POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE 13by Bruce Abrahams
Down here there is special concern about whether an EU ban on neonicotinoid coated seeds will threaten the oil seed rape crop. Rape, apart from its colourful contribution to our landscape is apparently (do we detect the PR hands of the OSR Marketing Board?), a coming rival to disease-threatened olive oil in the kitchen.
This issue was the cause of some discussion in the Old Doom Bar the other weekend. June arrived wetly so there was leisure time to consider whether to cover our verdant meadows with solar panels – like our neighbours in Devon or persevere with a cash crop such as rape.
Rapeseed or brassica napus to give its proper name has nothing contextually or etymologically to do in its familiar form with the act of sexual violence. Nonetheless the term inevitably led someone in our little discussion group to mention the current issue of new CPS guidelines that enable being drunk as no impediment to a female’s claim of rape – that is, non-consensual sex.
We all regarded the issue as very serious. Everyone agreed that no decent chap would sexually insult let alone assault a woman; certainly not one who was so drunk she could not invite intimate attention. Ken Clarke got into trouble by suggesting that there were different degrees of rape; and at risk of being repetitive, we were unequivocally against taking advantage of a woman whom a man might reasonably suppose was not in full command of her faculties. Respect and protect had been our old-fashioned rules for almost everything.
Nonetheless, there are some interesting issues about the matter of consent and the context in which it may or may not be obtained or assumed. Drink and drugs are the two most obvious causes of confusion. We all agreed that ‘no’ meant no. Even if expressed with a giggle and ‘Charlie, stop it, what are you doing?’ But we were uncertain about the protocol in a situation where the object of lust, when completely squiffed and of short acquaintance had said something like ‘OK big boy show me what you’ve got’. These were contexts in which we had limited competence. Our youthful attempts to persuade a girl to take her knickers off (both parties at worst under the influence of low octane beer and dilute vermouth), had most often been confounded by demurral: hence the scale of ‘bases’ to indicate how far one had ‘got’ on a date. But that was then and this is now. The discussion of these memories made us feel old and a bit uneasy.
Women have every right to expect that they can go out in the evening and get plastered and not get raped even if they fall down and cannot remember what happened next. Whether men can plead the same sort of amnesia if faced with complaints is something else. The basic assumptions are that females are more vulnerable and if a man can get an erection he can’t be too drunk not to know what he is doing. Shakespeare mentioned the matter.
All of which is predicated on the definition of rape as essentially penetrative. In other degrees it is sexual assault. Might a woman complain about non-consensual cunnilingus and in any case, is that usually pleasant attention regarded as penetrative? Have there been any such cases? This point is made since it seems that relatively few rapes are ‘stranger’ and most are by someone known to the victim. Universities are notably worried about this problem as well they might be and some are even running awareness courses for men about sex and inter-gender relations.
On which topic we stopped and looked at each other, and not for the first time, wondered what young people had come to. We have had a predominance of mixed gender schools – even in the private sector. There has been the rise of ‘women’s lib’ followed by the resurgence of feminism. Then there were ‘lad’s mags’ and now we have sexting and internet revenge porn. Somewhere along the line the liberated parents of the 60s and their sons and daughters have created a culture in which even the top Universities find it necessary to run courses on sex and social relationships. Not only are too many of our students illiterate and innumerate but without manners too.
As seemingly endless court cases back track over history and people come forward with their stories of abuse we have to assume it was always so. A current case of historic male malfeasance includes a plaintiff whose allegation against her teacher include a narrative wherein (at a social event on a field trip) she wore fishnet stockings and sang a suggestive song to the defendant. She then went on to conduct a sexual liaison with the man accused. We were thoughtful about the fishnet stockings and amused by the song. It was a fun Tom Lehrer piece about masochism – Fifty Shades of Grey indeed.
We agreed that Ken Clarke had a point but that it was almost impossible to make an effective argument as to why you might, under some circumstances take a relativist approach in making judgements between the many contexts in which women are engaged unwillingly or reluctantly or even on occasion unwittingly in sexual intercourse. ‘Yes but….’ is no defence at a moment in history when the girls are on top.
So we ordered another round of scrumpy and drank a toast in the old way – ‘gentlemen, to the laydees’.