My first reaction after reading this post was immense relief.
I was hoping for another blissful day without any new Matt Walsh posts, when my facebook wall brought to my attention a post on the subject of rape. "Nooooooo!!!!!" I thought, disheartened, as I realized what I had to face today. Yet I dutifully read the post.
I was mainly relieved because there are a lot of offensive things that Matt could have said, that he fortunately did not. Yes, there were a couple statements here and there that I took issue with, but for the most part, it seemed he decided to forgo some of the overt sexism that is his forte. It almost seemed as if he were making some effort to take to heart the criticisms of his usually insulting, aggressive tone. If that is the case, he still has some work to do, to be sure, and I cannot so easily overlook many of the hostile attitudes he has habitually expressed toward women. Still, I will take any evidence of progress that I can get.
The main problem with this post is that Matt, unsurprisingly, does not seem to understand what rape really is. He talks about hedonism, people doing whatever they feel like, and gives a nod to the concept of consent. His discussion of rape is focused not just on college rape, but drunken frat house rape more specifically. He says that it is difficult to draw a clear line at the point where drunkenness makes consent impossible.
At the heart of all of this is the stubborn idea that rape has something to do with pleasure - the enjoyment of sex for its own sake. Case in point: Matt's solution to the rape problem is to promote the ideal of sex within the context of love, commitment, and marriage (a higher standard, Matt says, than consent alone). This is where Matt misses the mark. Hedonism is not the cause of rape culture, and a discussion of hedonism and chastity has no role in its solution.
Rape is not about pleasure; it is about power. This is true whether the victim is female or male. That is why victims of rape do tend to be members of marginalized groups (women, racial/ethnic minorities, members of the LGBT community, people living in poverty, prisoners, etc.) more often than not. That is also why rape has so reliably been used as a weapon of war throughout history - perpetrated by those who are seeking domination (physically, politically, economically, culturally).
I do not deny that it is hurtful to men and women when they are unclear or misled about a person's motives for having sex with them. I also do not disagree that there are other dangerous consequences of having sex, especially when intoxication is involved. This need not "complicate" our understanding of rape. The reason why the drunken frat party rape scenario is, unequivocally, rape, is the context of power relations in which it occurs. It is a rather persistent untruth that this is merely a matter of young women getting really drunk and then yelling "rape" as soon as they sober up and regret their behavior. This is not what it is about. When we have so many regularly leaked emails and texts from fraternity members making comments about peeing on women, calling women derogatory names, making racist and homophobic remarks, and also teaching their "brothers" how to get unwilling women drunk so that they can have sex with them... well then, we have a glimpse at the way in which a certain type of privilege is being invoked and defended through a nexus of rhetoric about race, gender, and sexual orientation, and furthermore, we see alcohol-induced sex with women used as an intentional strategy to enact that privilege. In short: these frat boys aren't just "hooking up" because it feels good; they are intentionally coercing women to have sex with them in order to achieve status and prove their manhood within their fraternity. Or more crudely: they are doing it to satisfy their frat brothers, not their own penises.
Matt is right, that telling men to stop rape is not enough to stop rape. Ending rape requires the very difficult, revolutionary, and complex work of confronting privilege and the structures of power that are embedded in our society. We need to tell boys that they do not need to live up to anyone's expectations of what a man should be, and that they do not need to be violent, aggressive, dominant, or superior in any way to have worth as human beings. We also need to step up our efforts at confronting racism and other forms of discrimination. We need to get rid of all hierarchical orderings of human beings that value people differently based on who they are. Unfortunately, while I will take him at his word that he wants to stop rape, Matt does contribute to rape culture when he labels as "fascist" anyone who tries to do any of the things I just outlined, when he defends racists and homophobes, and when he praises people like Tal Fortgang who further entrench privilege and derail productive discussions by denying that privilege exists.
Matt Walsh writes:
Miss Nevada, as you may have heard, recently made an extraordinarily controversial remark about the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses. Shocking liberal feminists everywhere, she cruelly and maliciously encouraged young women to protect themselves and practice self-defense.
The nerve of that woman.
I mentioned something on Twitter about all of this absurdity, and I’ve now spent the last day or so fielding helpful emails informing me why self-defense is not an acceptable way to curb rape. I agree, of course, that it isn’t the only solution. I just disagree with the idea that anything at all can be accomplished by writing ‘Don’t Rape’ on a sign and posting it in the hallway.
But I’m told my understanding of the issue is woefully shallow and one-dimensional. Here’s one message from a woman who tried to set me straight:
“Matt, I don’t blame you for misunderstanding the rape epidemic. You’ve never had to live through it so you can’t be expected to really get it. Rape is not just something that happens in dark alleys. There isn’t always a scary stranger with a knife or a gun involved. Sexual assaults on college campuses frequently happen when women go out to parties to have a good time, have some drinks, and wake up the next morning to find out that they had sex the night before. These women are every bit the victims of rape. They were too intoxicated to consent (or maybe they were passed out completely) and the man took advantage. Rapes on college campuses usually happen in this environment. The woman CAN’T defend herself. She’s barely even conscience [sic]. This is where MEN have to be taught that it’s only OK to have sex with a woman when she can consent. She CAN’T consent when she’s too inebriated to even know which way is up. ”
I’ve heard this line of reasoning quite a bit. Anti-rape activists have gone to great lengths to illustrate and define the precise moment when a drunk person passes the threshold from drunk-person-consenting-to-sex to drunk-person-unable-to-consent-to-sex-even-if-they-consent-to-sex.
Safer Campus (Students Active For Ending Rape) tried to spell this out on their website, explaining that there is a “spectrum of intoxication” and that consent must not only be affirmative, but “enthusiastic.”
Most rational people understand and agree that it is definitely rape when a conscious person decides to have sex with an unconscious person, but now we’re calling something rape if it doesn’t have the appropriate level of enthusiasm?
An article on the Huffington Post takes it a step further. In bold italics it exclaims: “Drunk people cannot give consent.” By this logic, of course, all drunk sex is rape. Only this particular article, like most articles on the subject, places the ‘rapist’ label squarely on the shoulders of the man.
The obvious question: if both are drunk, and both are unable to consent, but then both have sex, why is the man the only rapist in the transaction?
And if drunk consent is not consent, then what is consent? You might tell me that consent is affirmative, enthusiastic, and sober, but how do you account for the other exigent circumstances that might lead someone to give sober, affirmative, enthusiastic consent despite their internal hesitations?
What about the woman who has sex with her boyfriend because she believes (perhaps accurately) that he’ll leave if she doesn’t? What about the man who has sex with a woman, thinking that this will be the beginning of a long and meaningful relationship, only to find out that he’s just a rebound from her last fling? What about the woman who goes out looking for sex with a man, but only to fill the void left inside her after years of abuse and abandonment at home? What about the man who has sex with a woman because he believes it will make her love him, or the woman who has sex with a man under the same mistaken belief? What about the woman who is guilted into sex? What about the man having sex with a woman who only wants him for his money? What about a person, man or woman, who has sex with any other person, but wouldn’t have done it had they known the other’s intentions and motivations?
Are these people all victims of rape? They are either consenting under duress or consenting to a particular kind of sex, or to sex for a certain reason, not realizing that the other person has different designs. All of these people end up feeling lost, confused, hurt, broken.
If drunk sex is rape, then these must fit the bill as well. They are all quite different from the image of a woman being physically attacked and manhandled by a violent assailant, but under the broader definition of rape, these examples (and many more) must be included.
And maybe they should be. Maybe rape is even more common than the most radical progressive feminist could possibly imagine.
Or maybe it doesn’t matter what word you use to describe it. There’s something wrong with it. It isn’t good. It isn’t healthy. We can all see that.
We seem to realize that it can be hazardous when men and women get together in frat houses and dorm rooms and purposefully drink until their judgment is several stages beyond impaired. We seem to realize that sex in the ‘hookup culture’ comes with a lot of heartache and regret. Despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise, we know that sex is something serious and profound. It’s also joyful and pleasurable, but in a way much deeper than the joy and pleasure you derive from playing video games or watching NetFlix.
We know that sex should be treated with a certain level of respect, only we’re afraid to fully embrace what that means. We know that the hypersexual environment on a college campus is extremely problematic, only we refuse to really inspect the problem.
The only rule, the only standard, that we’re allowed to place on sex these days is ‘consent.’ But we find that ‘consent’ is not enough. A woman can consent on some level and still be left feeling used and exploited. That’s not her imagination. She was used and exploited. And contrary to popular belief, men can and often do feel the same way after a one night ‘hook up.’
There was consent, at least to some degree, but it wasn’t enough. Consent is not enough. Telling a man to ‘get consent’ before he has sex is not enough. If he is to have sex with a woman, and have it in a way that respects her humanity and protects her dignity and his own, he needs to look for more than permission. If we really want to stop the hurt and pain that many of these people feel — whether you want to call them rape victims or not — we must have the courage to deal with all of the dimensions of sex.
“Do what you want, as long as you have consent.” This is not good enough. This is not a code to live by; it’s a compromise, half-baked and watered down. If this is all we teach our kids when it comes to sexuality, we can be sure that they will still wield sex like a weapon. They will still be predators. They might get their consent, or they might not, but the results will often be the same either way.
If we really want to fight rape, if we really want to protect our kids, if we really want to beat back the ‘rape culture,’ then we have to come up with a standard that goes beyond consent. We have to introduce some other guidelines: love, commitment, marriage, openness to life.
There is no grey area here. If your sex is an act of love and commitment; and if it is taking place within sacrament of marriage; and if both parties are prepared to embrace the life that may very well be created as a result of the act, then you can be sure that no rape is happening. You can be sure that there will be no regret. You can be sure that the sex is healthy and beautiful.
Now, that isn’t to say that rape can’t happen in marriage. But if ALL of these parameters are met — especially the first one, love – then we need not call in a team of scientists to formulate a precise consent-spectrum. Rape is never an act of love and commitment. Therefore, sex that is both loving and committed is never rape.
I don’t know much, but I know that.
So why isn’t this our message? Rather than fight over the exact equation whereby a person can determine whether their nameless inebriated partner is consenting consensually or consenting non-consensually, why don’t we make it easier on both of them? If you do not love this person, and if you are not committed to them, and if you are not married, then don’t have sex with them.
I believe anyone who says they want to fight against rape. It’s a worthy cause, and I certainly am not looking to discourage anyone from joining the struggle. But I think many of them are too invested in their progressive hedonistic dogma to take these convictions to their logical conclusions. They want to ‘end rape,’ but then they make sure to stipulate: “Hey, it’s still totally cool to go out, get plastered, and hook up with random strangers! Give yourself to people who have no regard for you, and treat them with no regard in return! It’s all good! You’ll have a blast! Just make sure to get consent!”
That last sentence loses much of its weight when contrasted against the first part of the message, doesn’t it? Your ‘consent’ speech is futile if it isn’t grounded in anything. If we tell men that it’s OK to use women like they’re nothing more than masturbatory aides — and that is indeed all that’s happening in the hook-up culture – then we will end up with men who do just that.
I don’t mock or deride anyone who urges men (and women) to ‘get consent,’ but many of them would mock and deride me for urging people to have sex only with the one they love. It doesn’t make sense. I am talking about a standard that always includes consent, but then goes beyond it and reaches for something even better. The ‘get consent’ crowd asks only for the bare minimum, and then rejects those who come up with a strategy that more effectively achieves their desired results.
The fight against rape has to involve more than some paltry little sermon about consent. We need to use words like ‘love’ and ‘commitment’ and ‘marriage.’ This won’t end rape entirely, but it’s the only message that will make a difference.
A long time ago St. Augustine said: “Love, and do what you will.” If you want a slogan that will teach people not to rape, that’s it. And it’s certainly more powerful than today’s version: “Get consent, and have sex with whoever.”