By BETSY HART
“A Time Limit on Rape,” a news story by Jeninne Lee-St. John in Time magazine, opens with this question: If a woman consents to sex with a man but then withdraws that consent during the sex act itself, can he still be convicted of rape and sentenced to prison if, essentially, he doesn’t stop fast enough?
“The answer depends on where you live,” Lee-St. John writes in answer to her own question. In seven states, she writes, courts “have ruled that a woman may withdraw her consent at any time and if a man doesn’t stop he is committing rape.”
My home state of state of Illinois is the first to pass legislation giving a woman that “protection.” Gee, I feel so much safer now. I mean, there’s a law!
Feminists and “victim advocates” argue that without being able to change her mind and say no during sexual intercourse itself, “there is no recourse for a woman who begins to feel pain or realizes her partner isn’t wearing a condom or has HIV,” writes Lee-St. John. No recourse? Now, I’m not sure how they think a woman is going to suddenly get that latter piece of information only after sex has begun. But are these feminists really saying that all men are such incredible brutes they wouldn’t stop, if they found their partner was uncomfortable for some reason, without the threat of prison? Just what kind of men are these feminists involved with?
But more likely is that this is what many in the sisterhood want to think of men because it fits with the “man-bad, woman-good” theory of life they consistently project to the world.
In a complicated Maryland case that may soon make it to the state’s highest court, a young man and woman both testified that she told him to stop during the sex act and that he did so within seconds, and without completion. What preceded those agreed-upon events is murky; what matters is that the jury asked the judge during deliberations, “Is it rape if a female changed her mind during the sex to which she consented and the man continued … .” The judge said it was for them to decide. (The defendant, who appealed that conviction to the state’s Supreme Court, currently is serving a 5-year prison sentence for rape.)
But the Maryland appellate court has essentially said no, once intercourse has begun with a woman’s consent, it’s too late to call it rape and put him in prison if he doesn’t stop immediately. So now feminists are “inflamed,” according to Lee St.-John. They say they will push to change the law if the high court doesn’t strike down the appellate court ruling.
To establish that a woman can fully and even enthusiastically agree to sexual intercourse and then in the middle of it, if she chooses differently, he must stop “immediately” or he goes to prison, does women no favors.
For one thing, as Lee-St. John notes, what qualifies as “immediately”? Can we really count on a law to be fully “protective” in the moment, anyway? The seduction game can be incredibly, even wonderfully, daring, complicated and nuanced. This shouldn’t be a news flash. So, should there be some officially sanctioned signal, or perhaps a notarized paper, she has on hand to show, “I really mean it! You’ve got two seconds?”
Talk about creating a tangled web.
Sadly, what the feminists are advocating here degrades the real crime of rape. And, it infantilizes women. At some point — gasp — we are responsible for the choices we make, and for managing the consequences of the choices we make. That’s what’s empowering. We women are grown-ups, aren’t we?
I’m not sure. There used to be some generally accepted rules of engagement between civilized men and women. No, they weren’t always followed, but they provided something of a known playing field.
Now we just involve the courts when a woman’s sensibilities are offended because, like very young children, we can’t possibly be expected to manage those offended sensibilities ourselves.
And that’s what’s considered “progress” for women.
(Betsy Hart is the author of the “It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It.” E-mail her at sendtohart(at)comcast.net.)