Nevertheless, a few months ago, over dinner with an acquaintance, I talked about rape.
“I mean, I don’t know, I think feminists have to be careful about using the word ‘rape’ too much,” she said. “Like, if you maybe wanted to have sex with the guy, but you get drunk and pass out first and he does it anyway, is that really rape? Because you did want to have sex with him.”
I said the obvious: yes, it’s rape, because wanting to have sex with a guy at some point, or having had sex with a guy at some point, does not mean that he has the right to just stick it in without your explicit consent whenever he pleases, because consent means “yes,” not the absence of “no,” and because when a guy does that to your unconscious body what he is saying is that your consent fundamentally does not matter, that he is fine with fucking you when you are incapable of consenting or enjoying yourself, that maybe your lack of consent or enjoyment is what he prefers.
“Oh,” she said. “Because a guy did that to me last weekend.”
At a certain point, you have to ask yourself: how many stories like this am I going to hear? Girls who wake up naked and they don’t know why, girls who wake up with their boyfriends’ dicks in them, girls who said “no” but he just kept going, girls who didn’t fight back or run away because they knew they would get hurt if they fought back or ran away, girls who don’t use the word “rape,” girls who just think of it as that one time they had sex when they really didn’t want to have sex – or maybe he just touched them, maybe he just showed them his dick, that’s not “rape,” right, that’s just a guy being a little too aggressive – and why are they so angry? Why are they so scared? Why can’t they get up in the morning any more, why don’t they trust anyone, why do certain sights or sounds or words or scenes in movies trigger these huge panic attacks, emotions beyond their capacity to understand or withstand or just plain stand, this sudden 100% certainty that they are powerless and they are going to be hurt, humiliated, made subject to a cruelty that is beyond human comprehension, or maybe it’s not that this is about to happen, maybe it’s that it has happened already?
I mean, it would make sense, if you’d been raped. But what happened to you wasn’t really rape: it was just that time when a guy fucked you and you didn’t want him to. Rape only happens between strangers; rape only happens when you say no; rape only happens when you say no enough; rape is what happens when you physically fight back, and give him a chance to physically beat the shit out of you or kill you in addition to raping you. Rape only ever happens these ways, we tell ourselves, because that’s how we are able to tell ourselves that rape hardly ever happens.
So, then, Observe & Report: a movie with a scene of rape in which the joke is that it’s not really rape, in which the joke is that you can fuck a heavily drugged, unconscious woman and the only problem will happen when you stop – she will urge you to keep going, in the one second that she is verbal or capable of response, before she slips back into unconsciousness – and in which the joke, the hilarious gutsy edgy laugh line that sets audiences roaring, is that you should have just raped her without hesitation, because look how upset she is when you stop the rape!
And all the girls who’ve been there go: huh.
Because you weren’t really raped, you see? He just fucked you without your consent, you probably would have given your consent anyway, maybe you did give your consent and you just didn’t know it, maybe your consent was all of those drinks you had or all of those drugs you did or the fact that you agreed to go home with him or the fact that you kissed him or your outfit or just the fact that you’re a woman and he got a hard-on in your presence, maybe that is consent, maybe that’s all it takes, so really: you weren’t raped, it was just some guy fucking you when you didn’t want him to, so why are you so upset about it, why is this the thing that’s killing you?
So the critics parse and debate whether it was rape, and for the most part, they say that it’s not: she did tell him not to stop, after all! Maybe she just got drugged so that he could fuck her while she was unconscious, maybe that’s her thing! You’ve got the miraculously and no-doubt-coincidentally all-dude panel over at the AV Club talking about how “edgy” the scene is, that it’s a “new kind of comedy,” that classifying that scene as a rape is a little… and they don’t want the conversation to, um, get out of hand, you know… and these men are so clearly so very uncomfortable with defending the scene that you can literally hear them squirming in their seats, talking about the “irony” of this “new kind of comedy” and how they certainly hope the irony is there because otherwise it would be kind of… but the point is, as Sensitive and Non-Sexist and uncomfortable as they are, they are not uncomfortable enough to stop defending the scene, not uncomfortable enough to point out that, even if Anna Faris, in complete contra-representation to all of the thousands of scenes like this that happen everywhere and every day, tells her rapist not to stop, the scene would certainly seem to indicate that she didn’t tell him to start, making it, de facto, a “real” rape in progress.
Which, Jody Hill would have been fine with removing that line, he would have been fine with removing even a little bit of ambiguity, he thinks that rape is its own punchline:
I would have been happy without any dialogue in that scene. I wanted to show them just having sex and her passed out, and I thought that would have been funnier. But I think I have a darker sense of humor than most people. So at the end, [Faris’ character] is okay with it. [Laughs.] And that was like, “I’ll shoot it both ways.” So I actually shot it both ways. I just kept the camera rolling.. I think if you’re really pushing the envelope, you have to not include everybody, if that makes sense. Or else it’s not really pushing the envelope.
Multiple-choice question: the “everybody” that he is fine with not including is (a) women, (b) rape survivors, (c) people who get that “having sex” while one partner is unconscious is not, in fact, “sex,” but rape, and that this is inexcusable, or (d) all of the above, and Jody Hill can go fuck himself.
I believe that women like to fuck. I believe that people like to fuck, and that this holds true even when the people in question are women. I believe that women can pursue, initiate, and enjoy sex. I know this to be true because – shocker! – I’ve done it. However, in a society that does not truly or deeply believe these things, that believes sexual desire is essentially male, that condemns women for the pursuit, initiation, or enjoyment of sex, this is the end result: a belief that women’s pursuit, initiation, enjoyment, or basic consent to sex is irrelevant, that sex can be a thing a man does to a woman whether or not she actively takes part in it or wants it, and that this is, somehow, not rape.
I mean, I get the “joke” of the scene in Observe and Report. The joke is that it’s not rape because she wants to be fucked while drugged and unconscious and unable to move or to take bodily pleasure in the act. (Or, in Jody Hill’s Very Special Edgy-Pushing-the-Envelope Director’s Cut, the joke is that it is rape, which is hilarious in and of itself.) The problem is that this is a joke you can’t make unless you fundamentally misunderstand the nature of sexual consent, or the nature of rape. Anyone who does understand it knows that a single phrase blurted out by a semi-conscious, incoherent, out-of-her-mind high character who can’t really even know what’s going on, let alone respond to it in a way that is “full and informed,” does not mitigate the fact that the male character in the scene is raping her. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is capable of getting rape and consent confused – and, for that reason, may be entirely capable of committing rape. This joke doesn’t just rely on our misunderstandings of rape; it actively promulgates them. That’s the problem. That’s why I’m not laughing.
This will be my last post on Observe & Report. The conversation has been taken up elsewhere. I believe it is making a difference, and that it’s a conversation worth having, because I think that when filmmakers and critics gloss over these things, and try to find reasons to call the rape less than “real” or somehow excusable, one of the things they are doing is participating in the conversation that keeps us from openly addressing these attitudes, and the fact that they are held by many, many people who may be considered – and who almost certainly consider themselves – normal and harmless. A commenter pointed out that the conversations around Observe & Report are a microcosm of our society’s attitudes about rape in general, which is true. We need to change the rules of that conversation. When we talk about the rape in Observe & Report, and the misunderstandings upon which it relies, and the people who act upon these misunderstandings, we need to call those people what they are.
They are our rapists.