Monday, September 20, 2010

Student paper's sex position of the week depicts sexual assault

Building from the previous post on enthusiastic consent, I came across a disturbing comic strip printed in a student newspaper at Purdue University. There is a great critique on Jezebel.

I was not sure if I was going to link a picture because I find it very offensive, but I think in this case a description alone will not suffice, so here is the comic strip in question.

The text describes Man 1 having consensual sex with a woman while man 2 hides. Then, without her knowledge, man 2 takes his place while man 1 gets her attention from a window, at which point she is surprised. Because she did not consent to the second partner, this becomes a rather obvious case of rape. And it is not funny.

One commenter on Jezebel added a fourth panel to the comic that I think sums it up nicely

The fortunate part, if one could call it such, is that the editor has issued a genuine apology (as opposed to an "I'm sorry if you were offended" type apology that is so often the case with offensive college newspaper columns). Here are some quotes from the apology;
First things first: We made a mistake in printing Friday’s sex position of the week, and I, the editorial board, and The Exponent are extremely sorry...

On Friday and over the weekend, we received a flood of e-mails and phone calls telling us that this sort of graphic is unacceptable. And as soon as we received the first one and looked at it again – really looked at it – we agreed. If someone engages in any sexual act with anyone without his or her explicit consent, it’s rape...

The first step, however, is to admit our mistake and apologize. That’s what I’m doing here. We erred and we’re sorry – not because of your response, but because we were wrong and would’ve been wrong even if nobody had said so.
Contrast this to The John Hopkins Newsletter's statement about "fat chicks" at a lingerie party, where he writes "Though we apologize for the harm the article did, we will not apologize for the intent of the article."

I have seen numerous examples of college papers running completely inappropriate material, whether it be an opinion piece, a (failed) attempt at satire, or a comic strip like the one described above. Every time, I wonder how it makes it through editing, and I am not familiar enough with how newspapers are run to comment on that. What I can comment on is that only in a culture where sexual assault(under certain circumstances) is trivialized can this type of material make it into print.

I hope that The Exponent uses this as a learning opportunity and uses its influence to fight rape culture at Purdue rather than being a part of it.


  1. I am surprised by the editors of the paper. During their apology they said that after they got the first complaint they REALLY looked at the comic and agreed that it does depict rape. Do you really need to look at this comic a second time to realize that if a second guy comes in the middle of sex while the girl thinks she is still with the first guy that this just might be rape.

  2. Maybe it is a sign that this kind of image or joke is so commonplace right now that some people don't immediately read it as rape. If that is in fact the case, then it would be a fair assumption that a lot of women's personal experiences are not always looked at as rape even when they are clearly acts of nonconsensual sex when you take a second look.

  3. In the picture that you have of the two guys in the prison cell you forgot to put the woman in there also because we all know that she is partly responsible and all.

  4. For readers who don't make the connection, I should probably clarify that on the previous post about enthusiastic consent, Sweet Pandemonium's comment included a really interesting (but frightening) link showing that more than half of women polled believed that women are sometimes responsibly for being raped.

  5. My hope is they made the same mistake I did and misread the numbers. I thought the "joke" was that #2 was being a voyeur, which was planned by #1. Otherwise, then did they not understand this was rape?

  6. The apology makes it clear that they knew what the comic was depicting ahead of time. I would also argue that if the joke were as you described, it would still constitute a non-consensual sexual act and both men should still end up in prison.

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