Female sexual responsibility: now you see it, now you don’t
Our discussion on ‘Regarding Men’ this week made reference to an incident on the University of Portland college campus that is, from any reasonable perspective, well outside the definition of rape. Yet the heavy hand of feminism has made it impossible even to agree on the basic definition.
The incident—which ultimately led to violence on the part of the accusing girl’s father against a university employee—did not involve coercion of any kind, even verbal. It did not involve threats or physical force. It did not even involve persistent persuasion, which feminists often redefine as coercion. It did not involve an explicit or implicit No on the woman’s part. In fact, it seemed to involve what feminists like to call enthusiastic consent.
Here’s what happened: A young woman made the free choice to drink heavily at an off-campus house party. While drunk, she was conscious and dexterous enough to engage in a sustained flirtation via text messaging with a young man she knew was in love with her. In the texts, they discussed his love for her and her desire to remain friends with him. She also signalled that she was not averse to something more than friendship.
One of her messages “warned” the young man that he shouldn’t come to her dorm room that night “Because I’m drunk haha and who knows what I’ll say or do without [the dorm roommate] around.” Not surprisingly, the young man came over immediately. The woman let him into her room, removed both of their clothes, and was forethinking enough to get a condom out of a drawer. Although she claims that she did all of this in a daze, feeling that there was nothing she could do to stop what was happening, the young man had no way of knowing that she was anything but an enthusiastic partner in their preparations for lovemaking.
Just over a day later, the young woman filed a sexual assault claim with her university’s Title IX coordinator, and has maintained for years—complaining bitterly in various venues–that she was traumatically victimized by the young man and by the school that did not find grounds to expel him. (She subsequently filed a report with the Portland police service, which declined to press charges.)
Despite the fact that both the university and the police came to the correct conclusion, commentary on the case provides shocking evidence of both gynocentric bias and feminist bad faith in dealing with women’s oft-made claims of sexual victimization.
Various feminist commentators are quoted in a VICE Magazine article about the case. They make the now-familiar claim that because the woman had been drinking, her active participation in the sexual act is nullified, and that the man should somehow have realized her technical non-consent and should have allowed it to over-rule his own inebriated desires and responses.
One feminist commentator, claiming to know the extent of the woman’s intoxication, which is not known, explained her non-consent as follows: “He can say, ‘She took off my clothes and took out a condom,’ but if she’s completely annihilated, that’s not actually a decision that’s informed,” she says. “When she wakes up, that can be a very violating experience that’s really disempowering. That’s what sexual assault is—you had your agency taken away by someone else.”
Notice the bizarre language: “completely annihilated,” “had your agency taken away.” In what other situation in life—a car accident, a physical assault, a bank robbery—is the person’s free choice to drink to excess used to transform the meaning of the person’s voluntary actions? This woman took off a young man’s clothes and took a condom out of a drawer; but he was supposed to know, even though he had not seen how much she drank, that she was “annihilated.” How do we know that she was “annihilated”? Because she claims not to remember how much she drank? Or because she did something that she later regretted? Notice also the hypothetical verb tense chosen: “that can be a very violating experience.” Is it or is it not a violating experience? Only if the woman decides after the fact that it was. The young man—in love and in lust—has no way of knowing what her decision will be the next morning.
If feminists want to advocate that all young women be punished for drinking while attending college on the grounds that they can’t be held responsible for what they do while drunk, that is one argument that could be made. Of course it will not be made because it would be seen as a restrictive violation of young women’s adult agency. In the context of after-the-fact claims of violation, the drinking defence becomes nothing more than a convenient excuse to absolve the woman of responsibility.
The young woman herself, not surprisingly, does refuse responsibility, declaring herself incapacitated on the grounds that she made an irrational decision on the night in question. “In her appeal, Clara argued that her state on the night of the assault was, perhaps, the very illustration of the school’s definition of incapacitation: “Incapacitation is defined as a state where someone cannot make rational, reasonable, decisions because they lack the capacity to give knowing consent,” it reads.” The logic is faulty. While incapacitation may well lead to irrational decisions, having made an irrational decision is not in itself proof of incapacity, nor grounds for claiming that another person should be punished for not recognizing that incapacity.
Of course, young women are prone to refuse personal responsibility, and feminist advocates have made lucrative careers out of valorizing their refusal. What is perhaps most disturbing is the response of the school, which issued an alarmingly weak and conciliatory defence of its finding in response to the young woman’s complaints and inquiries from the VICE writer. “I am confident that the processes and procedures we have followed in Title IX cases at the University have been done with integrity, sensitivity, and respect to all parties involved,” wrote Fr. John Donato, the vice president for student affairs. Notice that he refrains from saying that he believes the judgement to be correct. Notice that he also refrains from mentioning the seriousness of the charge, the need to respect the presumption of innocence, and the lack of evidence of wrongdoing. Perhaps he was well advised to avoid rehashing the particular issues involved.
But the school official went further, coming as close as possible to apologizing to the young woman—and her allies—for failing to honor her wishes in the case: “I know there are people among us who have been hurt, who feel the conduct process here has failed them. We do not want any situation where someone feels that way, and the University is committed to doing its best to ensure that our policies and procedures go beyond the legal requirements.”
Only this official knows exactly what he meant, but it sounds alarmingly like an expression of the university’s desire to fulfill female wishes whenever possible. We would like to have expelled that young guy, this Catholic priest says in effect, and we’re sorry that we weren’t able to. Here at Portland U, we are driven by a longing to prevent you from feeling “hurt” and we’ll “go beyond legal requirements” in order to do so whenever we safely can. Why would a school ever volunteer to “go beyond the legal requirements” in cases of sexual assault complaints, and what would that look like? Never mind that an innocent young man’s career ambitions and reputation were hanging in the balance. Never mind that the accusing woman provided not one iota of evidence that he committed the very serious crime she was claiming. The school said, in effect: not only are we not going to scold you for your false, or at least demonstrably trivial, allegation; we’re going to grovel before you and other feminists for forgiveness in that we weren’t able to make you feel validated or vindicated.
A woman drinks, invites a man to her room, lets him into her room, removes his clothes, gets a condom out of the drawer, and does not say ‘No.’ For that, SHE gets sympathy and an almost-apology from the school. HE is lucky to escape without expulsion, and the school can hardly remember his interests—or those of other young men—in its statements about the case. It is indeed a frightening time to be a young man on a university campus.
Here is the VICE article about the case: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vb4dq3/when-does-drunk-sex-become-rape