Yesterday while running I passed by a flyer posted to a telephone pole. It was a simple, white letter-sized piece of paper with a few words of text and a web url at the bottom pointing to the University Health Services page. In bold black letters, the text read: “Guys, if she’s drunk, don’t have sex with her. It’s RAPE!”

When I first saw this, i was a little skeptical whether this was the official policy of the UHS. After all, the thing looked like it had been made on someone’s PC printer with a basic word processor. One would usually expect something flashier and more professional-looking to represent the Tang Center or UHS. That led me to initially to think that perhapos this was just the work of an overzealous, paranoid student health worker who looks into every man’s eyes and sees a brutal rapist simmering just below the surface. So, I went looking on the UHS website, and found this:

Taking sexual advantage of a person who is mentally or physically incapable of giving consent (for example, drunk) is rape. If a woman has had too much to drink and has passed out, or is not in control of herself, having sex with her is rape .

To say that having sex with someone who is passed out is rape warrants the “well, duh” response. However, there is a lot in that paragraph that could be interpreted in a very nasty and unfair way. How drunk does one have to be to not be capable of giving consent? Does a woman who gets completely blasted to the point that her judgement is seriously impaired, yet who aggressively seeks sexual contact with a guy constitute rape? What about a woman who is really drunk but completely awake, and simply doesn’t repel a guy’s advances, even if she doesn’t seem to take a very active role in the whole thing? What exactly does “not in control of herself” mean? Obviously being passed out is a part of that, but how far beyond that along the spectrum of conciousness does that phrase extend? For instance, I knew a girl who liked to get thoroughly wasted occasionally, and when she did, she would inevitably wake up the next morning with bruises all over her body, and would be left to wonder what happened to her. And then people would have to tell her how out of control she was and simply hurt herself, falling down, smashing things, and in general flailing around. This same girl, before she devolved into that physically self-destructive state, would usually embark upon a pretty aggressive dick-hunt, and would wind up taking just about any concious guy to her room. She is, of course, an extreme example, but many women lie on some point of the same spectrum of behavior when they are drinking.

I find a lot of this talk of an impaired mind highly disturbing, especially because of the vagueness of the stipulation of that impaired state by alcohol as a condition sufficient to render her unable to make a choice about having sex, and thus of her being raped. After all, impairment by alcohol has never been much of a mitigating factor in the severity of guilt for other actions. Indeed, a man who gets totally bombed and then gets into a car and runs someone over is judged much more harshly than a sober person would be . But wasn’t his judgement significantly impaired at the point during which he decided to get into the car? Shouldn’t that mitigate his guilt? Granted, alcohol can indeed occasionally lessen guilt, but onl somewhat. A man who commits a murder in a whiskey-fueled rage is still guilty of murder, just perhaps not the cold-blooded, first-degree type. But either way, he’s still spending the next 30 years or so behind bars.

I realize someone might find fault with the above analogy because it addresses the responsibility of the person committing a crime, whereas the rape issue concerns the victim, but I really don’t see how the two could be that different. There’s also the very central problematic question that asks, if a woman can be too drunk to give consent, can a man be too drunk to recognize the refusal (or rather the “non-bestowal”) of consent of a woman? This question seems to stand out even more starkly when one considers that continually (and indeed, on that same UHS page), men are always being told that being drunk is no excuse whatsoever for forcing themselves on a woman. And of course no one would or should find fault with this.

Here’s a not untypical scenario that I can see falling under the grey area of this issue: A freshmen girl, during her first few days in the dorms, is hitting the frat parties during welcome week. Having never drank much during highschool, this is her first experience ever getting significantly intoxicated. She isn’t falling down stairs or standing on tables or breaking windows, but her decision-making faculties are definitely not running at prime efficiency . A frat boy sidles on up to her and starts chatting her up, and she eventually goes up to his room. You know the rest. This is clearly a decision that would have turned out differently had she not been drunk. But she wasn’t forced, she didn’t feel threatened. He didn’t hold her down while she tried to say stop.

Was this rape? The alcohol certainly influenced her decision to a great degree, at least enough to change a “no” to a “yes”. Does that mean she was “mentally impaired?” And if so, does that mean the frat boy raped her? I think there is a lot of room in that paragraph I quoted above, more than enough in fact, to say yes, if you wish to interpret it that way. And that’s simply abhorrent.

For at its most basic, it completely infantalizes women, making them to be less responsible for their actions than men . This comes frighteningly close to robning them of personhood, for it is our rationality and our ability to make choices and accept responsibility for them that makes us full-fledged human beings. Saying that a drunk woman is fundamentally less able to make decisions and be responsible for them than a man is to say that a woman in general is simply of a lesser caliber of moral and mental ability. These are the kinds of arguments that were used to keep women from voting a hundred years ago. They were inherently “feeble-minded,” unable to undergo the rigors of mind and conscience that a full participation in democracy demanded. We’d be turning all women into official retards under the auspices of the law.

This attitude is only slightly less egregious than the sentiment echoed by the likes of Gloria Steinem et al several years ago, when she defined rape as being any time a woman feels like she didn’t want to have sex whether she decides this before or after the act has occurred. So, suppose even a completely sober woman goes to a singles bar, comes on to a man, and ends up taking him home, with most of the impetus being hers. The next morning she decides that she didn’t want to have sex after all, or even that for some reason it just felt “wrong,” even though she played no small part in the agency for making it happen, and in no way signaled that she wasn’t giving consent. Under Steinem’s ridiculous rubric this is rape, morally but also legally, and punishable by all the penalties the law provides .

Disgusting I know, despicable for its gross unfairness to both men and women, and I think just about every sane person can see that. But I hope as many people would be just as outraged by the sentiments of the UHS web site, should they mean what people like Steinem would like them to. But I’m curious whether this is the case. After all, this has somehow found its way into the official health policy of the University of California. Does that mean that very many people simply don’t know about it yet, or that they have already accepted and internalized it?

If the latter is true, then I am suddenly a lot more glad that I don’t go to frat parties.

last update : 26-5-2018

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