A number of venues around the Internet have commented on an article in the latest issue of Cosmo magazine that puts forward the idea of "gray rape," which are supposedly situations in which the existence of consent can be contested and thus women are not entirely sure whether or not their rape was, in fact, a rape at all. Feministing and a poster at the White Ribbon Campaign blog are but two excellent places to visit that thoroughly expose this concept as ridiculous and hurtful.
Longtime readers will recall a list that I posted last year that very accurately points out the various scenarios that are rapes. Due to the severe importance of this topic, I will re-post that list in full:
A lot has been said about how to prevent rape. Women should learn self-defense. Women should lock themselves in their houses after dark. Women shouldn't have long hair and women shouldn't wear short skirts. Women shouldn't leave drinks unattended. Hell, they shouldn't dare to get drunk at all. Instead of that bullshit, how about:
If a woman is drunk, don't rape her.
If a woman is walking alone at night, don't rape her.
If a woman is drugged and unconscious, don't rape her.
If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don't rape her.
If a woman is jogging in a park at 5 am, don't rape her.
If a woman looks like your ex-girlfriend you're still hung up on, don't rape her.
If a woman is asleep in her bed, don't rape her.
If a woman is asleep in your bed, don't rape her.
If a woman is doing her laundry, don't rape her.
If a woman is in a coma, don't rape her.
If a woman changes her mind in the middle of or about a particular activity, don't rape her.
If a woman has repeatedly refused a certain activity, don't rape her.
If a woman is not yet a woman, but a child, don't rape her.
If your girlfriend or wife is not in the mood, don't rape her.
If your step-daughter is watching TV, don't rape her.If you break into a house and find a woman there, don't rape her.
If your friend thinks it's okay to rape someone, tell him it's not, and that he's not your friend.
If your "friend" tells you he raped someone, report him to the police.
If your frat-brother or another guy at the party tells you there's an unconscious woman upstairs and it's your turn, don't rape her, call the police and tell the guy he's a rapist.
Tell your sons, god-sons, nephews, grandsons, sons of friends it's not okay to rape someone.
Don't tell your women friends how to be safe and avoid rape.
Don't imply that she could have avoided it if she'd only done/not done x.
Don't imply that it's in any way her fault.
Don't let silence imply agreement when someone tells you he "got some" with the drunk girl.
Don't perpetuate a culture that tells you that you have no control over or responsibility for your actions. You can, too, help yourself.
I've taken the liberty to bold out some of the extra-key ones here, just to emphasize how much garbage is the idea that there is a "gray zone" separating consensual sex and rape. I would also like to point out that the situation provided always concludes with "don't rape her" and not "don't have sex with her." There's a reason for that. When any one or more of this set of circumstances arises, consent is not given. Indeed, in the second scenario that I bolded, consent is actually withdrawn. The Cosmo article points out exactly that type of scenario and the story of a confused woman the morning after who was not sure whether or not she was raped, and makes no effort to affirm that she was indeed raped.
This all begins with the assumption by some men that women's default position on consent is "yes." For many of these men, this assumption arises from their consumption of pornography, in which women are portrayed as always willing, always submissive, always desirous of doing whatever vile act men may wish to perpetrate upon them. The inability to rationalize that not all women want to have sex with all men at any time, and more specifically, that any individual woman does not want to have sex with any individual man is an insidious failure on the part of many men that will often result in them raping a woman. The need to impose and imprint in men's minds the reality, that consent is not automatic and not default, that it is only when a woman says "yes"--the first time!--in an environment in which she has a legitimate ability to make a truly free choice, is sex consensual. Anything less than that standard should be perceived and portrayed as rape, because that is what it is. Pestering a drunk girl for two hours to have sex, and receving her ultimate concession, is still rape, because: a) she is intoxicated and her ability to rationalize and make her own judgment called is limited, and b) consent was withheld for 119 minutes, only being given after being worn down and in combination with a). That, by any sensible standard, should be viewed as rape.
Thus, not only is "yes" assumed to be the default position for all women, so too does a single "yes" override any number of "no's." This, to any reasonable person, is not logical, and should not be indicative of legitimate consent. Allow me to go to an extreme scenario: if I'm being held captive in a dark room, imprisoned and subjected to mental and psychological abuse, and I've said no to the question "Can we cut your arm off?" 149 times, does my relenting to this trauma on the 150th posing of the question truly mean that I consent to having my arm cut off? I should surely think not. That is not a gray area, is it?
In sum, Cosmo, as it does in so many other fields of women's lives, truly has failed women with this article. It leaves them with a considerable impression that there are some scenarios where their "no" doesn't count and that their failure to say "no" doesn't count as withholding consent. It is perpetuating an illegitimate and unjust status quo in which rape is not only tolerated in our culture, but accepted. For a magazine that purports to "empower" women, Cosmo's "gray rape" theory is yet another imposition of male-dominated harmful ideology that prevents women from reaching their maximum potential while giving men an out card from accepting responsibility for their causal role in rape.