Monday, October 10, 2011

Rape is not a metaphor.

I did NOT want to write this post.

I tried my damndest not to. But it kept boiling inside me, all the things I needed to say, and if that's not what a blog is for, then I don't know what is.

I would love to be filling you guys in on the new web-series I've been working on, or how the horror movie I've been shooting was 11 days of fun and blood and screaming and sleep deprivation, or how Lira's wedding (which I officiated) went.

But first, I have to get this off my chest.

A blogger that I absolutely adore and respect to the highest degree (whom I STILL adore and respect to the highest degree, but I absolutely disagree with on this point) blogged about the Johnny Depp Incident. Basically, Johnny Depp, in an interview with this month's Vanity Fair, compared the act of sitting through a photo shoot to being raped. His words were: "Well, you just feel like you’re being raped somehow. Raped.... It feels like a kind of weird –- just weird."

And this blogger said there was no need to apologize (which the lovely Johnny Depp did, after being called out about it by RAINN) and that we had become too hypersensitive in this day and age about the meaning of words. Commenters agreed with her, saying that many, many things can be raped, including Mother Earth, celebrities by the media, etc.

So this is what I wrote:

"I'm going to have to disagree and say that I'm pleased that he apologized. Part of what is now Rape Culture is using the word "raped" to mean things that do NOT mean raped. When Johnny (whom I adore to the highest degree) said that he felt raped by a photo shoot, he did not ACTUALLY mean that he physically had someone shove a body part into an orifice of his while he repeatedly said NO and that he will have to deal with the guilt and shame regarding what he was wearing and how he was acting for the rest of his life. He will not have to deal with society judging him, labeling him a slut, telling him he "asked for it" and to just move on. He will not have to take a pregnancy test and wonder if he might be carrying the baby of the person who violated him, he will not have flashbacks of being raped while he's trying to be intimate with his wife, he will not find himself afraid of the dark or back alleys or wonder "What if" for the rest of his life. He will not spend a large amount of time (perhaps the rest of his life) being ashamed and afraid of his own sexuality.

He will not do any of this because he was not raped, yet he used the word raped. I don't think it's Political Correctness, and I don't think sexual abuse survivors have "hijacked a word." I think they know all too well that rape is serious and horrific and loaded and comes with a slew of baggage put upon it by society, and it is Rape Culture that says that is acceptable to use that word casually and throw it around and take the seriousness away from it. Rape Culture is making it casual and funny and when people STOP wincing at that word, then fuck it, we have a much bigger problem on our hands.

Thanks for listening."

And I thought that was that, and I moved on with my day. Except for the fact that I didn't move on. I couldn't. I got more and more frustrated the more I thought about it. Because I don't think the word "raped" should be used as a metaphor, much like I don't think the word "retarded" or "gay" should either. The definition of rape is not "whenever I feel particularly violated." It is an act of sexual assault, and if you take the sex out of rape then you are watering it down to a PC Diet Coke version of something very real, very tangible, and very traumatizing that happens to a lot of people. The very definition of rape includes sex; the word "violate" does not.

A few years back my car was broken into. Did I feel violated? Sure. Did I go around telling people I was raped? No, I did not. Violated is not the same as raped.

But people are now raped all the time. They are raped by Netflix raising its prices, raped at gas stations due to raising prices, raped at copy centers due to raising prices.. come to think of it, I don't hear people use the word "rape" as a metaphor NOT related to money very often. How do you think that makes actual rape victims feel? Do you think if someone came to you and tearfully told you that they were raped, that you'd nod and say, I was raped last week too when I was asked to pay more than I thought I should for a goods or service! We have so much to talk about now!

No. You wouldn't do that.

Celebrities are also raped, sometimes for hours on end... on red carpets, at photo shoots. In interviews. So let's imagine that scenario, shall we? Imagine a loved one calls you up. You ask how they are. Not so good, they say. I was just raped. Oh my God, you exclaim, what happened? Your loved one goes on to explain that he or she willingly showed up to a job, where he or she proceeded to work at this job for several hours, didn't express any feelings of uncomfortableness or reservations about this job while the work was being done, was paid for this job, and afterward felt taken advantage of in some way. Now, I'm not undermining this experience. To feel taken advantage of, even when you are getting paid, and you showed up willingly, and you expressed your feelings to no one (because if you had, people would have rushed to rectify this) is not a fun one. But it is not the same thing as being raped.

You cannot have rape without sex, my friends. You CAN.NOT. If you have rape without sex then you are taking the very loaded, complicated, horrific aspect of this crime and putting glitter on it. The Mother Earth can be violated, trashed, taken advantage of, used, spat upon, and neglected. But until someone finds a way to sexually assault an entire planet, no, it was not raped.

There are millions upon millions of people out there who have suffered sexual violence. Some are women who have been forced to marry their rapists to protect their honor, and so they continue to be raped. Some women were raped on dates, some men and women are raped by their partners, some men and women who are raped while passed out at parties. Rape is humiliating, and shaming, and is rarely punishable or provable in court (leading to the statistic that only 1 in 20 rapists will ever see a day behind bars, and that a rapist, assuming correctly that he will not be prosecuted, rapes an average of 6 times in his life time. Yes, even date rapists.)

Rape is a struggle for one person to exert power over another. Rape is something that happens to everyone, of all races, incomes, religions, and cultures. Rape seeks to silence people by creating a bubble of shame around it. Society encourages this by saying "she's asking for it" and putting the sexual history of rape victims on trial when the very rare incident of a rape going to court actually DOES happen.

Rape is many, many things. But rape is not a metaphor. And it should not be used as one.


Indigo said...

I agree, using rape as a metaphor is taking a heavy hand with something that...let's just say brings up some not so great memories.

For those of us who know on a personal level what that word signifies, there is no inclusion.

You can't say you've been raped unless you honestly bear those scars inside you. Unless the very word peels the scabs off memories, keeping the wound fresh. (Hugs) Indigo

Anthony Duce said...

I agree completely with your view.

kj said...

i've started this first sentence twice now. i agree & i applaud your conviction and passion and clarity. this makes me want to look in the dictionary, which i probably should have done before coming here. i have to admit i think of the word 'rape' when i think of what is happening to our planet.

still, i won't forget your words and i will remember from now on.


Robin said...

I think this is another case that proves my point about something "hitting you where you live." There is getting it and there is GETTING IT. People who really get it have only done so because they have experienced it. It hit them where they lived. Johnny Depp was never raped, so it seemed like a fitting metaphor to him. I imagine his life feels in many ways not like his. It belongs to the public. And he likely craves privacy. However, had he ever been raped, he NEVER would have chosen that word. He was smart enough to realize it was a bad choice of words and retracted it. However, the real problem is that unless rape has touched YOUR life in some way, OR you are a very empathetic individual, you just don't get it. I am glad you posted this. People need to be educated.

Maggie May said...

I really like you too, and surely we can disagree vocally, and still like each other. I AM a woman affected- deeply, permanently and horribly- by sexual abuse. Any of it's permeations are horrible. And I've used the word rape for it's other meanings outside of sexual force. As someone who was abused as a child, I don't flinch when I hear someone say 'the wind abused my hair' or whatever...because words are often used to express and illuminate meanings in different ways, and because I'm a writer and it's in my marrow to use words in that manner. The word rape means:

1    /reɪp/ Show Spelled [reyp] Show IPA noun, verb, raped, rap·ing.
the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.
any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.
statutory rape.
an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside.
Archaic . the act of seizing and carrying off by force.
verb (used with object)
to force to have sexual intercourse.
to plunder (a place); despoil.
to seize, take, or carry off by force.
verb (used without object)
to commit rape.

Isabel Doyle said...

It is such a powerful word - so loaded up with culture, emotion ... it becomes short hand for saying lots of other (watered-down) things. You are absolutely right though, rape is not a word to be used lightly or inappropriately.

Marion said...

I think we can use the English language to express ourselves in whatever manner we choose. I also think we all have the right to disagree because that is what makes American what it is today.

I have a close male relative who was raped as a child. I would never use the word lightly (which I do not think Johnny Depp did...he was expressing how violated he felt...).

I would hate to see the rabid politically correctness that has taken over our politics, take over the entire English language. I respectfully & lovingly disagree with you. xo

Two Tigers said...

On the one hand I do agree with you that this is a word not to be used lightly - or incorrectly. But I'd add that it is but one of many words used in this way, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes carelessness, and sometimes in a perverse attempt to co-opt loaded language for shock value, or simply a lack of creative facility with all the other language out there at our disposal, and then cite various freedoms as the excuse for laziness or lack of consideration. I am the least politically correct person around, as irreverent and outrageous and boundary-pushing as it gets, and yet even I draw the line at misusing and abusing (um - see I didn't say raping) a handful of words that should remain off limits unless used wisely and well. Thanks for this post. It needed to be said.

Phoenix said...

@Maggie May, Marion, and others who will probably disagree - can I just say how much I appreciate your guys' input? I wrote this post to garner discussion and dialogue, and it is civil discourse that makes the world work, not 100% agreement and conformed thought. We can debate back and forth on the issue but I'm not going to change anyone's mind, just make people think a bit more about the words they choose to use.

In the end, it's about kindness. Underneath everything, underneath the main issue and the endless debate of how far we take Political Correctness or how careful we should become about the words we use or what personal freedoms we should never, ever give up, is an underlying current of: just be kind. Just be aware that there are people out there who have gone through hell and back and are still healing, and might be healing for the rest of their lives, and that we can fight for our right to use whatever words we choose in a free society, but part of being in that society is also being kind to others. I am as irreverent as they come, but I have held the hands of too many survivors of sexual violence to ever use that word again lightly.

Thanks for listening.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You raise so many important issues with this eloquent, honest post. We should all choose our words with thought. They are not all interchangeable and some have the ability to dig into others' wounds. Rape is certainly one of the most charged words of all.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you in the fact that we are totally desensitizing these words. We (as a society) are taking the basic meaning of these words and discarding them, or using them in incorrect content.

Rape is an act of violence. Not an act of sex. So, I agree with you that Johnny Depp and any of these other uses of the word rape are totally incorrect and should not be used.

I disagree with you on the word "retarded". I am bringing that one back. Because this world is actually behaving..."retarded"

Coming from Marion Webster, it stems from the base word "retard" or "to slow up especially by preventing or hindering advance or accomplishment" impede.

Based on this definition, this world is behaving retarded. And there are quite a number of retarded people running around. And this has absolutely nothing to do with any physical, mental or emotional disabilities.

You will find that I am a true stickler for words........

Wine and Words said...

Well hon, our views come largely from our frame of reference. RAPE takes on a much narrower view point when you have actually been RAPED. But I also understand Marion's point, that we, as writers, are afforded metaphors. Doesn't mean we disrespect the word, or wish to water it down. I've been literally and metaphorically raped. Does putting metaphorically before the word make it okay? I don't know. In any way, shape or form, I hate being "forced upon", so rape works for me in that regard as a term. There is one thing I absolutely agree with. "Sex" should not be taken out of the definition of rape. Absolutely. Not.

Love you Pheonix. We struggle with the same things. I feel you like a lil' sister :)

ed pilolla said...

i think the word rape has been watered down. it is by nature such a highly charged word. now it's used as a metaphor so often. i'm sure i'm guilty, and i don't think much about. that's why a reminder such as this, including the discussion, is worthwhile.
but it is fascinating to look at the definitions of rape as listed. if one were so inclined, one might conclude it's useful to not have a separate word for the act. in other words, it's just as accurate and perhaps commonplace in the english language to describe thievery as rape. talk about devaluation.
glad you wrote the post you didn't wanted to:)

Okie said...

Great post. I agree with your view both specifically about "rape" and generally about other terms which have been watered down over time through intentional misuse in order to shock or prove some point.

As a lover of literature and writing, I can certainly respect "poetic license" in the use of metaphor to make a powerful statement. But there are some comparisons that are just not appropriate. By the same token, there may be instances where alternate definitions can be provided for in order to make a point...provided those making the point are willing to acknowledge the inexactness of their comparison and the use of their slanted metaphor in such a way.

Looking at the list of definitions that Maggie May lists, I find it interesting that nearly half of the definitions (4, 5, 7 and 8) don't explicitly have anything to do with sex. This shows the power of cultural connotations.

For me personally, when someone says rape, I think of the sexual connotation. However, with additional qualifiers (the "rape of the planet"), I also see the definition as viable.

Not being a rape victim, I can't say how this alternate definition/usage might make my pain feel minimized, but I can acknowledge that there is certainly room to feel like it's being minimized.

Probably the worst moments would be the "off the cuff" comparisons to rape with no thought or bearing on the nature of the comparison. I think if someone talks about the "rape of a countryside" (as in definition 4), and backs the claim up with evidence of the "violent...despoliation" that occurred, the feeling of minimization may not be as strong as say someone who uses the term nonchalantly to describe a minimal act of discomfort.

I find society/culture very interesting in the fact that we have become so hypersensitive in some arenas and so insensitive in others. We tiptoe on eggshells around political correctness but then slap each other in the face with crass and thoughtless comments. Far too often people throw some word or phrase out there in the hope of shocking or making someone laugh or otherwise react. This is done in an attempt to garner attention...rather than to convey an accurate meaning or intention.

I personally believe the key is for all of us to be sensitive about the right things...the things that truly matter. We should be mindful of the feelings of others just as we hope they are mindful of ours. We should also be mindful of intent in the same way we hope others will recognize ours.

Thanks for a great and well articulated post.

Lori ann said...

i very much agree. sorry i can't say more tracy, this is a subject i hate, there's another word i abhor too. hate hate, hate rape.

Jo Schaffer said...

Ahhh...sensitive subject. I have to sort of agree with Maggie May, while totally respecting and understanding your feelings about it too.
While I have not been sexually raped myself I do have friends who have... and I would probably refrain from casual use of certain words around them.
And btw my youngest son is special needs and I admit I sometimes flinch when people use "retard"... but I shrug it off-- knowing they have a different frame of reference for the word than I do...and at times I even use it to mean something is lame. I guess that's the Sagittarius in me?

Layla said...

Absolutely 100% agree with you! Thank you thank you thank you!!! I have worked with many rape survivors over the years and each and every one of their stories haunt me. Thank you for speaking up and not staying silent!

Snowbrush said...

I agree. It's absurd to compare an inconvenience that a person voluntarily submits to with rape just as it's absurd to compare an American president to Hitler.

Phoenix said...

Well said, Snow. I do so tire of the hyperbole that is now so acceptable to use in the English language. Your "Hitler" example is also spot-on.

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