Dr Phil's bizarre rape tweet

CLEMENTINE FORD
Last updated 09:47 22/08/2013
Dr Phil

UH OH: Well Dr Phil, it turns out we all make bad decisions.

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Yesterday, the internet lost its collective marbles when the Twitter account of Dr Phil posted a tweet asking whether or not it was okay to have sex with a girl when she's drunk. The tweet was quickly deleted, but not before approximately 50 phazillion people screencapped it and began replying with their own 'questions'.

Perhaps it's thanks to the focus on exposing and dismantling rape culture that's been steadily increasing in the past year, but it's heartening to see how many people responded with a mixture of anger, sarcasm and withering scorn. No, Dr Phil, the definitive reply seemed to be. If a girl is drunk, it ISN'T okay to have sex with her. Because targeted sex with a drunk person implies a lack of proper consent, and round these parts we understand that to be a little thing called 'rape'. Do you understand? Reply yes or no.

Also, why is the having or not having a decision entirely up to the man? 

It's disappointing to say the least that one of the world's most well known therapists (or his PR team) appears to think rape is a question that's still open for debate. Before you argue that the assumption all sex with drunk women is rape actually denies women the autonomy of choice, let's consider the context of the environment Dr. Phil's operating in. Do we really think that women's empowerment was at the crux of his query? He's built a profitable industry out of delivering 'real talk' to people - largely women - who display what he views as behavioural dysfunction. I very much doubt that the intention here was to begin a progressive dialogue on women's sexual liberation. Leaving aside the legal stupidity of even posing such a question (rape is rape, and it's not up to the public to decide what constitutes that), it's unlikely that people were even expected to reply yes. What Team Dr. Phil wanted to happen - indeed, what they expected to happen - was to spark a conversation that once again positions girls and women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity, and places the blame squarely at their feet when they fall down on the job.

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That the tweet ended with the hashtag #teensaccused seems to support this. To wit, unfair accusations of rape can and are made against boys who - like those in SteubenvilleTexasConnecticut and almost every other town across America - are tricked into acting on their natural desires by girls who should know better than to engage in 'risky activity'. Hey, I'm not saying they're entirely at fault - but it takes two to tango y'all.    

Dr Phil's comments perpetuate the sorely outdated view that some 'claims' of rape aren't really that at all; that in fact, they're little more than incidents of sexual misconduct perpetrated by opportunistic men against women who fail to adequately understand that they can't just behave as they like without consequence. As Emily Maguire writes in this excellent piece: 

"We all grow up being taught to pre-empt rape attempts, to second-guess the motivations of the men around us, to protect ourselves. Always protect ourselves. We get it. We live it. We do all that. And we still get raped. We get raped sober and drunk. We get raped when we're out and when we're at home. We get raped wearing short skirts and wearing burqas, wearing school uniforms and wearing pyjamas. We get raped by men we know and by men we don't. We follow all of the rules in that stupid email forward purporting to be from some sex crimes expert or we follow none of them and it makes no difference.

And then, and then, when we have failed -  despite doing everything or nothing - to prevent our rapes we are forced to fight for the right to even accurately describe what it is that has happened. Legitimate rape, forcible rape, genuine rape, rape rape: which was it?"

Yes, which was it? Was it the kind that involves the non-consensual violation of another human being, who may or may not even be aware of it at the time but who will certainly remember it forever after? Or was it that other kind of rape, the one where just maybe, possibly, probably there might have been something 'the girl' (because it's only the rape of girls and women that's ever subject to interpretation) did to confuse the situation? Like wearing a skirt in a particularly inviting shade of short, or having had one two many vodka tonics? In those situations, can it really be said that it's 'wrong' to have sex with her against her will or even knowledge? To view her as a convenient vessel rather than a human being deserving of respect, dignity and choice? It's just so CONFUSING y'all!

We are slowly moving towards a place where attitudes like these are going the way of the dinosaurs who spout them, but they still sadly persist. As Dr. Phil (or his PR team) demonstrate, they aren't isolated to the fringes of society no matter how many outraged people strike back on Twitter or how quickly the offending sentiments are deleted or retracted. The broken record of women's culpability still plays on and on long after the dusty turntable's been packed away, and no matter how hard we try we can't forget the words.

Still, there are relevant questions regarding girls and alcohol that need to be asked in a circumstance like this. Specifically:

I'm going to go with yes.

- Daily Life

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