Sunday, April 12, 2009

Calling it what it is..what was that again?

(This post contains sexual assault and rape triggers. Please proceed with caution.)

Out of the 4 women in my immediate family, myself included, I know for sure that 2 of us have been raped, my mother and myself. I am fairly sure that one of my sisters has also experienced rape. She has admitted to me that she has had experiences that fit the criteria but she is reluctant to call it "rape" and seems to prefer to file it under "sex with regrets." my mother also doesn't use the word rape to describe her experience, although she is open about the fact that her enthusiastic consent was never obtained. Even with this acknowledgment, she still relies on euphemism to name what happened to her.

I have had quite a few fights with my spouse about rape and when to use the word. The last argument centered around a post at The Curvature in which Cara discusses Lil' Wayne and how his first sexual experience(at age 11 initiated by a 14 year old girl) can probably be classified as rape but is treated by others as a mark of status as a male, especially as a black male. The discussion was specifically about rape apologism as it applies to men. My spouse was very upset that I called it rape. Zie claimed that I had no right to call it that if the victim did not.

I'm not sure I accept that argument. There are certain elements of it that sound like they are progressive and do fit with my ethics, namely that we do not have the right to define the experience of another. However, this argument specifically feels inauthentic. Mainly because we don't talk about any other assault or crime like this.

What makes rape different? It took me years to define my experiences as rape, and I am still resisting it to a degree. Why does everyone, survivors and non-survivors alike, freak the fuck out when you dare to utter the r-word?

Part of it seems to be a dissonance between what rape is and what we think it is. There is a nauseating list of popular myths about "real" rape, like the persistent myth that rape is what happens when a stranger jumps out of the bushes and drags you down a dark alleyway with a knife to your throat, and if that isn't what happened then it isn't "really" rape.

In fact, part of the reason there is so much social contention over rape statistics can be directly attributed to how rape is defined. For example, the way rape is defined in studies where survivors are asked to self-report what happened to them changes the statistics on rape prevalence considerably.

There is also a social dissonance about who rape happens to. There are apologies up the wazoo every time the word "rape" rears its head. We have pervasive social myths about how rape victims want it, or deserved it. Even in cases that seem clear cut there is talk of the survivor's behavior and character as if this excuses the fact that someone else felt they had a right to hir body.

Another part of it is how we stigmatize survivors. This ties directly in to the ideas of "real" rape. No one wants to be a "raped" person when that means being stigmatized either as a liar, a slut or as damaged goods.

I don't know. I'm still working on this, but I refuse to be shamed for what happened to me. Anyone who wants to try to make me feel ashamed can kiss my fat ass.


  1. I've had people tell me that it isn't rape if you're coerced into having sex when you don't want to (and having been there done that, it's not coercion, it's rape, in my mind). The thing that pisses me off about how rape is described is that it's always described as being about sex. Rape isn't about sex, it's about power, with the rapist showing that s/he has all the power and the person being raped has none. And society just feeds into that by blaming the victim and making excuses for the rapist. And that power dynamic is why castration (chemical or physical) doesn't do a damned thing to stop a person from raping (because the urge to rape isn't always a sexual urge, and just because a man, for instance, doesn't have the ability to have an erection doesn't mean he can't/won't use an object instead).
    Working through the shame of having been raped is not easy (or even possible, sometimes) with the way society views anyone who has been raped. The blame game is rampant and figuring out that blame doesn't lie with the victim but with the rapist is one of the hardest things you can ever do.

  2. Holy cow, CORRECT. It was so welcome to see this in my reader today, as this - "real" rape, and the stigma of identifying as a survivor publicly, when you know very well that can cause people to take your arguments less than seriously since you're just some hysterical victim who sees rapists everywhere she looks - has been dwelling in my brain and making me a distinctly unhappy camper for the last few weeks. WORD, LADY. That's all I got to say.

  3. this is an excellent post--thank you for sharing it. when i first saw the interview with Lil Wayne, i felt very uncomfortable how the guys were treating it as a status thing, which also perpetuates this idea of some people (like men) as unrapeable. and you're right--it's not about sex, it's power. and explaining the behavior away is just more victim-blaming. we need to fight these myths about rape, clearly define what rape is and what it involves, and stop shaming the victims.

  4. Zie claimed that I had no right to call it that if the victim did not.I had this conversation with a friend, who considered it "part of doing drugs with boys" that she woke up to one of them raping her. I pointed out that she didn't have to feel like a victim to have what that guy did be rape. Having sex with an unconscious woman is rape. Period.