I must respectfully disagree with the premise of the “Rape Culture” article, namely that “if sex is meaningless, than rape is only as bad as a wet willy…”. In response, I’d like to use an example from Mean Girls, a 2004 film starring Lindsay Lohan.
In the movie, Lindsay Lohan, playing a socially clueless high school transfer student named Cady Heron, tells Regina George, the head of the titular Mean Girls, that Damien, a friend of Cady’s, is “almost too gay to function”. She does so unthinkingly, parroting a casual joke that Damien’s best friend, Janis Ian, made in passing. When Cady Heron says this, however, she instantly realizes she says something wrong and becomes worried that she, too, is being a Mean Girl.
Why is it, however, that Cady thinks that saying that to a Mean Girl is wrong? Janis made that same joke in passing, in earshot of Damien, to Cady when she barely knew Cady yet. In that context, the joke was meaningless. Yet when Cady says it to Regina George, it’s a Mean Girl action.
The answer is that it’s a question of context. This comment, when it was said by a friend of Damien in a joking way, was lighthearted and fun, and presumably something Damien implicitly allowed. However, it is almost certain that Damien would not have wanted Regina George to hear the same joke, even from Janis Ian, for fear of what Regina George might do with it. The same joke was meaningless in one context and hurtful in another, and it all depended on consent.
In the same vein, sex, when done consensually with a casual partner, may be meaningless, and yet, when non-consensual, can be meaningfully harmful. Sex is meaningful on context, not in and of itself. It seems strange to insist that sex must always be meaningful or meaningless, as if one could say that the phrase “I love you” means the same when facetiously said to a friend as to a girlfriend or boyfriend for the first time.
Mr. Klee correctly shows that rape is still bad even if sex is meaningless, but he does not show how it is any worse than—to use his own example—a tasteless comment. While there may be much to be said for this view, still it does not seem right on the face of it.