’t get me wrong, I teach those things … but there are many parents, teachers, and other educators, who don’t. It’s just not the water we swim in when we live in culture that assumes rape will happen. I assume that growing up, Alex Knepper was never taught these messages, which is why he can wholeheartedly believe that it is only a lady’s responsibility to prevent rape in this situation.
Teaching a balanced message can take care of one of Alex Knepper’s concerns over the lives that are being ruined by false rape accusations.
If we teach dudes not sleep with drunk chicks (as well as the prevention messaging we can send to ladies), a whole hell of a lot of those false rape accusations are never going to happen. You don’t want your life ruined? Take personal responsibility and know that a false rape accusation could happen if you fuck a drunk person.
Knepper also seems to be really concerned that men can’t know what women don’t tell them … but he also paints a picture of asking for permission in a way that makes it so that I wouldn’t want to ask for permission either. He’s really concerned about the lack of knowledge, and yet admonishes getting permission. Despite communicating this in his signature douche-tooley way, he brings up a really good point about how this culture views getting permission for sex.
We live in a culture where asking for permission is viewed like this:
“I would really enjoy having sexual intercourse with you. Does that sound to you like a good course of action?”
Although it could work, it isn't very sexy. I would be like "Hell no. I'm done."
But what if we lived in a culture where asking permission is viewed like this:
“Mmmmm. I want you to feel my cock deep inside you. You want that? Huh? You want it?”
“I’m going to slide myself over you excruciatingly slowly at first because I want hear you to beg for more. Ready to beg?”
“When you put yourself inside me I feel so much closer to you. It’s like my whole world opens up. Will you do that for me?”
I don’t know about you, but I’m both ready to ask for permission and be asked my permission.
Going back to the issues raised by Alex Knepper, if he could widen his idealization of consent, he could solve the problem that he’s so concerned with. Dudes can’t know what a lady is thinking … unless dudebro takes the 2 seconds to ask. And asking can totally happen in a sexy-ass way.
Perhaps by teaching that consent can possibly be one of the sexiest things there is (and that verbal cues need not be the only way to establish consent), we can begin to change a culture that sees rape as inevitable. If we can teach that there are ways to ask for permission that don’t ruin that raging clitoral hard-on, maybe people would ask more often.
Dear Alex Knepper,
I don’t think you and I will ever be friends, but I’m glad that you’ve brought up male concerns around rape and sexual assault. People educating (myself included at times) are just as entrenched in rape-permissive culture as you are, and our messaging often excludes being critical of whether or not we’re perpetuating the idea that rape is inevitable.
Because you’re such a huge tool, I will commit myself to continue to encourage personal responsibility on both sides of the issue, and will continue to encourage the eradication of rape permissive attitudes. Because, honestly, I don’t want more people spouting the nonsense that you’re spouting.
Also, although you may feel that rape is rape is rape, Date Rape is important terminology in a culture where most people think that rape happens because of a stranger in a dark alley. The word date rape helps us to remember that the majority of the time, rape is actually perpetrated by someone the victim knows in a place that is familiar to the victim. Just because you don’t understand things, doesn’t mean they’re bad, guy!
I also hope that you, as a self-proclaimed gay man, begin to understand that when we say that the responsibility for violence falls solely on the victim, we are in essence allowing the violence to persist. We, as a culture need to recognize that when we put responsibility solely on the victim, we are giving perpetrators permission to say "that victim shouldn't have been there, it's not my fault." Just as I hope that one day women can walk alone at night without fear of sexual violence, I also hope that you will one day be able to walk down a rural street holding hands with another man without fear of bodily violence.
Even if you are a douche.
PS. I am a feminist who understands biology, history, psychology AND sexuality (probably way more than you do, sucka).
* This is not about him being douche, BUT since Alex Knepper uses a very gendered critique where men are perpetrators and women are victims, I am going to be using that language throughout this post. However, I do want to put it out there that anyone of any gender can either perpetrate or become a victim of sexual assault or rape.
**I also understand the whole “but what about the fact that drunk people do stupid shit?” thing. I’m working within the framework that Alex Knepper set up, which is apparently that if you’re binge drinking, you can make solid decisions. NOT TRUE, but that’s the world that Alex Knepper has painted.