Redefining Date Rape


This has been posted plenty of times over. Since it’s a favorite, I’m bringing it back here (with some omissions since this is a long post) for your viewing pleasure. Please leave comments; I’m very interested in hearing other’s opinions. I’ll also follow up with other posts in the future.

Ever since Roman Polanski’s arrest hit the proverbial presses, almost everyone has been talking about it. No… Actually, everyone has been talking about it. Polanski supporters and naysayers are overwhelmingly spurned by a majority of the feminist press because, of course,  it’s rape. But, what has always upset me about the discussion of rape (or, specifically, “date-rape”) is that we make it so black and white when it just isn’t.

On the DodsonandRoss forum, the discussion about Roman Polanski has become heated. All of the members (including me) had very strong opinions about the topic. And, to me, it was an excellent debate because many of the members used their own personal desires and experiences to substantiate their points. So, this entire Polanski story unwittingly caused a community to redefine their own sexual encounters, and weigh that against how the general public perceives sexual encounters in general, specifically between men and women.

Anyway, one member posted her very aggressive opinion that the European filmmaker should be punished! She fervently provides links to media and reports that would, at first, seem to substantiate her point. But, most of the her resources actually humanized Polanski, which society rarely does for the male rapist. For the exception of his painfully sad past (watching his mother and father get hauled to the concentration camp and the monstrous murder of his wife and unborn child), his behavior was mostly reflective of a man with incredible talent, but a man nonetheless. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Polanski brings up the excellent point that in France, “relationships” between an older man and younger woman (sensibly 13 and up) are viewed very loosely than in America. He had a romance with Natassja Kinski when she was 15. And they still remain good friends. So, for him theconcept of being with a young girl isn’t senseless or harmful.

I say “relationships” because somehow sex seems less degrading if it occurs in a “relationship.” If I said Roman Polanski had sex with Natassja Kinski at age 15, or that sex between older men and younger women was somewhat acceptable in France, then it sounds more criminal. Relationship implies tenderness and friendship while sex (in this context) does not.

It also implies that Natassja Kinski had sex with Roman Polanski and is, thus, sexual at age 15. But, it isn’t consensual sex… because she’s 15. And our society just doesn’t allow for girls to truly be sexual at this age. More on this point later.

Rape has never been about sex itself, right? It’s about rage. It’s not about satisfying their lust, but their need to exercise their dominance. It’s not about compassion. Their victims aren’t human anymore. And no pleasure can be derived from this act, not for the perpetrator and certainly not for the victim.

So, there’s sex for pleasure. Then there’s rape. But what is sex without pleasure? Bad sex, of course. And we’ve all had mediocre or bad sex. We’ve been with someone because we’re too intoxicated, or too horny to care about our partner, or have been at the receiving end of either scenario. You can have sex with a person just so you can feel something else. You can have sex with someone just to get back at them, just so you can feel power. And you can have sex with someone, but can’t communicate your desires or learn how to make it pleasurable for you. Sex can be heartless. Sex can sometimes suck.

But that doesn’t mean it’s rape.

As I read through the court transcripts, I noticed that there were many times when Polanski gave her an opportunity to say no or refuse his advances. There were moments when she knew what she was doing was wrong or uncomfortable. But, she did it anyway. Roman Polanski asked Samantha Geimer, if he should take quaalades. Then he offered (not forced) her 1/2 of the tab that he ingested, which she voluntarily took. She wasn’t obviously “plied with champagne and pills” as commonly alleged in the media. And even during the sex, both parties were very passive. She said no but didn’t resist; he didn’t force himself on her but he didn’t stop when she said no. Regardless of this, because he’s older, he raped her.

I’ve seen many reports proclaim that 13-year old Geimer was a “young girl” or “child”, thus leaving the reader with the image of an impressionable pre-pubescent girl. But she wasn’t. Samantha Geimer was obviously mature enough to go to Roman Polanski’s house alone. She was mature enough to pose topless. But, in Geimer’s testimony, she referred to cunnilingus as “cuddling”. How could a teenager have sex and not understand how oral sex works, or how she should feel about it?

The common answer is that sexual education wasn’t as comprehensive in 1977 than it is now. But, we have hardly progressed.

I mentioned this in the forum but it bears repeating: Pleasure is a form of power. And, by not discussing pleasure received from sexual encounters (whether it’s masturbation or partnersex), we leave our adolescents with impulsive physical responses that are fulfilled through sexual activity but are rarely satisfied.  A woman’s real sexual identity and her full anatomy is ignored throughout sexual education (the clitoris and its purpose is rarely mentioned in sex ed class). Simple sexual organs are disregarded in order to speak about reproduction, thus completely avoiding how we engage in sexual activity. If this is the case, isn’t any or all sexual encounter for a pre-teen or teenage girl sex without pleasure? If so, then it falls to either sex without pleasure or pure rape. Given the age, it is automatically redefined as rape.

While we eroticize images of youth and beauty, young girls are always perceived as victims or seductresses. It isn’t natural for children to be sexual, and so often do we misuse the word “children”, which (in this context) should imply pre-pubescent children. Young adults, on the other hand, experience hormonal changes and are then pressured into suppressing their first bouts of sexual desire for religious or cultural reasons, reasons that are not beneficial to a young adult’s sexual identity. They never know of sex for pleasure. So no matter the sexual encounter, whether it’s with another inexperienced young boy or an older gentleman in a hot tub, these sex encounters will always feel uncomfortable. It will always be a violation when pleasure isn’t involved.

But, none of us this matters because Roman Polanski is a rapist. We all have to say this and mean it. Because none of us wants to be that kind of supporter – the one who questions the use of the term “rape” for every awkward or uncomfortable sexual situation experienced by women young and old. No one wants to feel as though they’re against the victim, especially when there are cases in which a victim is truly alone with her own pain. And let me go further to say that there are true experiences of rape in which the victim is made to suffer, receive humiliation, and to feel completely weak and powerless under the control of her captor. These cases do exist and I will not support them. However, what I won’t support is the whitewashed use of the term “rape” to define uncomfortable and (sometimes) preventable cases of sex.

The victim can ultimately recover from such encounters by regaining her power and remembering her own self-value. This also includes closure from the incident and from the encounter. Some approaches to gaining closure is to seek counseling, seek legal justice, etc. But when “rape” is actually taking place, in a situation similar to that of Polanski and Geimer, is the victim always powerless? What can she do, at the time, to gain control of the situation? She could reason with or talk to her attacker. She can physically resist her attack, or she can passively remain silent and wait for it to end. But, what happens if she chooses pleasure? What happens if the situation screams rape, but the victim experiences desire, or wants to experience desire? How does this redefine rape?

Maybe I’m conjuring up the image of a young Geimer who understands and embraces her own sexual power. Maybe, in this supposed scenario, she could have enjoyed the time spent with Polanski. Or maybe she could have told her mother when she called (Her mother did call to check up on Geimer before the rape occurred) that she felt uncomfortable around Polanski. Why can we so easily keep Geimer as a victim and Polanski as a criminal? She could have known better. We all could.

Whether I’m 13 or 23, I shouldn’t have to to think of myself as a victim in this situation, or any in which I am completely aware of what might happen, which is sex. It shouldn’t matter the age. You know why? Because, again, if I can’t understand my own sexual power and that of the man I’m with, then the sex will always be uncomfortable and awkward. It will always be wrong.

It is our responsibility to teach young women – from the moment they form breasts, menstruate, and experience these very real and very personal transitions – to own and embrace their sexual power. This means a thorough comprehension of the female and male anatomy, the use of erogenous zones, the importance of pleasure, and how to identify pleasure through masturbation and sexual fantasies. Roman Polanski isn’t a monster for lusting after a 13 year old girl. Polanski was merely lustful and broke the law. One can argue that, if nothing else, it is only “right” for Polanski to go to prison for what he did. But, by doing so, we completely miss an opportunity to speak openly about the problems of sexual communication in America, and the growing number of young women who end up associating sex with violence, or with “love”, and not with their own pleasure and desires.

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