18
Feb
09

An Ethical Analysis of Date Rape

When young and, unfortunately, privy to the aftermath of rape I was given to understand it as the outcome of errant behavior on the part of the female (thankfully I had no knowledge or concept of a male being raped). This view, obviously seriously flawed by today’s standards, reflected the opinions extant in the culture in which I lived. During the last decade I have become increasingly aware of incidents of date rape, acts of aggressive sex with resistant partners, stemming from some males’ selfish desires to satisfy sexual urges in spite of rejection. Lois Pineau defines date rape as, “Nonaggravated sexual assault, nonconsensual sex that does not involve physical injury, or the explicit threat of physical injury”[1]

While the motivation behind rape and date rape may differ diametrically, the effects on the victims of both can be traumatic and long lasting. Occurrences of date rape, when scrutinized by courts and society in general, however, still commonly elicit the responses I witnessed forty years ago – that females were, somehow, responsible. Are these reactions appropriate? In determining who, if anyone, was really at fault in these acts, it became necessary to consider attitudes about sexuality and consent.

Kant’s stance about sexuality appears to come from his disagreement with the objectification of any person – no person can possess another. He argued that sex, as a prerogative for propagation and an expression of love, only had a place in monogamous marital relations. He states, “The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desire depends upon the right to dispose over the [other] person as a whole [, welfare and happiness included]. If I have the right over the whole, I have also the right over the part and so I have the right to use the person’s [sexual organs] for personal satisfaction. …[but], only by giving that person the same rights over the whole of myself. This only happens in marriage.”[2]

Of course, Kant doesn’t directly speak to the circumstance of date rape, in that it involves sexual relations between unmarried people, but he does offer an applicable insight. By his thinking no man could presume to have the right to dominate, sexually or otherwise, a woman unless she was his wife, and then only to the extent acceptable to her and that he would allow over himself. Aggressively compelling a woman for sex to satisfy a purely selfish appetite would be unacceptable in light of Kant’s beliefs.

While differing significantly with Kant’s belief that sexual desire can only be correctly based on reproduction and love, Alan Goldman’s thoughts add some further insights on the issue of date rape. Unlike Kant, Goldman refuses to ascribe any inherent morality to the act of sex. He states, “The pleasure intrinsic to sex acts is a good, but not, it seems to me, a good with much positive moral significance.”[3]There is no “duty” or “ethical responsibility” to enjoy sex, or impart its enjoyment on someone else, and especially not in a relationship outside of marriage.

Attitudes about sex are modified by other ethical considerations. Deeds based on personal benefit, which would include sex and most economic transactions, are not immoral unless they are one-sided or are not unreservedly acceptable to all parties involved. Though sex tends to objectify another person, it should also require equal consideration be given to the enjoyment of the partner. This commonality of pleasure and fulfillment, or mutual benefit, as in many other pursuits, provides the moral context within which sex should be viewed.

Since the most common scenario in date rape is the escalation of aggressive ‘seduction’ when resistance to intercourse is incurred, it is difficult to believe that any mutual intention exists with respect to pleasure or fulfillment. While it is conceivable that some males would believe they were so incredibly sexually proficient as to leave even an unwilling partner fully satisfied, this can hardly be argued as moral or ethical intent, or, for that matter, a social norm. Therefore, any attitude displaying the conviction that “You should give me sex because I want it”, irrespective of the desires of the other person, would exhibit narcissistic, or even sociopathic, tendencies.

Consent, or rather what qualifies as an incidence of consent, further complicates the issue. Glanville Williams, in his textbook on criminal law, contends that if a woman knows a man, in order to express her lack of consent to sex, she should make use of “all means possible to her to repel the man”.[4] However, if a man is unknown, he argues that she must simply express her rejection in “an episodic and vigorous act” at the critical moment. Since date rape occurs at some point during a mutually agreeable engagement, thereby qualifying the man as “known” to the woman, the more stringent test for expressing a lack of consent would be applied. In an effort to teach law students the difference between “real protest and pretense”, he supports this argument by warning that women often like a “mastery advance”, presumably meaning an aggressive or dominant approach, but will coyly defer to present a “token resistance”. It is apparent, at least to me, that Williams, an educator, is communicating a belief that when a woman says ‘no’, she may really mean ‘yes’. It is, therefore, no small wonder that the legal system gives little attention to claims of date rape.

An interesting difference of opinion arises when trying to compare and contrast the writings of Lois Pineau and Camille Paglia on the issue of consent. Pineau seems to believe that the attitudes of courts and the public with regard to consensual vs. nonconsensual sex are based on archaic myths of sexuality and rape, while Paglia indicates the existence of date rape is, in itself, a myth. I found compelling arguments in each essay, but I would have to align more with Pineau’s thoughts than Paglia’s. This could simply be based on Pineau, a feminist, ascribing some level of rationality to men, whereas Paglia seems to think that, once a certain level of sexual arousal is reached, a man loses his rational mind and becomes his penis.

Pineau asserts, “The belief that the natural aggression of men and the natural reluctance of women somehow makes date rape understandable underlies a number of prevalent myths about rape and human sexuality.”[5] The first of these myths is a common attitude that women must not be sexually provocative unless they are prepared to complete the full course of sex, even though flirting and teasing are perfectly acceptable social behaviors. The logic that follows is based on a woman, because she’s acting provocatively, making an agreement or forming a contract to have sex at the end of a date. In response, Pineau argues that in no other instance are contracts formed out of non-verbal behavior. Even in the presence of a ‘contract’, the law never allows private individuals the right to physically enforce the provisions of the agreement. Date rape, she contends, is the physical enforcement of an imagined agreement and, as such, is an act of coercion or violence.

In contrast Paglia states, “We wanted women to be able to freely choose sex, to freely have all the adventures that men could have”, and, “Rape is one of the risk factors in getting involved with men … if you get raped, if you get beat up in a dark alley, it’s okay.”[6] She allocates part of the lure of sex to danger and, as such, a woman needs to make sure her actions and activities are consistent with her sexual desires. One of her assertions appears to be that if a woman puts herself in the position to be raped, no matter what she says, that’s what she wants.

Another of Pineau’s myths is the uncontrollability of male sexuality. This gives rise to the view that there is a point beyond which there is no stopping a sexual encounter. She maintains that all the available evidence indicates that most of the activity during sex revolves around building the “requisite level of desire”[7], a task that incorporates various techniques and, therefore, is a conscious process. The man, therefore, is quite able to stop if the woman, for any reason, expresses reservations and if the encounter is based on mutual benefit. If he chooses to ignore the woman, or to become more aggressive, the man is making a fully conscious decision to ignore her request or her benefit.

Not so, says Paglia. “The powerful, uncontrollable force of male sexuality has been censored out of white middle-class homes. But it’s still there in black culture, and in Spanish culture.”[8] She also asserts that women from Ivy League schools, where the men are “emasculated eunuchs and bookworms” willing to be submissive, are the source of this “stupid, pathetic … view” of date rape.

Another myth – there is an expectation that women are coy about their sexual desires. Women are seen as simultaneously sexual desirer and sexual denier. Since they are unable to differentiate between their motives, women obviously ‘want’ to be ravaged and, if this logic is carried through, they’re not going to be too picky about who does it. Pineau asserts that, when presented with a man who discloses up front his desire to use her sexual organ with no consideration of the other parts attached, most women would vehemently decline the date. She makes a valid argument that it is the lack of communication and honesty in sexuality that leads to many cases of date rape, as well as the subsequent mishandling of it by authorities. If communicative sexuality, agreeing to be obligated to promote the sexual ends of a partner by committing to know what those ends are, were considered the societal norm there would be fewer incidents of date rape, as well as a much clearer legal process. Paglia did not directly address this issue.

So far I have not stated any agreement with Paglia, only with Pineau, Goldman and, to a lesser degree, Kant. Sexual activity should only occur when there is mutual consent throughout the encounter. This consent would be, presumably, based on common benefit as decided by each participant. Neither party has an ethical responsibility to ‘service’ the other in an environment in which she or he does not share the desire to see the act through. No one has the right to aggressively coerce, pressure or force another to have sex in the absence of consent. Honest and open discussion about sexual intent would promote mutual interest and benefit. None of the preceding statements came from Paglia’s article but, that being said, she does nonetheless make some reasonable points.

“I’m saying that a pain-free world will only be achievable under totalitarianism. There is no risk-free anything. In fact, all valuable human [experiences] come to us from risk and loss”[9], Paglia answers in response to accusations, by women, that she defends rapists. We live in a world where not everyone acts in ethical ways. The only way to ensure absolutely moral behavior would be to use absolute power. Evil exists and bad things happen, making it our responsibility to consider our own safety. Paglia argues that a woman, if she wishes to avoid date rape, should avoid situations in which it can occur – don’t get drunk; don’t be in a private space; don’t act sexually interested if you’re not. This, of course, is in direct opposition to Pineau’s assertion that a woman can act provocatively without forming a ‘contract’ to be promiscuous. This is where I ran into a problem. I essentially agree with both writers, but not to the exclusion of the other.

In an ideal world, a woman should be able to go so far as to dance naked in front of a man without having him assume that act translated into consensual sex. At the very least, the man should make some effort to ascertain whether or not she is interested in pursuing a sexual encounter. Pineau would argue that the man needs to know the woman’s desire throughout the entire sexual act. While this seems plausible, it could easily be taken to ridiculous extremes. I am reminded of the failed experiment at Antioch, in which each partner had to ask the other for consent to venture down every step of the sexual pathway, once for permission and again for verification. If memory serves me correctly, a Saturday Night Live skit was the best outcome of this experiment.

In reality, we do not live in an ideal world, and every person should be cognizant of that fact. While any of us has the right to act provocatively, we also have a moral obligation to keep ourselves out of harm’s way. It is irresponsible to knowingly act in ways that put us in danger. I have the right, if I so choose, to walk down the street openly carrying one hundred dollar bills in my hand. I also possess the knowledge that someone, acting immorally and illegally, may try to steal them. The theft would still be a crime, but would I have any complicity in that crime? I wouldn’t have influenced the thief, nor tacitly invited the theft, but I would have, at the very least, acted irresponsibly. Armed with the knowledge I possessed of the world, I would have consciously ignored my obligation to be cautious. I believe the same logic applies to responsible dating. A woman, acting indiscreetly or flirtingly, has not committed any act that would justify or mitigate date rape. She may have, however, acted foolishly and without regard to her own safety. In this and only this aspect she may have been unethical.


[1] Lois Pineau, “Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis”, Morality and Moral Controversies – Fifth Edition, Edited by John Arthur, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. p. 493

 

[2] Emmanuel Kant, “Duties Toward the Body in Respect to Sexual Impulse”, Morality and Moral Controversies – Fifth Edition, Edited by John Arthur, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. p. 483

 

[3] Alan H. Goldman, “Plain Sex”, Morality and Moral Controversies – Fifth Edition, Edited by John Arthur, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. p. 490

 

[4] Pineau, p. 494

 

[5] Pineau, p. 496

 

[6] Camille Paglia, “An Interview About Date Rape”, Morality and Moral Controversies – Fifth Edition, Edited by John Arthur, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. p. 503

 

[7] Pineau, p. 498

 

[8] Paglia, p. 503

 

[9] Ibid.

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3 Responses to “An Ethical Analysis of Date Rape”


  1. February 20, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    This post is text book quality, far above the surrounding blogosphere.
    While this deserves, and will get, a slower reread with note taking for me to fully digest and comprehend, I am struck by two lines of agreement i never saw before.
    1. God and Kant. They both seem to agree on the place of sex. As a psych student I was impressed with Kant, but never saw agreement with God. I may dust off those old texts this spring.
    2. My dad with Paglia. This is a real stretch for me, my dad was a blue collar guy that idolized Archie Bunker, never getting the satire of the show. He would be quick to agree with “whereas Paglia seems to think that, once a certain level of sexual arousal is reached, a man loses his rational mind and becomes his penis.” Dad said ,” Son when a man starts thinking with the Wrong Head, trouble follows.”
    A dose of good mental floss in the a.m., thanks! Please keep them coming.

    • 2 Rev Andy Little
      February 20, 2009 at 9:20 AM

      From you, Willis, I’m taking this as a very kind compliment.

      I know I tend to be academic in my approach to most things – so, shoot me, mom – but that is the style I enjoy and brings out the best my feeble mind has to offer. The stuff I write will never be the popular choice, but it feeds my heart, as do your comments.

      Thank you.

  2. 3 sheylla var
    April 16, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    I am taking a Phylosiphy and Gender class and Date Rape by Pineau is one of the readings I had to do. I been googling to see if I could find an easier summary of this reading to understand and I came accross your post. I found it a lot easier to understand than the original reading, and I really liked how you compared both points of view about date rape, and I can say I agree with you 100% when you said that: “A woman, acting indiscreetly or flirtingly, has not committed any act that would justify or mitigate date rape. She may have, however, acted foolishly and without regard to her own safety. In this and only this aspect she may have been unethical.” Great analysis really enjoy it!


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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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