There is something to be learned from the story of “Grace,” the anonymous woman who claims that she was assaulted by Aziz Ansari. She was not assaulted, as I’ve already argued. She willingly came back to his apartment on a first date, willingly took her clothes off, willingly performed sex acts on him, and did not attempt to leave until she’d spent many minutes making out with him, naked, in his kitchen and his living room. No rape occurred. What did occur was a cheap, awkward, degrading sexual encounter.
A year ago, a story like this would not have been news. It probably would not have been published at all. But the atmosphere today allows for a man’s career and life to be destroyed so long as any woman steps forward to accuse him of any sexual wrongdoing, real or imagined or embellished. The truth does not matter, nor do the individual details of each case. There is one pre-ordained narrative — “men are awful, predatory pigs” — and any accused man is pushed into that pit, where actual sex predators reside alongside men whose only crime was a lack of chivalry. It’s a dangerous situation, and we have yet to see the worst of it.
That said, the #MeToo crusaders do seem to have picked up on one important truth. They have gone in entirely the wrong direction with it, and learned all the wrong lessons from it, but they are right, at least, about this: there is something wrong with the way we approach sex in modern society, and it’s leaving a lot of people feeling hurt and abused.
But, beholden always to their narrative, they read a story like Grace’s and automatically interpret it as a struggle between an innocent woman and a depraved rapist of a man. When they hear that Grace felt violated after the fact, they declare that it must have been her “consent” that was violated. After all, the only thing either participant is required to respect is consent. It’s the only rule. The One Commandment. The only thing that can be violated. There are, in the modern mind, only two types of sex: consensual and rape. Whatever falls under the first umbrella must be good. So if a woman feels not-good the next morning, it must have been the not-good type, which means it must have been rape.
But the effort to fit begrudging yet consensual sex into the rape category requires the formation of a bunch of new and confusing and constantly changing rules. The overly simplified “good or rape” formula suddenly turns into an overly complicated calculus, and the only way for a man to really know whether he has committed rape or not is to ask his partner the next day. And even then, she may not make the determination until the following week, or next month after she sees you on TV winning a Golden Globe. And suddenly we have fixed the problem of sex in modern society by turning it into a criminal act. Ironically, conservatives are always accused of wanting to criminalize promiscuity but liberals have actually done it.
Their narratives and formulas have blinded them. They don’t understand that a person can be consensually violated during sex. A woman can unmistakably communicate consent — say, by getting naked in a strange man’s living room and grabbing his genitals — but still wind up feeling degraded and abused by the end of it because her dignity was violated. They don’t understand this concept because they don’t understand that human beings have inherent dignity to begin with. It’s like trying to diagnose a heart condition while denying the existence of the heart.
Here is the reality: Sex that consensually violates the dignity of a person is immoral and harmful, but legal and reciprocal. Casual sex — sex between strangers who just met on Tinder or at a party — is a mutual violation of human dignity. Both partners reduce the other to mere flesh and bone; a set of body parts with no soul or purpose other than to be used as a glorified masturbatory device. This is the essence of casual sex. It’s what makes it casual. And it’s why you have that icky feeling the next morning.
So, you feel violated? Well, you were. But you allowed it to happen; you invited it; you participated in your own degradation, and you did the same to the other person, even if he does not share your regret. What you hear in your heart is your conscience telling you that your body is too sacred to be treated the way you treated it. You. You treated it that way. It wasn’t something that happened to you, it was something that happened through you, because of you. You are 100% responsible, and so is the other person.
In this way, casual sex is no different than any other sin. Whenever we do something wrong, if our conscience is still functioning, we will always look back when the deed is done and think, “Why did I do that? It wasn’t worth the cost.” And we may be tempted to retroactively relieve ourselves of our guilt by rationalizing and justifying. We may say — whether the sin is sex or anything else — that we were “pressured.” And surely we were pressured. Every sin in the history of man has been committed by someone who was pressured, whether externally or internally, to carry it out. But the fact that you were pressured into sex does not mean that you were raped, any more than the fact that you were pressured to smoke a joint in high school means that you were drugged. Moral courage is required to resist pressure and temptation. It is no one’s fault but your own if you lack it.
Our godless society has long been engaged in this campaign to alleviate feelings of guilt, not by discouraging the actions that provoke them, but by making the person who feels them into a victim. You’ll notice that we have a “disease” or a “condition” to explain just about every vice. We make guilt into a medical or psychiatric issue. A man who has intense feelings of guilt and shame may consult a psychiatrist and come away with a prescription for pills that will numb his conscience. We are always trying to make the feelings go away without ever stopping to consider whether we have the feelings because of how we are living.
In the realm of sex, we turn guilt and shame into a legal matter. If a woman feels bad after sex, she must be a rape victim. It could not be her fault. It can never be her fault. We cannot allow moral guilt. We cannot put responsibility on the woman; we cannot “blame” her for her own decisions. We cannot leave her with her guilt because then we allow her no relief other than prayer and repentance. But that means we must acknowledge God, which opens up a whole new can of worms.
So, as cowards, we retreat back under the shelter of deflected blame. We start talking about “consent” and “rape culture” and whatever else. Anything but personal responsibility. Anything but shame. Anything but guilt. Anything but sin. And nothing gets better. And we never feel better. But, we tell ourselves, at least it’s not our fault.