Wednesday 12 November 2014

Rape culture and The 40 Year Old Virgin

The decision to allow disgraced footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans to train with the League One club Sheffield United has given way to understandable controversy. The player was released last month after serving half of a five year prison sentence, having failed to secure an appeal. The rape conviction, which is not spent until 2017, concerns a 19 year old woman who was deemed to have been too intoxicated to give consent. Evans and his supporters have all along refused to give credence to the rape charge and conviction. Now that he is released, his supporters claim that he deserves the chance to return to professional football. After all, the alleged rape was "non-violent", and he reasonably believed that consent was granted.

There are many problems with this of course. First, the offence of rape is always a violent crime. This does not require physical force. Second, the crime is against personal autonomy. If a man (under UK law, only someone with male anatomy can commit rape) engages in sexual intercourse with someone who is unable to give consent, then consent is absent. This is true even where the person regains the faculty to consent and decides that they would have given consent at the time. It is that simple. Sexual intercourse absent consent is the crime of rape. Third, and for our purposes last, Evans has not atoned for his crime. He continues to deny it. He can therefore not be considered rehabilitated, especially while the conviction is active.

Ched Evans will likely never admit guilt and will instead continue to try to clear his name. Following his release from prison, the Criminal Cases Review Commission announced that they would fast-track a review into his conviction. It is therefore at least possible that Evans' conviction will be overturned. In the meantime, it would be foolish for anyone to employ him, let alone reinstate him as a role model for young men and boys. His victim has several times been named, in contravention of the Sexual Offences Act, and has had to relocate twice.

Some, I daresay many, men seem to have a real problem accepting that it is possible to think you have consent for sex, but consent could not be given, and that this is in fact rape. This is despite that the law is quite clear on the matter. Why is this so? I suppose there is a cultural tendency to excuse this form of rape as normal, socially acceptable behaviour. I recently watched the film The 40 Year Old Virgin again with my wife. We both love that film. It's one of our favourite comedies. I have to say though that I was really struck this time by its apparent apologism for rape culture.

There is a scene where the protagonist Andy, played by Steve Carrell, is out in a night club with his male friends, who are attempting to instruct him in picking up women. The goal is to get him laid for the first time in his life. He is advised to go after "easy" drunk women, and indeed he does leave with one. She turns out to be so habitually drunk that she has a court imposed breathalyser integrated into the ignition of her car. Hilarious! Andy is turned off when she spews a half digested daiquiri all over him.

In another scene, we see Andy in the home of Beth from the book store, played by Elizabeth Banks, who is also recklessly drunk. Andy decides he can't go through with it, but his pal Cal, played by Seth Rogan, is there to step in. We do not see the rape occur, but are left to assume it did. That's right. This is rape (or at least sexual assault), and quite clearly so. Andy might have reasonably imagined he had consent, but Cal couldn't claim that. He took advantage of Beth's compromised state.

What am I trying to say? Is The 40 Year Old Virgin a horrible misogynistic film that should be shunned and condemned? Are the cast and writer/director Judd Apatow terrible people? No. I still think The 40 Year Old Virgin is a great comedy. Andy never takes a wrong step. His friends are mostly portrayed as character foil grotesques. One is an obsessed stalker who cannot let go after being dumped by his girlfriend years earlier. It is not trying to teach morals, but even if it were, we come away thinking it's better to be kind and gentle.

But maybe we should cast a more critical eye over the portrayals of drunken pickups in mainstream culture. Does this type of story normalise date rape? Perhaps it does feed into the notion that many men seem to have about it. I saw a tweet today from Greater Manchester Police, which I have to say is refreshingly enlightened:

I was dismayed though when I read the first reply, which states...
but what about them girls who consent. Then "cry" rape.
This is the trouble, you see. "Them girls who cry rape" afterwards did not consent. That is to say, if the woman was incapacitated at the time, you can assume you did not have her consent. This can be hard for a guy to deal with after he's paid for a nice dinner and a movie or pulled a really hot bird in a club. But if guys can get their heads around the fact that sex is not their God given right and that there is a real risk, yes risk, that they might actually rape someone tonight if they are not careful, then perhaps we can make some progress dispelling these rape myths.

We (mostly) all understand that "no" means "no". But those of us who may find ourselves in the position of risking rape would do well to be reminded that we also have the power to say no (to ourselves as much as anyone). Sleep on the couch. Who knows? Perhaps you'll get lucky in the morning.

Some people may take offence at my suggestion that guys are risking rape when they go out on the pull. Please don't get me wrong. This is not some oblique attempt at victim blaming. But I do think guys really need to be aware of how easy it is to become a rapist, though they might never think themselves capable of it.

Drink and drugs impair judgement, but this is no more an excuse for rape than it is for domestic violence or drink driving. You may not think you're too drunk to drive, but if you do it you're still a DUI. And if you kill an entire family as a consequence of it, you deserve all you get and more. If you had too much to drink or took drugs and did not possess the clarity of judgement to realise that a woman was not in a position to give consent, then you might as well have got out your car keys instead of your room key.

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