Amy Schumer is a comedian that gave a talk about a horribly awkward sexual encounter she had in college. This encounter was attempting to have sex with a very drunk friend of hers. Given the situation was a sober college student having sex with, or at least attempting to have sex with, a drunken college student People have started asking if this was a rape. Others have argued that it wasn’t a rape. [We Hunted the Mammoth]
I am personally not going to take sides on this. The details are just not clear enough. This is a conversation that needs to happen. One of my major gripes with Feminism isn’t that it advocates for women’s rights, but that it has many open ended issues. The issue of consenting while drunk is one of these issues. Where are the limits? If someone has 1 beer can they still consent? How about 5? Since drinking affects different people differently should the standard be blowing .1 on a breathalyzer test or similar? How about their actions? If the person that is very intoxicated is the person making the advances, does this mean they are capable of consent regardless of how drunk they are? “Drunken Sex” can cover everything from a single drink to passed out on the floor. The only line I’ve seen feminists draw is “How she feels about it in the morning”. With out a TARDIS and telepathy this is a very bad standard for determining if your partner is consenting at the moment.
So lets look at the arguments made by Though Catalog and Futrell. The author of the Thought Catalog post points at how drunk Matt was. He was so drunk that he was falling asleep during sex. It is reasonable to think that he was at a black out state of intoxication. This is very drunk. Was he to drunk to consent? The author for Thought Catalog says yes. David Futrell says no on his blog “We Hunted the Mammoth”. David makes a very good point. Matt was not too drunk to initiate various sexual activities. If this is a line for “too drunk to consent” it is a very reasonable line. It is reasonably obvious, even if your drunk yourself, if your partner is initiating various sexual activities. I do question if David is drawing this line here because it is a question of male consent, not female consent.
This brings us to the semantics of “Rape Culture”. This is a point that David hinted at, but didn’t really develop. The semantics of how we talk about sex is why I question if “initiated various sexual activities” isn’t little more than semantic word play. Sex is an activity. To describe some one in the act of sex we need a verb. The verb we use is “Penetration”. Because in most sex the penis is inserted into the vagina the man “Penetrates” and the woman is “Penetrated”. I really question if we would not look at the situation very differently if we just simply used different verbage, semantics, to talk about sex. If the action verb used to denote sex wan’t penetration but envelopment, how does that affect our perceptions of the same event. Amy went to the room of another student, a student clearly to drunk to be thinking clearly. She made several attempts to envelop him. These attempts failed because he was to drunk to maintain an erection. Eventually he passed out from intoxication and she left. Based on this description of the same events with only semantic changes, does that change your perception of the events?
If we are talk about how women are people, we need to identify and correct all of these cases of semantics assigning agency to the man. The semantics of “Rape Culture” are not the only place where this is done, it does provide a clear example. Once we see the affect that the semantics have on our understanding of situations I hope that we can find better words to talk about the situations and actually start drawing that line somewhere between Passed out on the floor and had a few sips of beer.