In an episode of Mad Men last month, a prostitute named Aimee has sex with a teenaged Don Draper (née Dick Whitman) after nursing him through a nasty chest cold. Actually, let me rephrase: Aimee doesn't just have sex with young Dick Whitman--she rapes him.
Throughout most of the episode, Aimee serves as a surrogate mother for Dick; she lets him recuperate in her bed and offers him rest, comforting words, spoonfuls of warm broth. However, in their penultimate scene together, Aimee's maternal kindness turns oddly predatory. She approaches her bed where Dick is lying weakly, fever newly broken, and asks, "Don't you want to know what all the fuss is about? "No," Dick replies forcefully, averting his eyes and hugging the blankets tightly against his chest as she reaches under the covers to touch him. "Stop it," he says, clearly uncomfortable, even afraid. But Aimee doesn't stop.
To me, this interaction was an unambiguous depiction of rape--and not simply statutory rape. Dick is in a physically weakened state and repeatedly makes it clear that he does not want Aimee to touch him sexually, much less "take his cherry." As a child of the '80s, I was raised on a healthy diet of "No Means No." Rape isn't just something that happens at gunpoint with a strange man in a dark alley; rape, essentially speaking, is being subjected to sex without consent. And Dick clearly did not consent.
Of course, I recognize that even my simple definition of rape as sex without consent gets murky when applied to concrete scenarios. Take the recent controversy over the infamous "gray rape" scene between Adam and Natalia on Girls. After that episode aired back in March, feminist publications erupted with substantive discussions about consent, rape culture, and sexual violence. Writers from major publications ranging from Slate to Salon to Ms. Magazine chimed in, speculating whether or not what transpired between Adam and Natalia should be seen as rape.
I didn't expect the Mad Men episode to generate as much interest--after all, the scene, despite more clearly depicting a lack of consent, is far less explicit than the one in Girls. But I did anticipate general acknowledgement from writers and critics that Dick had been, if not raped, at least violated or mistreated by Aimee.
That didn't happen. To my surprise and dismay, I found that the vast majority of responses (including The Atlantic's) glossed over the encounter, benignly describing Dick as "losing his virginity" or having his virginity "taken" by Aimee. Even more disturbing were those that portrayed the exchange as something positive, even empowering. According to one participant in a roundtable discussion at The Wall Street Journal, Aimee "guides [Dick] through his first sexual experience." A recap at The Daily Mail, despite recounting Dick's protestations, underplays the interaction as a mere "tryst."
I had to really dig to find Matthew Guerruckey's analysis at Drunk Monkeys, the only article I came across to give any serious attention to the abusive dynamics between Aimee and Dick. There was far more online chatter (even indignation) about Betty Francis making a rape joke in an earlier episode, and most writers seemed more disturbed about Grandma Ida stealing Don's watch than Aimee stealing sex without consent.
The most unsettling account I read was Paul MacInnes' recap for The Guardian, which somehow concludes that Dick not only consents to Aimee's advances, but actively desires them: "Aimee knew what young Dick really wanted and was prepared to do what was necessary to give it to him."
Let's pause for a moment and imagine a parallel scene between, say, a slightly older Sally Draper and an adult man. He tries to seduce her. "No," she says, when he begins to touch her, "Stop it." He ignores her; she lapses into silence; he has sex with her. Now let's picture the feminist outcry if a writer for a mainstream publication were to describe this as not only consensual, but as Sally getting what she "really wanted."
There is clearly a double standard at work here. Even though our cultural understanding of rape has gained nuance and depth over the last 50 years, thanks in large part to feminist activism, our narratives about sexual assault remain thoroughly mired in gender myths. Of course, it is true that most victims of rape are women, and most perpetrators men. But if the most recent data is any indication, sexual violence against men at the hands of women is far more prevalent than feminist and mainstream narratives often indicate.
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, a nationally representative study on sexual victimization developed by the CDC, 4.8 percent of men in the United States have been "made to penetrate" someone against their will at some point in their lifetimes. That's nearly 5.5 million men. And for about 80 percent of those men, their abusers were female.