Rape Culture

Rape As A Metaphor For Not-Rape: Rape Culture 120

This entry, which was originally written on March 17th, was updated in the wee hours of March 20th.

Late yesterday afternoon, I spotted someone on Twitter claiming that the police brutality exhibited during the G20 Summit protests was a “grotesque rape of civil rights” while demanding to know why no one is being held accountable for it. First I wondered what the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women from all across this country (but especially from my end of it on the West Coast) would think about that if they were here to answer on their own behalf. Then I thought about my own direct experience of nearly a decade of incest as well as several rapes during my life as an adult, which range in just about every quality one can survive, short of having a weapon held to my head or my face broken. And then I thought about women such as the survivor from the horrific 2010 incident involving GHB and several witnesses standing idly by while hitting the record button on their cell phones before posting and re-posting the evidence to YouTube for several consecutive days. Then I thought about women I know who have nearly died being raped. I thought of women I know who have only ever told me about being raped because they don’t know who else they can tell, on account of everyone else keeping it to themselves due to the stigma and shame associated with it. I thought of women who told me and me alone, because they don’t trust anyone else to keep it in confidence. I thought of women who were unknown to me until they walked up to me in the street to tell me their stories of being raped, because I was standing up to people who said I deserve to be raped (again). I could go on, so I did—in an entire series of tweets, starting with confronting this “tweep” on why no one is holding him accountable for this grotesque co-opting of rape.

First, here’s a screenshot of the offending tweet:

Screenshot from 2013-03-17 01:51:49

You know, for a guy with 6,000 followers, this one didn’t seem too popular. And after four days of me simply not letting it slide, I think he finally figured out the reason why.

I’ve heard all about those protests. I’ve even met people who were in them, and watched the videos of them being thrown to the ground, dog-piled by cops, stomped on by steel toe boots in their back and on their face as it is pushed into the asphalt, and put in handcuffs. One such individual did nothing more than wave their index finger in the general vicinity of a police officer, and no physical contact was made until police initiated it. He did not resist, was not yelling or swearing, and still has not seen justice to this day. It’s no secret to me that what was going on there wasn’t merely injustice, but a gross violation of several inalienable charter rights on a mass scale. It’s no secret to me that police do this often. Just last Summer, for instance, local police beat the shit out of about a dozen of my friends for walking on the sidewalk and legal use of a marked crosswalk in front of a police detachment. They were holding cutlery and cookware from their kitchens and making noise with them in solidarity with people who had been hauled off in handcuffs for joining them in a public meeting outside on public property. And as far as I can tell, local police did it all over again this weekend when a community march took place to confront police brutality and demand an end to it. The city I currently live in was hardly the exception here — Twitter was a nauseating display of remarks and sick fucking attempts at “jokes” about police brutality and excessive use of force. This sort of stuff not only hits home because of the sexual violence I’ve faced throughout my life, but for two other reasons. The first being that I have also been subjected to a horrific amount of domestic violence, in addition to all of the sexual violence, throughout my life. The second of those reasons is that one of my parents worked as a law officer for the provincial courts, and when I was 15,  one of the prisoners he was responsible for sued him for excessive use of force. He took out all of his rage on my mother and I because my two sisters had already flown the coop. It suffices to say that I took a mental health break from Twitter for most of that night, but I digress.

Back to Captain Keyboard and his attempt to co-opt the very concept of rape as an offensively misguided cry for accountability, while avoiding accountability himself for registering such an egregious offence. This is hardly the first time I have encountered someone using rape as a metaphor for anything not-rape, and accordingly, it is hardly the first time I’ve been incensed by it. One of the most direct and immediate impacts of using rape as a metaphor or analogy for not-rape is to literally steal the very powerful emotions associated with the experience of being raped, to apply it to something that already bears a characteristically different kind of overpowering emotional content, as if to simply heap it on top and compare oppressions. Thus, another direct and immediate impact is the conceptual trivialization of rape, which reproduces myriad existing structures of rape culture as further-reaching consequences. For example, it validates people who already believe that rape is of little or limited consequence, and especially so in the case of coercion not resulting in readily apparent bodily harm such as broken bones or a severely battered face. It also validates people who already believe that rape is either always excessively violent or it simply didn’t happen. Furthermore, it reinforces the banality of rape in the dominant culture, meaning that people like myself who come forward with their experience aren’t take seriously; are immediately accused of lying, being histrionic, or being unnecessarily hyperbolic; and/or are turned into the subject of a rape “joke”. All of these things happened when the young woman who was drugged with GHB and gang-raped was filmed instead of being intervened upon while her assailants carried out their horrific assault, when evidence of her experience was repeatedly re-posted on the Internet with trivializing captions, and so on. All of these things have happened to me, too, whether I’ve been standing up for myself or voicing my dissent to someone like Captain Keyboard over their attempt to play around with the very concept of rape (and by association, toy with my most traumatic life experiences). All of these things continue to influence the deprivation of social and criminal justice for surviving victims of rape, and have had this influence on dominant cultural attitudes and the colonial justice system for several centuries. All of these things together, intersecting and existing as part of an interdependent network (that includes still many more problematic ideologies and behaviours around the issue of rape), are what is understood as a culture of rape.

An argument even he is no longer convinced by.

For the record, a dictionary contains entries that describe the meaning of a word in a reportive fashion, usually accompanied by examples of its use in a sentence (or occasionally two if the word has multiple context-dependent meanings, such as words that mean one thing within a nautical context and another within common use). A dictionary neither contains, nor is in and of itself, a defence for such a gross misappropriation of an event as horrific, traumatizing, and often life-altering as rape. A reportive definition is also a completely different animal than a prescriptive summary. When one looks up the meaning of the word co-opt, for instance, one is informed that this means to absorb, assimilate, take over, or appropriate. For example, one might say “You are co-opting the concept of rape when you use it as a metaphor for not-rape“. Upon learning that this is how co-optation is defined, which is arguably done poorly, one still might not understand that co-opting is harmful, or why it is. A reportive definition, such as what is given for the word co-opt, fully de-contextualizes the meaning of the word and falls short of prescribing its use in various contexts. This is a common shortcoming of reportive definitions, and yet, reportive definitions are all one will find in a dictionary. Some other words such as legal terms are only useful in a single context. As such, these words are not quite fully de-contextualized, but nevertheless a great deal of the meaning is still lost in a mere description of its qualities. When one looks up what the word rape means, which seems like an utterly ridiculous exercise given the meaning of this word in both its common use and in widely recognized criminal law, one is informed in a variety of ways that this means either to sexually violate another person (when used as a verb), or the experience of being sexually violated (when used as a noun). Some dictionary entries may even state that the victim is usually a woman, even though this claim may be subject to limited dispute (see Rape Culture 202 for a more nuanced discussion of why the degree of that dispute ought to be limited). Some dictionary entries contain vague definitions that are actually used as euphemisms for rape, and have been for several centuries. To pretend, for the sake of either argument or ego, that rape either can be or ever has been considered anything other than rape is therefore to display ignorance of unquantifiable proportions (more on where that idea is rooted momentarily).

Though dictionary definitions exist by their very nature in the safety of a context-free space, nothing else does. Rape is a particularly sobering example of this point. Rape exists both as one of the single-most dehumanizing human behaviours and as a traumatizing experience within a greater dominant culture that is defined in part by the erasure, denial, dismissal, and shaming (i.e., rape culture) of both—with added emphasis on the latter due to the fact that both the behaviour and the experience of it also exist within a greater dominant culture that is defined in part by systemic violence and inequality (i.e., colonial culture) that leaves women subjugated to and by men. Dictionaries and the definitions they contain also exist within these cultural structures, but it simply does not make sense to speak of dictionaries as if they possess similar qualities to either a rapist or a rape victim/survivor. Similarly, opinions exist within these cultural structures, but unlike dictionaries, which exist apart from people (who themselves are not context-free spaces), opinions are associated with and intersect with people. And due to the not-context-free-space that is all people, not all opinions are of equal value. A rapist’s opinion of the victims s/he targets for hir dehumanizing behaviour is clearly not of the same value as the entire justice system’s collectively held or averaged opinion of those victims or their experiences. The opinion of a man who thinks that rape can and should be used as a metaphor for not-rape (and that this is defensible because he is wilfully ignorant of how limited a dictionary definition is for either providing or acknowledging the context within which the original concept exists and operates) is not of equal value relative to the opinion of someone like myself, who has directly experienced incest and rape (who writes volumes about how these experiences have impacted or shaped lives such as my own, as well as the existence and maintenance of rape culture within the dominant cultural framework), and who believes unquestionably that rape is never an appropriate analogy or metaphor for anything other than rape. I attempted to communicate this idea last night, as mentioned above, through a series of tweets:

  1. Sighhhhh… White men interpreting white man laws so that police brutality suddenly equals rape. Know what? Rape = rape. Nothing else. Kthx.
  2. Unless you go out on dates with men who show up in riot gear, police brutality is not comparable to rape.
  3. Unless you grow up in a home being handled by both parents clad in bullet proof vests, police brutality is not comparable to rape.
  4. Unless you go for drinks in a police garage, police brutality is not comparable to rape.
  5. Unless you attend schools in remote locations with cops in full uniform throughout childhood, police brutality is not comparable to rape.
  6. Unless cops specifically pursue jobs like priesthood and sports coach to gain access to victims, police brutality is not comparable to rape.
  7. I don’t know about you, but I never attended a sermon or softball practice by a cop with a police film crew and backup behind him.
  8. I don’t remember the last time I heard a woman being forced to marry the cop who beat her. You? Police brutality is not comparable to rape.
  9. I didn’t know cops use subtlety and GHB before they serve and protect the shit out of you. Maybe police brutality is not comparable to rape.
  10. Blitz of tweets about why police brutality is not comparable to rape was brought to you by @DemocracyCanada who thinks it is. Bitte schoen.
  11. I think I’m done. For my own mental health as well as several thousand times more people than the number who have been beaten by police.
  12. Wait. I don’t think anyone was ever put on trial to prove police brutality, asked what they were wearing & if they went into cop shop first.
  13. …and now I’m done.
  14. I can always tell when I’m confronting an unapologetic sexist. Democracy for everyone but survivors of actual rape. (E.g. @DemocracyCanada )
  15. Hey everybody! @DemocracyCanada is now arguing that a broken nose and jaw is the same as rape! Isn’t that wonderful?! #ClueByFour
  16. @DemocracyCanada also uses the “better check a dictionary” and “NO U!” arguments exclusively to defend co-opting the concept of rape.
  17. Hey @DemocracyCanada if broken nose + broken jaw = rape, what is broken nose + broken jaw + rape? Is that like, really bad rape?
  18. @DemocracyCanada just an idea here, but maybe avoid lecturing an incest&rape survivor (me) on what rape is.especially if it’s not-rape. Kthx
  19. Further math question, hey @DemocracyCanada if broken nose + broken jaw = rape, then what is rape – (broken nose + broken jaw)? #ClueByFour
  20. Hey everybody! @DemocracyCanada is still going on claiming that police brutality is rape! Now I’m the “word police” for dissenting!
  21. Last time I checked, rape is rape, and anything not rape is… Not rape. @DemocracyCanada
  22. I asked @DemocracyCanada a series of questions and he refuses, insisting on pretending the concept of rape exists in a vacuum! #FuckUDudebro

Unfortunately, and even though multiple dissenting voices came forward for four days in this particular instance, in support of calling this shit out, Captain Keyboard wasn’t getting the message, and continued on insisting that the dictionary definition and common usage (which apparently I am to assume is not rape, or I could not possibly acknowledge his defence as valid in any way) are enough to legitimate his conveniently de-contextualized use of the word (i.e., a co-optation, or if you prefer, an appropriation, of the personal and political gravity and emotional impact of being so traumatically violated). Captain Keyboard and the whopping two people who defended him also expected me to believe that this is an argument on his behalf and not merely his unsupported opinion, while my arguments and queries were ignored or were dismissed as mere opinion, word-policing, political-correctness-policing, or attempts to claim the word rape as my own so that I can appoint myself the supreme authority on how it can and cannot be used. Of course, I would argue that it is anyone defending this “non-sexual definition of rape” argument who is doing the cherry-picking. There are over 600,000 other words in the English language, and virtually any of them require exactly the same amount of time and energy to put to use, yet here we are having this argument for four days in a row. This has all happened to me before, given similar conversations with similarly minded individuals, and it goes on the same path every time, no matter how I engage it. To Captain Keyboard and his Rape Is Not Rape Because Rape Is Only Ever Not-Rape allies, the issue was about sheltering their freedom of speech from any and all forms of criticism. But to me, the issue was and still is about the erasure and trivialization of rape. To Captain Keyboard and like-minded individuals, rape was invisible (i.e., it never or rarely happens) and trite by default — until he finally changed his mind on the fourth day — where in their minds it deserved to be confined within dominant cultural attitudes. Thus, to people who think this way, it isn’t offensive to co-opt rape as a metaphor for something else they think is much more deserving of the attention rape demands as an issue. If it isn’t already self-evident, this is an extremely hazardous set of assumptions about rape—assumptions shared by a majority of serial rapists (refer again to Rape Culture 202 for further discussion of assumptions held by serial rapists).

You might ask yourself why I would engage in this struggle at all if it works out the same way every time with like-minded people who want nothing more than to silence the discussion before it gets off the ground. There are several reasons behind this decision. Firstly, I’ve exposed the individual’s mentality to others who bear witness to the event. Secondly, for those who have faced and suffered horrifically at the hands of individuals like these, someone is standing up against their perpetrators and/or the mentality of their perpetrators. Other survivors also witness an opportunity to take some of the power back that had been taken from them at one time by this mentality or similar.  And those lucky few who haven’t had to face this experience directly, it’s just one of many possible learning experiences in standing up against people whose mentality helps perpetuate social injustices (and by extension, criminal injustices as well). Why wouldn’t I engage? Wouldn’t you? If your answer is somehow uncertain or no, and that’s not due to unresolved trauma, keep reading. And if you are a survivor who is reading this, keep reading. I promise you, this story has a vindicating conclusion.

After four days, a veritable fountain of synonyms for what “Captain Canada” originally intended to communicate had been produced by this ongoing confrontation, and yet, he still insisted upon both using and cherry-picking the meaning of the word rape to suit his whim and fancy. He had also begun to insist that I’ve both libelled and slandered him (see: irony — boy could take a spoonful of his own advice and use a dictionary to look up the meaning of these two different legal terms), and demanded an apology from me at one point. It was my opinion by the end of the third day that this man is, in fact, a very dangerous person who quite literally fetishizes violence, rather than taking a stand of any kind against it; for not only did he conduct himself as though confronting his error was so threatening to him that he defended himself by claiming he is the “real victim” here (resulting entirely from his own words, though, he conveniently neglected while making his case—against an incest and rape survivor, no less), but he also continued to repeat the same harmful gesture (which is simultaneously rape-denialist and rape-apologist), even with an ever-increasing supply of vocabulary being made available to him that does not conjure the same violent context and emotionally traumatizing content. So I kept on him. Here are some more tweets I sent at him after I first published this entry:

  1. The dispute with @DemocracyCanada that started with his “police brutality is rape” shit turned into this blog post: http://wp.me/p260C2-rQ
  2. Unlike @DemocracyCanada a male friend of mine read that post, immediately recognized he has done the same, and apologized for the harm.
  3. Would be nice to see @DemocracyCanada experience a change of heart on using rape as a metaphor for not-rape, since serial rapists wouldn’t.
  4. I didn’t think I’d ever encounter a (2nd!) person who thinks I should apologize for the shit they said. Wonders never cease @DemocracyCanada
  5. The first blamed me for her insistence on discussing the texture of her post-colonoscopy feces instead of being a good host @DemocracyCanada
  6. I’m also confident that if @DemocracyCanada apologizing to me for my “anger” was a $0.01 cheque, it would bounce. #FuckUDudebro
  7. @DemocracyCanada I don’t ever expect to actually see an apology come out of my computer screen or your face hole, but you’re fucking wrong.
  8. @DemocracyCanada thinks my argument about why rape analogies for not-rape has a “fatal flaw”. He has a dangerous understanding of violence.
  9. @<handle#1 removed> he still thinks he can use this dictionary definition argument, barely cloaked as it now is by him @DemocracyCanada
  10. @<handle#1 removed> he also has a rather unsettling understanding of what violence is, claiming that argument has a “fatal flaw” @DemocracyCanada
  11. An argument can have a “fatal flaw” but a rape metaphor for not-rape can’t? What is up with the violence in these choices? @DemocracyCanada
  12. Rape isn’t some context-free idea you can just heap on top of other forms of violence to trump rape at your whim and fancy @DemocracyCanada
  13. @DemocracyCanada oh, you mean all the euphemisms for rape so that people don’t have to face the “de-flowering” as a sex act? @<handle#1 removed>
  14. @DemocracyCanada by all means, let’s consult England of all places for our definition of rape. Just close your eyes first. @<handle#1 removed>
  15. @<handle#2 removed> ah-huh, like, oh, the abduction of one’s right to sexual autonomy? Please just stop defending this harmful idea @DemocracyCanada
  16. @<handle#2 removed> unlike “linguistics”, which is essentially no more than a plea to “ignore how I manipulate this dialogue” (1/2) @DemocracyCanada
  17. @<handle#2 removed> (2/2) …rape isn’t some context-free or consequence-free concept or idea to just toy around with @DemocracyCanada
  18. @DemocracyCanada screenshots of exactly what you said aren’t slander, aren’t made-up, and aren’t unfair to you, but it sure was bullshit.
  19. @DemocracyCanada telling you the consequences of what you have to say also isn’t slander, made-up, or unfair to you. It’s freedom of dissent
  20. @DemocracyCanada pls pick up a dictionary & inform yourself of the meaning of the word slander, which you will find differs from libel.
  21. @DemocracyCanada when you’re done, I suggest reading up on the 4 legal defences of libel, 3 of which apply to my writing but not yours.
  22. @<handle#2 removed> news to me that the original grammatical content of rape is somehow not-rape. Be a fucking genius and leave it. @DemocracyCanada
  23. @<handle#2 removed> intent isn’t fucking magical. @DemocracyCanada
  24. @DemocracyCanada What I have a problem with is that there is now a FOUNTAIN of vocab for you to choose from and you still pick rape.
  25. @DemocracyCanada What I have a problem with is that not only have I experienced what you’re co-opting and that isn’t good enough for you…
  26. @DemocracyCanada …but now many people have come forward telling you you’re fucking wrong, and your answer is to tell me “fuck you”.
  27. @DemocracyCanada Oh, and the “get a fucking life” followed by “I’ll pray for you” is the real kicker #Douchebro
  28. @DemocracyCanada Boo fucking hoo. You got called on your shit, and I’ve been raped several times. I wonder why you’re the one fucking crying
  29. @DemocracyCanada yeah, I’m sure your insistence on using rape in place of myriad other more appropriate words will really legitimate “peace”
  30. @DemocracyCanada I’m also sure the time & effort you’ve wasted to defend co-optation is infinitely more than just picking a different word.
  31. @DemocracyCanada peace be with you coming from someone so threatened by being called on his shit that he cries victim to a rape survivor.
  32. @DemocracyCanada seems legit #Douchebro
  33. @DemocracyCanada several people inc someone who did the same thing you have, have learned. When will you? Guess you don’t want to.
  34. @DemocracyCanadaYour assumption that you know this subject better than I, despite no direct experience, is part of a colonial mindset.
  35. @DemocracyCanada your belief that peace is even possible also comes from a wilful blindness to systemic violence. Keep prayin’, #Douchebro.
  36. @DemocracyCanada no, you’re not sorry. And no, your words don’t hurt me. It is you who keeps bawling about slander and libel, not I.
  37. @DemocracyCanada additionally, your “get a fucking life” and other hostility tells me that you are, in fact, my enemy. And dangerous.
  38. @DemocracyCanada all of the time you’ve spent defending the co-optation of rape, you could have just as easily spent not being an enemy.
  39. @DemocracyCanada maybe you should look up a synonym for peace, because your ideas about violence exclude sexual assault. #ClueByFour
  40. @<handle#3 removed> I’m pretty shocked at the length this individual will go to defend being an offence to all rape survivors @DemocracyCanada
  41. @DemocracyCanada I guess if that was a sincere message, you’d have the humility four days ago to concede your mistake. #ThinkingSelfishly
  42. @DemocracyCanada please actually understand how insincere your peace-wish is, as a person whose idea of violence excludes sexual assault.
  43. @DemocracyCanada haven’t you figured out what’s going on yet? Or do you still assume no one in the world has anything to teach you?
  44. @DemocracyCanada isn’t sorry for the harm perpetuated. He’s sorry for how it managed to inconvenience him. This time. #rapeculture

And then the most amazing thing suddenly happened. I managed to change the mind of a complete stranger. On the internet. Using feminism:

Screenshot from 2013-03-19 23:25:02

He also offered an apology to all rape survivors for the harm perpetuated by his original choice in language, and went on to explain to someone else who immediately tried to continue defending his mistake, that he has learned he was wrong:

Screenshot from 2013-03-20 00:36:58

This is what social justice looks like online.

This is why I expend the energy. Even this blog post brought the issue to light for several people throughout its first 24 hours live, and directly called upon at least one person who has previously done exactly the same thing, to modify his future behaviour.

10 thoughts on “Rape As A Metaphor For Not-Rape: Rape Culture 120

  1. Hmm – I wonder if Captain Canada would be equally willing to call the G20 situation a “sexual assault” on civil rights, or if that would just look silly to him/her.

    • Certainly a valid question.

      Which means that he won’t answer, because while he’s allowed to ask other people questions, he’s not obligated to answer or even acknowledge any of theirs.

    • I can’t tell if you’re following comments, but I wanted you to know that I’ve updated this entry, because in the middle of the afternoon (in my timezone) on the fourth day, he did a complete 180. I’m still amazed that actually just happened.

      • Yes, I am following, and this is definitely an amazing story. Words matter! Kudos to you for your persistence, and good on Captain Canada for being thoughtful enough to challenge his own views and reverse his position. Maybe there is hope for humanity after all.

  2. You present a compelling perspective here. But don’t you think Captain Canada possibly misinterpreted your ambiguous and very short message? It initially sounded like you were saying he’s wrong to suggest there were civil rights violations. Your point about misappropriating language is subtle and needs explanation. This is because people use loaded language to make political points all the time.

    You might also consider the fact that those whose loved ones were victims of murder might be deeply disturbed by phrases like “the Giants murdered the Steelers last night”. But it’s likely the sports writer would never have considered such a potential issue. If confronted with a tweet that criticized her for co-opting the word “murder”, she would likely assume it meant that the Steelers played a good game. I’m not using this case to compare murder and rape, but just to illustrate how misunderstandings can arise when people are confronted with a new way of thinking.

    I think it’s a good idea to educate people on this issue. But maybe a more explicit and charitable approach, so that people will be more likely to understand the message and take it to heart?

    • I think the issue you’ve raised here around the use of the word “murder” in an analogous way simply illustrates how inherently violent (and desensitized to violence) the dominant culture of North America is. We all need to take our share of fixing this problem.

  3. I just went and read the back and forth, so now I have a better sense of just how unreasonable and stubborn he was being. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that when I approach people with a direct challenge, they tend to get defensive and hold on even when they know they’re wrong. But I’d be curious to hear if you think there’s a good reason to avoid the strategy of trying to think together with them.

    • Trying to think together with bigotry is step one in becoming an expert at confusing oneself. I had the energy to confront someone like him this time, but I don’t always. After that enormous energy expenditure, I got a lot of people thinking about the subject — fortunately, including him.

  4. Pingback: “In Bad Faith” | Crommunist

  5. Pingback: It's Not 'Forced Sex,' It's Rape – And Why Not Calling It That Is Dangerous — Everyday Feminism

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