What’s the difference between drunken sex and date rape?

drunk woman

If a woman says yes, it’s not rape. If a woman is drunk and says yes, and has no regrets later, it’s drunken sex. If a woman is drunk and says yes, but later has regrets, it’s date rape.

Does that make any sense?

That’s the question raised by Kim Voynar in Movie City News in discussing a controversial scene in the new Seth Rogan movie Observe and Report:

There’s been a bit of a brouhaha stirring over opening weekend about the alleged “date rape” scene in Observe and Report… Now, as the film is seen – or not seen – by a larger group of film writers, some are accusing the film of making comedy of date rape. But does it?

MaryAnn Johnason, writing for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists thinks it does:

Is date rape funny? That seems to be the big question of the day, because — yup — Seth Rogen’s character date-rapes Anna Faris’s character in Observe and Report

[New York Magazine’s blog] Vulture finds the scene “explosively funny” — I do not — while also being “deeply uncomfortable,” which I think almost anyone would agree with. I think we’re sure to see much debate, even among feminists, about whether there’s anything redeeming in this particular example what appears to be, on the surface — and perhaps below the surface too — Hollywood’s casual misogyny.

On the other hand, Katey Rich of CinemaBlend.com declares that “Seth Rogen Is A Rapist, and That’s Okay.”

… [N]ow we’re faced with a mainstream comedy in which the main character, played by a beloved movie star, is totally, 100% a rapist. Women in Hollywood has already demanded that their readers boycott the movie, while Vulture argues that the scene isn’t even that bad given the other awful stuff Ronnie does over the course of film.

And this may be the moment where I have to hand in my feminist credentials and run away from the people with pitchforks, but here goes: I don’t think the scene is that bad. Rather, it works within the world and the tone of the movie overall, in which we are handed a main character– Ronnie Barnhardt, mall cop– and tested repeatedly as we watch him do a series of horrendous, ridiculous, and illegal things…

Voynar gets to the heart of the matter:

For me, the scene itself fell on the side of inebriated sex and not date rape, and I find the more vitriolic responses to it rather reactive and indicative of the larger issue of responsibility around sexual behavior and the urge to blame others for the negative consequences of our own choices…

There’s an inherent contradiction that a lot of feminists seem to prefer not to discuss at all: if we say that a woman who is inebriated by her own choice is therefore no longer responsible for the sexual choices she might make while in that state, is it fair to argue that the man she’s with, if he’s also inebriated, should be responsible for making that choice for her?

Would [they] be willing to argue that if a man has sex when he’s “too drunk” to make a sober decision, he no longer has responsibility for the consequences of that sex, such as pregnancy or spreading a STD? How can we seriously argue that a man who gets chooses to get too drunk and has unprotected sex IS responsible for the consequence of that choice … while arguing … that if a woman chooses to get herself too drunk to make a sober decision, the full responsibility for that choice must also fall on the man?

In other words, how can the fateful accusation of rape hinge on whether a woman who consents while drunk is happy or unhappy about that consent afterward? It shouldn’t. That does not mean that there is no such thing as date rape. A woman who consents to kissing or foreplay has not consented to sex, and there is no reason for a man to assume otherwise. Moreover, a woman who has been surreptitiously drugged cannot register either consent or protest, and any sexual acts performed on her are definitely rape.

However, a conscious woman, even when drunk, is a moral agent. Yes, means yes, and the fact that she has regrets later does not change that. Women can and should be held to the same standard as men. If men are expected to take responsibility for choices made while drunk, including sexual choices, then women should be expected to do the same.