Judith Lautner (judith) wrote,
Judith Lautner

There's rape and there's rape - and it's all rape

I don't read Cosmo. It tends to irritate me because the theme forever has been "how to get a man". I did read Helen Gurley Brown's autobiographical book, Sex and the New Single Girl (followup to Sex and the Single Girl), years ago. At the time I wanted to like her. She was striking out in a man's world and doing it on her own terms. But her terms were really just a fun-chasing version of the old rules. That is, she thought women should have fun, and that sex was a good way to get there. And she thought that women should do whatever they could to get men in bed.

She hasn't been editor for a long time but she set the tone. It appears that the magazine still is following that line. In the September 2006 issue there was a short call for stories, in which the writer referred to "gray rape".  My daughter called my attention to this bit in the magazine. I wrote to Cosmo:

Dear Cosmo,

In your September issue, you ask "Do you want to share your story"? In this quick blurb you refer to a situation your writer calls "gray rape".

I find such a distinction offensive. There is nothing gray about rape, whether it is by a stranger, a boyfriend, or even a partner. In fact, I can attest to how the experience of being raped by someone you know can be worse than rape by a stranger. It can weigh more heavily on you and your memories. I am 61 years old. I have had three experiences of rape or near-rape:

When I was going to school in Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s and living on my own in a little second unit, I met someone at my job at the school library. He asked if we could get together. We had a very short date, which I didn't feel went where I wanted. Apparently he felt differently, because he came over to my place unannounced one day and when I said no he forced himself on me. If a friend of mine had not come in just then (I had an open-door policy for my friends) this near-stranger would have completed the job. As it was, he ran out of there and I did not see him again.

That experience was frightening because with all of my awareness and strength I was not able to push him off me. I took it as a warning and from then on I have understood why rape has such a lasting effect on women.

A few years later, in 1974, I was traveling in Rome. Early one morning I went to see a monument to the "unknown soldier". I climbed up the many steps to take it in a close range in the early morning light. And then I was attacked. Because it was so early nobody else was around. I managed to fight this stranger off and run away before he was able to rape me. That experience was something of a culmination of many close encounters with Italian men, and when I was later offered a job there I said no, I'm going home, because I couldn't stand to live in a city with so many men like that.

A few years later, I was living with my baby's father in Los Angeles. One day he invited a few friends over and he had been drinking. He decided to show his friends that he controlled me. He forced me down on the hard wooden floor in the living room and raped me. It wasn't the first rape but it was the first public one, in a world where so-called "husband rape" did yet not officially exist. The most horrifying thing about this humiliating experience is that his friends, although clearly uncomfortable, did nothing to stop him or help me. This is the rape that stays with me. Needless to say, this man has been out of my life for a long time now, yet we have two children so he'll never be completely out.

Gray? I don't think so. In 1976 that event would not have been classified as rape but it was, pure and simple. I'm amazed that a magazine like yours would equivocate at all in 2007.

Judith Lautner

Cosmo responded:

Dear Reader,

We received your letter of concern regarding our September story “A New Kind of Date Rape” and want to address what seems to be a misunderstanding. Cosmopolitan did not invent the term gray rape. The phrase emerged when the author of our article, Laura Sessions Stepp, was researching a book on today’s hookup culture.  


In fact, the words were used by women who were left confused after a sexual encounter they were not one hundred percent sure they had consented to and by women who had known friends who were similarly confused. The confusion, many of these women admitted, was the result of having been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the encounter. Our article endeavored to help victims in these situations make sense of their ordeal, explain their avenues of recourse, and offer advice on how women can prevent so-called gray rapes from happening.

Cosmopolitan has a long history of covering the topic of sexual assault and, more important, of being an advocate for victims. Linda Fairstein, a former Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor of 25 years, is a regular contributor to our pages. She and other rape experts applaud Cosmopolitan’s efforts to keep our readers educated about such difficult issues as sexual assault.


The Editors of Cosmopolitan

Of course the response is canned. Obviously I misunderstood the use of the term (the blurb was very short) but the answer Cosmo gives did not satisfy me. Others who wrote to object to the use of the term got the same letter (there was a letter-writing campaign launched by one or more groups - I wasn't part of a group).

What concerns me here, and what the editors clearly do not understand, is that consent while intoxicated isn't really consent. If the women were confused later they were not in a position where they made informed choices.

Let's assume, even, that the women might have wanted sex at the time. If they had been less intoxicated would they still have said yes?

I don't think there is anything gray about this situation. About any of these situations.

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