Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On the cover of the latest issue of Cosmopolitan they announce an article with this headline, "A new kind of date rape you must know about." The article inside, by Laura Session Stepp, is problematic on many levels and their choice to print it with that offensive headline speaks volumes about Cosmopolitan's true concerns for women.

What the headline is referring to is the extremely harmful and dangerous concept of "gray rape," which is, as Stepp explains it, "a kind of sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial." The headline itself is misleading and untrue. What's described is not a "new" kind of date rape. It is the same kind of date rape that has been happening for millennia. When there is not clear consent between two people that is rape.

Even more significantly, the introduction of the term "gray rape" is frightening and only serves to further endanger communities of women. Stepp does not quote any of the legal experts she claims are using this term but this does not stop her from making it sound like the newest buzz word.

There is nothing gray about the situations she describes. These are cases of rape. When someone is drunk and doesn't give consent, having sex with them is rape. When someone makes out with you but doesn't give consent for other sexual acts, having sex with them is rape. This is not a blurry area.

On any given night, many women get drunk, wear short skirts, and make out with guys but are not raped. The difference between them and women who are raped is simply the guys who they're with. The determining factor of whether or not a rape happens is how a man chooses to behave. Is he going to choose to ask before he goes any further or is he going to choose to have sex with someone regardless of the situation?

Stepp is not a new voice and does not offer any unique insights. She is simply repeating the same victim blaming message that we have heard for decades. If Cosmopolitan truly intends to serve its audience of women it should do better than to blame its readers for the acts of violence that they have experienced.
In the future I would love to see Cosmopolitan focusing on positive strategies to ending sexual violence. There are amazing individuals and organizations who are working to empower and educate women around this issue. As well, there is important work being done with men and boys to challenge and support them in pledging to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.

If you want to send a letter to Cosmopolitan follow this link to the The NYC Media Response Project Letter Writing Campaign, “There’s No Such Thing as Grey Rape.”

For more discussion on this topic check out these blogs: Battling the myth of "gray rape" Cosmo Magazine and the bullsh*t that is “Grey Rape”
-Tuval Dinner

1 comment:

RGM said...

Excellent post. My girlfriend initially found out about this lurid story at Feministing and went out and bought the issue. There is nothing gray about the scenarios presented. Either a woman gives her consent or she does not. There is no room for gray anywhere in that.

I think that part of the problem is that too many men believe that the default position on consent is "Yes" and that unless the woman actually says "No" and clearly "means it," anything goes. There's also a misguided belief out there that 25 No's can be cancelled out by a single Yes. So if a guy nags a girl for an hour or two and she ultimately concedes, the man will say, "But she consented," and the courts will likely believe him.