Comment & Analysis

Contemporary focus on the issue of ‘consent’
"The contemporary discussion about rape is more often about ‘consent’ than about violent assault", writes Mary Kenny

George Hook

I didn’t hear George Hook’s radio comments about rape which have caused such a storm of controversy, so I won’t comment on the specifics of what he said. You have to hear something live, pick up voice tone, register and context, to form a judgement on a sensitive subject. 

On the general topic, it always needs to be reiterated that rape is an odious crime. But the contemporary discussion about rape is more often about ‘consent’ than about violent assault. The issue now is often whether the two participants in a sexual act did so by consent – or not.

There’s a current drama on British television in which this is the dramatic focus. In ITV’s Liar, it is established that the two main characters, Andrew and Laura, have had a sexual encounter. In the first episode, Laura (Joanne Froggatt) claims that she was drugged and raped. Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) maintains that they had consensual relations from which both drew pleasure.

Evidence

There is no objective evidence to test these competing versions. No witnesses, no forensics, no CCTV. There is just his word against hers. The viewer is inclined to trust Laura’s testimony – until doubts creep into the story about her character. 

This narrative perceptively illuminates a central argument around rape in our time: the question is not about what actually happened, but whether there was consent to what happened. 

My own inclination is to believe a woman who says she has been raped, since most women would not make such a serious charge unless it was true. But then there is ‘the crooked timber of humanity’: and nothing is outside the bounds of human possibility. 

Recently in London, a 25-year-old woman, Jemma Beale, was jailed for 10 years for having made four false charges of rape. In one case, an innocent man had himself served a jail sentence in consequence of her claims. (Incidentally, Jemma Beale was brilliantly prosecuted by a female lawyer, Madeleine Wolfe.) 

Because women are evidently the more vulnerable gender in this sphere, I would generally tend towards being more sympathetic to the woman’s point of view. But the complexity of rape claims in a society which accepts that ‘anything goes – so long as it is consensual’ is analysed with lucidity by Camille Paglia in her most recent book Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism. 

“Rape is an outrage that cannot be tolerated in a civilised society,” she writes. “Yet feminism…has put young women in danger by hiding the truth about sex from them.” 

The sexual urge, she warns, can be something dangerous, and young women should be told that. “Aggression and eroticism are deeply intertwined. Hunt, pursuit and capture are biologically programmed into male sexuality.” 

Women have to learn to protect themselves from “nature’s red flame”. A woman “must be prudent and cautious about where she goes and with whom”. 

And generation after generation, young men must be tamed and civilised to learn restraint and respect. 

“When anything goes, it’s women who lose,” writes this renowned professor of humanities and radical thinker on the state of the gender wars. And she brings to this difficult subject an illumination of its complexity. 

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Tried and trusted names

The film star George Clooney and his wife Amal have chosen to call their infant twins Alexander and Ella, because they don’t want the kids to have “ridiculous Hollywood names”. 

How wise to stick to the tried and trusted! I encountered an old friend last weekend and we began catching up on family news. It was a bit of a worry, he said, that one of his grandchildren was lumbered with the name ‘Isis’, after the Egyptian goddess of that moniker. Now, of course, it alludes to Islamic state extremists.

Children can be surprisingly conservative. David Bowie named his son Zowie Bowie. The lad later altered his name to the sensible Duncan Jones.

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An effervescent alternative to liquor

Coca-Cola has retained its No.1 spot in the Checkout Top Brands in the Irish Grocery markets, and – I am not being bribed to say this – I am pleased to see Coke retain its popularity.

Dentists hate colas because apparently these drinks rot your teeth, but for those of us who don’t imbibe alcohol, Coca-Cola is a gift. 

At most receptions and soirees these days, there is NEVER enough choice of non-alcoholic drinks. I am quite often reduced to drinking tap water at a party. It’s petty to complain, but non-drinkers really do feel left out on these occasions. 

But to be offered a cold, sparkling Diet Coke just fills that gap nicely. It provides that little stimulant of caffeine which cheers.

When the Quakers decided to campaign against alcohol abuse, they marketed chocolate drinks as a harmless substitute. I’m glad that someone invented these cola drinks which bring an effervescent alternative to liquor.