Voices from the Collective: Rape
Issue #21, September 1995
This thread began with a series of exchanges on the Bad Subjects email list about gender roles and how they create social expectations about human behavior, especially sexual behavior. These two emails were written in response to the suggestion that rape is a sexual act as well as a violent one, and that traditional gender roles help to create situations which foster sexual violence. Emails in "Voices From the Collective" appear unedited, just as they were on the Bad Subjects email list.
From: Welford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 30 Aug 1995 16:17:35 -1000
To: Multiple recipients of <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: "Have you ever been a woman?"
Okay, one and all, into the personal...
On Wed, 30 Aug 1995, DAVID HAWKES wrote:
> Rape is using physical force to coerce someone into having sex. To call
> anything else "rape" is to devalue the term and belittle the horror of the
> crime. I do find it incomprehensible how anyone can inflict physical
> violence on anyone else. And I speak as one who was recently knocked
> unconscious (with one punch — the guy must have been a boxer) in a
> dispute over a game of pool. When I came round, all I could think was "I
> wonder why he did that". There you go...
When I was 18 and a very naive 18, I got drunk and stoned with my boyfriend and went to lie down on his roommate's bed because I knew I was going to pass out. A man who had been pressuring me to have sex with him and who I'd been saying no to (I hadn't had sex before) came into the room and put a chair back under the door handle and proceeded to have sex with me. There was no "violence" involved. I was too out of it and given up to say no anymore. Afterwards I suffered from all the after-effects of being raped. I thought I was dirt and had no self esteem left, blamed it on myself. Many terrible things happened to me because of that incident.
So I can't agree with you that there has to be physical force used to make an incident rape. There is an ongoing debate about this of which I am sure you are aware.
You also asked at another point if we thought that a woman seducing a man could be accused of rape. I would say that if the man did not want to make love to the woman, yes, of course she can be accused of rape.
From: Catherine Ann Driscoll <firstname.lastname@example.org.EDU.AU>
Date: Mon, 4 Sep 1995 09:56:11 +1000 (EST)
To: Multiple recipients of <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: saying no when you mean yes
On 2 Sep 1995, Gabrielle Welford wrote in reply to me:
> There are all sorts of much more subtle coercions that operate within
> and around sex, and sometimes the coercion comes from yourself. Even
> when it doesn't, I think its important to define rape more carefully
> than just not wanting to have sex with that person. Somtimes there are
> other things you do want and sometimes there just aren't words for no.
> Can you make up some scenarios to give me a more clear idea of what sorts
> of situations these might be? I know and agree certainly that sometimes
> the coercion comes from oneself. But if that is combined with coercion
> from the other person, I don't feel very generous about what to call it.
I think women often have sex with men to gain or to feel security of different kinds; because they want to be 'sexy' and 'sexual' and that's the recognised way of being those things; there's pressure felt by women to have sex with a man (rather than women) which is not necessarily (at least not at its most effective) applied by men themselves; or of course there are the power plays that can be involved in sex between 'consenting' adult women and men with authority over them (bosses, fathers, or other relatives, professors etc.); I think there are lots more. Myself, I don't think any of these 'reasons' are good or bad reasons, they just are reasons — but they all I think point to the complexity of consent among women.
> What you describe is clearly rape, but there are still many different
> kinds of consent, which need to be considered if sex is not to be
> conceived of monolithically as unavoidably (and by implication
> 'naturally') about domination. I'm not sure how this follows. I think
> there's plenty of sex which is most definitely not about
> domination/submission. I'm only talking about a situation in which one
> of the partners doesn't want to have sex either with that particularly
> person or at all, and then I think it is about domination and
> submission, whether overt or hidden.
Of course. I don't want for a minute to undercut or downplay the importance of consent between sexual partners. I knew that's what you were talking about, perhaps I should have 'added' rather than 'qualified'. I'm just concerned that women should have more ways of being understood than seems to be offered by the 'did she or didn't she resist' approach. I feel like I'm saying there should be more ways to say no — maybe I am I'm not sure — more ways to say that how we feel about sex and about particular sexual acts and relationships is very complicated. I think if we recongised how complicated it was then it would be easier to articulate contradictions and make better choices. I cannot believe how much this sounds like a project for some kind of group therapy — so I think I'll just stop waffling and go away and not talk about sex anymore.