Cosmopolitan's Date Rape Panel: There Are No Shades Of "Gray" When Vomit Is Involved

Remember last month when Moe wrote about gray rape after casual sex avenger and Washington Post scribe Laura Sessions Stepp published that inflammatory article about it in Cosmopolitan? Well, this morning at John Jay College, Cosmo invited Ms. Sessions Stepp, along with legal experts, psychology professors and anti-violence activists, to discuss and define the concept of "gray rape." There had initially been calls for a protest by rape activism groups, but as far as we could tell, no one showed up to storm the auditorium. Expertly-coiffed Court TV talking head Ashleigh Banfield moderated the morass. Ostensibly the purpose of the the panel was to ask the question, "Is there ever a gray area between consent and denial?" What the panel actually established was that no should always mean no. Revolutionary!



Laura Sessions Stepp was the first to speak at any length, and she basically rehashed the article she had written in Cosmo peppered with some of her usual anti-hook-up propaganda. Blah, blah, women should be dating and not just having casual sex, blah, blah, there wouldn't be so much assault if they had real relationships.

Two of the three men on the panel, Neal Irvin, the National Director of Men Can Stop Rape and anti-violence activist Joe Samalin, focused their commentary on the need to educate men. "The way we socialize men to think about sexuality is the reason they're confused about gray rape," said Irwin. "We're taught that men are the seekers, women are the gatekeepers." An interesting point, but neither Irvin nor Samalin gave concrete examples on how to help educate or socialize the men in question.

Linda Fairstein, the former chief prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.'s Sex Crimes Unit, was the only commentator who said anything remotely useful in terms of defining gray rape. "There is no such thing as gray rape in the criminal justice system," Fairstein explained. If a woman is blackout drunk — ie she is actively engaging in behavior but not creating new memories — rape will be nearly impossible to prosecute. "I would never have said yes when I was sober," Fairstein said, "will not stand up in court."

"Men are responsible," Fairstein continued. "They shouldn't be having sex with wasted women. Vomit should probably be a red flag... But teaching responsibility to young women is just as important. You don't have to drink eight drinks. You don't have to get blotto."

After the panel, Samalin suggested to me that men should refuse to have sex with any woman who has been drinking. "Even if you've been dating for three years," he said solemnly. Because that's a realistic expectation! Samalin's attitude was my issue with the whole experience. Every panel member vigorously agreed that when a woman says no, a man should listen, regardless of how quietly she says it or how intoxicated she might be. But the messier issues — what if she says no, but then consents later, or what if she says no while she's taking off her panties — were either not addressed or glossed over completely. Incidentally, I learned that in Maryland and North Carolina, once penetration has begun, a woman cannot rescind her consent. Duke sorority sisters, please take note.

I tried to ask Cosmo EIC Kate White what she thought about the gray rape discussion but when I told her I was from Jezebel, she muttered something about needing to deal with logistics and scurried off. Maybe she was aware of the irony that Cosmo — the magazine that, just this month, is suggesting its readers learn to "Tease Him into a Frenzy!" and "Be a Jealous Bitch!" — was hosting a discussion about the deeply conflicted nature of young women's sexual identity. Or maybe she was just afraid we'd tell everyone how airbrushed her letter from the editor photo is.

Earlier: 'Cosmo' Wonders: Is It Rape If You Had Too Many Jaeger Shots To Remember It Anyway?
Related: New Yorkers: Come Protest "Gray Rape" Panel This Morning! [Feministing]