Is it Sexual Assault if…?
In last week’s episode of Girls, there was a really disturbing scene. I’ve been trying to process it since. It made me feel all manner of uncomfortable things and anger and sadness and disappointment and disgust. A woman was sexually violated in a pretty awful way and when the scene ended, you were left thinking, what the hell just happened? Except it’s clear what just happened. Then you go online or talk to friends and hear debates about it and realise that not everyone shares the same view of what should be pretty cut and dried. Except it isn’t. Because rape is still one big grey area. And with each new debate, we realise just how much more conversation needs to happen. We need to talk about rape.
For those of you who didn’t see the episode of Girls to which I’m referring, excuse the spoilers. Adam and his new girlfriend decide to have sex in this episode because their relationship seems to be going well. She initiates their first sexual encounter and lists a few things that she’s uncomfortable with/doesn’t like as they start the foreplay. The second sexual encounter however, goes altogether differently. Taking place at Adam’s apartment (or lair, as it would seem), he demands she gets on all fours and crawl to the bedroom. He grabs her, throws her on the bed. She is trying, in her way, to say she doesn’t want to. Her discomfort, as a viewer, is obvious. Adam, quite literally plows through her as if she’s barely a person before flipping her over and leaving his mark on her chest. She covers herself instantly, hiding her body from him and saying ‘I really didn’t like that.’ Adam says ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me’ implying he’s aware he just did something wrong.
I’ve seen discussions about this scene and the varying views. For many women and men, it’s clear and unquestionable: she was sexually assaulted. But then, of course, there’s the inevitable argument that comes up: she didn’t say no, she went to his apartment, she got on all fours, she crawled to the bedroom, she let him ejaculate on her chest, she made a comment about not wanting him to ejaculate on her dress – and would a rape victim be worried about that? Is that how a rape victim would act?
That’s an actual comment from someone I was having a conversation with about this. Apparently, there are degrees of appropriate reaction for a rape victim.
There was another argument that she was just frigid. In their first sexual encounter, she had this list of things she didn’t like, so the sexual assault was just Adam’s way of spicing things up, of introducing her to a down and dirty kind of sex.
The very notion that he can just f**k it into her is sickening, but alas, I think there were a fair few males who watched that scene and didn’t see a problem, who genuinely can’t see what all the fuss is about.
And therein lies the problem. These lines of what is appropriate and what is not are so blurry. The victim blaming messages we’re constantly given wind up with men and women alike watching that scene and thinking ‘well she didn’t scream, she didn’t say no, she didn’t run out afterwards….can’t be rape.’
The conversation needs to change. Damn, we just need to HAVE a conversation. Young men need to be educated about how to treat women. We need to stop constantly laying the responsibility on women to instantly understand and react to questionable sexual situations. Men need to be emotionally educated enough to be able to check themselves, to know when they’re crossing a line and be able to stop, discuss, apologise.
I’m sure there are men who may very well have been in that situation and acted similarly to Adam and be absolutely appalled with themselves to think they’d assaulted a woman. In their mind, it was consensual. In their mind, they were just opening her up to a new sexual experience. And you know, she didn’t say anything so…
The societal message seems to be that for men, sex is there for the taking. All that emotional stuff? That’s for women, the men don’t have to concern themselves with it. And I’m sure some men believe if they know the woman, it’s not rape – simply being an acquaintance is consent enough. Rape is only done by some strange man jumping out of the bushes. *sigh*
When you read about the Steubenville case that’s been going on over in the States, you really have to question what messages 16 year old boys are getting where they genuinely don’t see anything wrong with sexually assaulting (in a myriad of ways) a girl they knew (warning: reading the details in that article of what they did will cause nausea). The two young men involved were found guilty yesterday. Hopefully that will send some sort of a message.
Interestingly, there were three other young men involved in that incident who stood by and watched and did nothing. This is also a huge issue – men seem to be unwilling to check each other on their behaviour. They seem to be unwilling to stand up for women. We cannot continue to try to fight this battle for change as women alone. Where are all the men who find this behaviour deplorable? Whenever rape is discussed in the public forum, I rarely hear men taking a passionate stand on it, I rarely see them discussing with other men how they can collectively try to change the dialogue among their sex.
But guilty verdicts in rape cases a million miles away mean nothing to the average Joe. There need to be more discussions, there needs to be some sort of emotional education, especially for young men. Attitudes towards women, towards sex need to change. Something’s gotta give. Women are doing all we can, but we need men to be active participants in order to see change.
As is always said: teach men not to rape, not women how to avoid being raped.
Just before someone jumps in the comments with the inevitable ‘not all men are rapists!’ comment, I am more than aware, thank you. I am not saying they are. Focus on the actual discussion here.