By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“The new definition of rape,” wrote Stephanie Gutmann in a 1990 article for Reason,“gives women a simple way of thinking about sex that externalizes guilt, remorse, or conflict . . . Assuming the status of victim is in many ways an easy answer — but not one befitting supposedly liberated women.”
Since Koss and Warshaw, men and women, in college and beyond, in relationships and single, have been portrayed as picking their way carefully along a narrow wall between consent and resistance, between a man’s libido and a woman’s responsibility for her own well-being. A man fears he may only find out the next day that the woman he had sex with wasn’t willing; a woman worries she’ll wake up with a hangover and the queasy realization that the friend who allowed her to sleep it off at his apartment interpreted her need as an invitation to sex. A woman gives her consent up to the moment of penetration, then withdraws it; her partner thinks she’s playing a game, but later finds out she was serious.
Scholars and pundits have not always done their best to alleviate the confusion: On one side, there was Katie Roiphe, author of The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, who claimed in 1993 that Koss’ statistics were all wrong. “If I was really standing in the middle of an ‘epidemic,’ a ‘crisis,’” she wrote, “if 25 percent of my women friends were really being raped — wouldn’t I know it?” And “If verbal coercion constitutes rape, then the word rape itself expands to include any kind of sex a woman experiences as negative.” (Actually, it’s Roiphe who got it wrong: Neither Koss nor Warshaw called verbal coercion rape. They called it coercion.)
At the other extreme was Antioch College in Ohio, which in 1994 introduced a script for couples to follow to ensure consent before every sex act — even if the relationship had been going on for 10 years. Those conditions would probably have little effect on date rape — couples lucid enough to follow any script were probably in the clear on the consent issue, anyway. More likely, men and women who adhered to the code lost their desire for sex altogether.
By bringing date rape into the public parlance, Koss and Warshaw didn’t so much turn women into victims as identify the already victimized — there’s no reason to believe that having one’s vagina forcibly penetrated by an acquaintance’s penis was any less horrifying before the two women gave the practice a name. Still, it wasn’t long before the date-rape debate unraveled into a debate over the extent of a woman’s responsibility.
“It didn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out that going alone to Tyson’s room at 2:30 a.m. was an imprudent thing to do,” wrote Karen Grigsby Bates of the 18-year-old Desiree Washington in a 1998 article for Salon.Similar remarks have already worked themselves into the discussion of Bryant’s accuser: Bryant has had the luck (or misfortune, depending on your vantage) to be accused of sexual assault in an era less panicky than the one Roiphe was reacting to. He cheated on his wife in a climate of sexual mayhem gone so wild that scarcely anyone even flinches anymore at the subject lines of e-mails promoting “hardcore ass-fucking.” The woman who accuses him belongs to a generation so confident in its sexual safety that college-age women display themselves proudly at Daytona Beach orgies and Lake Havasu exhibition fests, keep detailed online journals about their sex lives and even post suggestive pictures of themselves on SuicideGirls and Friendster.
Such permissiveness can only be tolerated where women are assumed to be sufficiently in control of their personal safety, to know how to make their boundaries clear and their objections heard, and where men are expected to listen. This is why so many people — women, in particular — doubt Bryant’s accuser: It’s hard to accept that women who cry date rape have not in some way simply exercised bad judgment. Unless she’s been rendered inert by a debilitating drug such as gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) or Rohypnol (“roofies”), a woman should simply have made herself clearer or been better able to defend herself. And even after a drugging incident, she might be blamed: A Florida company, Drink Safe Technologies, Inc., last year introduced a line of coasters on which suspecting females can test their drinks for illicit substances. Their slogan: “Drink Smart, Drink Safe!”
“Date rape is definitely an issue with my friends,” says Katie, a 20-year-old Claremont College student who describes herself as an “outspoken proponent of anti-rape campaigns” on campus. As militant as she is against rapists, however, Katie seems sure she herself is not at risk. “I took an intense 20-hour self-defense class called ‘Model Mugging,’ designed to teach women how to defend themselves in a variety of situations,” she says. “I almost never drink at parties, and when I do, my drink never leaves my hands or my sight as a precaution against rape drugs.
“I also rely heavily on instinct. If someone approaches me whom I don’t feel comfortable with, I am quick to remove myself from the situation.”
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