Bang and Blame - REM (mp3)
I was a virgin until a month before my 21st birthday. I was on my second date with a guy named Craig, a 20-something blond surfer type who got my number after I made him a chai tea to go at the coffee shop in his neighborhood where I worked...
...I felt him enter me and it hurt like hell, but I was flying high on the notion that I had finally conquered two fears — the fear of having sex and the fear that I never would. Afterwards, I was a little embarrassed by the spotting of blood on his sheets — should I offer to wash them? — but I still couldn’t contain my excitement.
“I can’t believe I’m not a virgin anymore,” I marveled, my head laying on his furry blonde chest. I had told him how inexperienced I was on our first date, two days before, when we were hooking up on this same bed after a light sushi dinner and a bunch of beers had put me just past the point of sauced. He, like the few other guys I had gotten intimate with, appeared impressed that I had waited for so long. I wondered if he felt special that I had chosen him as my first.
“Um, are you serious?” he asked incredulously. “We had sex two nights ago. Didn’t you notice?”Thus begins one of the most powerful and controversial personal narratives I’ve read in a long time.
Titled “I Was Date Raped When I Was Drunk” on the grrl-powered site TheFrisky.com, the piece is frank and honest, horrifying and brave. Its unintended coda is a mesmerizing, mind-numbing 492 comments, mostly from women aggressively or angrily defending Ms. McDonnell-Parry’s take, but some from those begging to differ.
All too frequently, women comment on their similar traumatic experiences, a reminder that no matter how many women we think have had these living nightmares, we're guessing low.
Date rape is too important for us to ignore.
It’s too real for us to shy away.
The discomfort, the fear, the murkiness of the topic and the grey area of judgment are, none of them, sufficient excuses for avoiding the conversations.
My fear of being accused of insensitivity or ignorance isn't an acceptable excuse.
Especially if more conversations might reduce the numbers of encounters like Ms. McDonnell-Parry's.
Although I am grateful for her account, I disagree with her conclusions and find them to be dangerous, one more reminder to the troubled male half that no matter what we do short of signing contracts, we’ll be seen as the instigators, the aggressors, the bad guys.
To be certain, the history of humankind is about men getting away with most anything they did or do to women. It's still true in most of the world. But justice does not mean switching the gender target of injustice.
In the world of gender equality, the drunk man cannot be at fault for his inebriated actions while the drunk woman escapes all scrutiny.
You can lead a man to your private parts. You can tell him to ravage you with every inch of himself that’s not his reproductive organ, permit him to be completely naked with you where his hips and your hips are in close proximity if not direct contact, and even permit him in such a position to insert items that might or might not approximate the girth and feel of a penis... but only the male is at fault if you are both drunk and he actually inserts himself?
The male in her tale is no hero. He is not blameless. If she confessed to her virginity and her desire to hold onto it, then her granting of consent should probably have come through more clearly and directly than a drunken moan. But if hers is a cut-and-dried story about a male criminal and a female victim, then it’s patently destructive to the world of mutual responsibility we need.
Please understand: I don't claim to be indubitably right; this topic does not afford such simplicity. As a male defending a male, my motives could be suspect. Worse, anyone who has watched “Mad Men” or “Rescue Me” or any other hard-edged TV show knows that rape can occur with a fiance, a husband, an ex-husband, or even a trusted best friend. Women are never 100% safe, which is heartbreaking to type, since I believe deeply in myself as a 100% safe male.
I found comfort reading Emily Yoffe (“Dear Prudence”) at Slate, whose response to a woman in a similar situation feels more reasonable and less like an excuse to unflinchingly and in all situations blame one gender for the problem.
But if we can’t debate date rape, if we can’t have honest, hard, ugly discussions about this, then it’s because men are not allowed to question, which means the female controls and decides every bit of what is “truth.” Which means the female can control the narrative and free herself from responsibility.
Most men want to do the right thing, want to be the good guy. We cannot afford a culture where the female’s perception of all sexual encounters is the sole perception that counts, because it makes all of us males feel damned if we do or don’t. Sex cannot become a kangaroo court.
As my daughters get older, and as All Things Sex become increasingly impossible to avoid or ignore, I will have loads of advice about building trust, about moving slowly, about the penis’ ability to dictate the entirety of a man.
I’ll advise her that every additional drink she downs places her at greater risk of bad things, and that friendships and “situational awareness” are her best allies. Eventually, after I’ve steeled myself with a stiff shot or two, I’ll explain to her that letting a guy go down on you, while you're both drunk, on your first or second date, and letting a guy’s naked hips nestle directly next to your naked hips when you don’t even really know what he does professionally (or what his major might be), might not be the best way to protect yourself from catastrophe.
Whether Mr. Catastrophe, who misunderstood silence for consent in a drunken tryst, is a criminal might be debatable; that the girl is another victim will become fact.
"Maybe" might mean no, but any woman who puts all her chips on that rule is tap dancing in a mine field.
Being safe and careful and wise is no guarantee of protection, I'll tell her, but it will greatly increase the odds that she’ll have at least most of the control over her own sex life. And playing odds is the best we can do, because human beings sometimes misunderstand one another in critically awful ways, and because men are sometimes big strong seething piles of shit.
The more we as a culture talk about this horrible stuff, the more these nightmares aren't just shared on message boards and comment sections but discussed as a real part of the real past of real people... maybe we can actually help young women -- and men -- learn how to better protect themselves and one another.