February 2017
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on sexually violent language -- casual use of the word 'rape'
I decided to finally make a new post on this subject, as the old one was written long ago:

Rape is not material for jokes, irony, or metaphor. Rape is the worst thing that a person can experience, and minor upsets like buying something that is overpriced or losing a game are absolutely nothing like it. Even more serious violations like having one's diary read without consent or being pressured to alter one's art are not at all the same. Inanimate objects such as a car, the earth, or a bank account cannot experience rape. Rape is a stripping of one's basic rights, a complete and utter denial of one's humanness. It's not okay to refer to rape in any manner other than with great awareness of the horror and the tragedy that it encompasses. In using it ironically/jokingly/metaphorically you are not being clever with words, you are not being funny, you are not simply expressing a feeling of violation; you are trivializing the suffering of victims and encouraging acceptance of the act, no matter how subtly.

To know if use of the word 'rape' is an acceptable metaphor, consider whether you would rather literally experience rape or experience what you are currently experiencing. Then, if you have never experienced being sexually violated, realize that you do not know the answer to that question and you have no right to judge other people's experience as being the same as your own.

Rape is NOT like any other violation. Rape is not a synonym for any-old-violation. Rape refers to the sexual violation of someone's body.

Casual use of the word rape (or molest, used in a sexual connotation such as 'so-n-so is molestable') makes it more acceptable to joke about the actual act, which in turn makes the actual act seem less horrific and annihilating, more acceptable. Words have power, and how we use them affects the world around us.

I once was working as a cashier when someone came up to me and in the friendliest tone said, "I'm going to rape you--

r drawer" (referring to paying for something small with a hundred) -- ze did not include the pause but I felt it like that. I was so in shock and triggered I couldn't respond. Nowadays I'd have Something To Say. I think ze was actually expecting me to laugh, and seemed to realize that ze had made a mistake when my smile dropped and I froze. (later I wished I had been able to speak because I think that was a moment when the right words could have made a huge change -- I only hope that my wordless reaction said what I couldn't) Only in a world that thinks rape is okay is it acceptable to speak so casually of it.

Not to mention, more than one THIRD of all women and one ninth of all men have been sexually abused, and this language is triggering. Even if you don't care about or believe in the effect of your words on the culture at large, consider the fact that if you are in public it is HIGHLY likely that someone within earshot has been a victim, and if you have more than two female friends it is extremely likely that one of them has been a victim. Sexually violent language can be triggering, and that means having that same emotion flood over you again. Not every victim will be triggered, true, but you have no way of knowing who will and who won't, as most people do not talk about being sexually abused, much less explain their triggers.

ETA: Rape has power, horrible destructive power, and to strip the word of that power would strip the act of its power in the minds of those who have never experienced it and leave them less likely to care, less likely to make change to stop rapes. The word rape needs to be a powerful word because the act of rape is a powerful act. Making the word less powerful would not make the act less powerful -- it would make the act have no appropriate word by which to call it. And if an act has no word to describe it, there is no way to open dialogue about it, which is the first step in working to stop it.

I refuse to be friends with someone who may use sexually violent language in a casual manner. To people I don't care about, I simply unfriend with no explanation when I see that, because it's never a nice conversation. If I pointed you to this post in response to you doing so, it means I care about you and want to give you the opportunity to reconsider your use of the word. I want to allow you to choose between losing the use of word in that way or losing me, as this is a firm boundary for me.


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Comments
Very good post. I feel the same way... that kind of usage drives me absolutely nuts.

♥♥♥

"Rape's not something where you just go, 'Well, get over it' or
'Believe in love and peace, my child, and it'll all be over.'
Well, fuck you, that isn't the answer. It's a great thought, OK,
but you can go and stick crystals up your butt and get on with
it. I'm all for love and peace, but that's not the side I work
on. If somebody would talk about it, or worse, joke about it, I
would be ready to kill. That's not healing. It was a very long
time after that before I was able to be with anyone again. And
it has never been the same as it was before." - Tori Amos -


What a fantastic quote.
I agree with every single word of this. I am so sick of this rape culture in which rape is apparently ok and how people just don't seem to realise that as long we use the word casually, this rape culture will continue and maybe even deepen (scary thought). How can people not realise how devastating their casual use of the word is? Not having experienced rape yourself is not an excuse for such offensive language.

I refuse to be friends with those who make rape jokes and use it as a metaphor for violation.

belenen passionate
*nods emphatically* it is truly horrifying how much of a rape culture we live in... I've had "Transforming A Rape Culture" on my shelf for so long but it's so hard to read -- I've only read bits and pieces. When you really comprehend how every bit of interaction is influenced by this, it's overwhelming.
moonvoice quirky - t - hate. everyone.
THANK YOU. I so agree with this. I've known people who will say things like 'I was raped by the train service today,' or 'I want to rape/molest X celebrity,' or whatever they say in a completely casual sense and not only does it trigger flashbacks for me, I think it's completely insensitive use of the language in general. :(
belenen passionate
EXACTLY. That is exactly the sort of use I am referring to. It's horrifying.
belenen passionate
yes, indeed they have. Here's one thing I said, "[Do] you feel it is positive to use the word 'rape' or other sexually violent words in casual ways in order to strip them of their power? I could also understand that, but I definitely don't agree that it would have that effect. Rape has power, horrible destructive power, and to strip the word of that power would strip the act of its power in the minds of those who have never experienced it and leave them less likely to care, less likely to make change to stop rapes." So essentially, the word rape needs to be a powerful word because the act of rape is a powerful act. Making the word less powerful would not make the act less powerful -- it would make the act have no appropriate word by which to call it. And if an act has no word to describe it, there is no way to open dialogue about it, which is the first step in working to stop it.

♥ I love your questions!
The only other context where I can picture the use of the word 'rape' as other then physically forcing someone sexually, is mental and emotionally. My first spouse did that to me, he abused me mentally (and physically too) to the point that I was no longer sure of my own mind, indeed more then once I thought I was losing it!

I very nearly admitted myself to a psych ward, because he had me so convinced that it was my fault, that I had done something wrong, that I was making everything up in my head. Years later I know, he played on my fears and insecurities, and twisted things around until he had control of me, body and mind. Psychological rape, if you will, in that my mind was just as violated as my body was.

Casual use of the word though, sickens me. I freeze, I can't speak, the blood drains from my face as a fight-or-flight response starts... People seldom understand the power a word can have, or even a tone of voice. I've lived the reality of that word, and I'm saddened to know the word alone can control me and force me to react in ways I don't want.
belenen gentle
yeah, I agree with that use too.

*nods* I used to have that sort of reaction too. I'm lucky that I've had the time, support, love, and counseling to heal enough that it no longer triggers me like it used to, but it still affects me because it is such a statement about how the person is indifferent or jovial about the destruction of human beings.
belenen honesty
I think you have gravely misunderstood what I was saying. I'm not saying people shouldn't talk about the fact of rape -- they should! we need to recognize this as a HUGE problem and educate people. I think it is good to talk about rape/sexual abuse, as long as it is in a respectful way.

I'm simply saying that one should not use it casually/metaphorically/ironically, as in "we got raped" when referring to losing a game, or "starbucks raped my wallet" when referring to buying a coffee. I think that is disrespectful to victims and trivializing the devastation of rape.
It absolutely confounded me when I first heard a male friend of mine use the word rape in this trivial context. Since then, it's always been men who use it that way; I haven't heard a single woman utter it. It's really horrible, and it has to stopped. I don't know how or why they started using the word this way, but I agree it's unacceptable.
saturnsdaughter iconsbywong - Olivia
You make a very good point here. A lot of people don't seem to take rape or any form of sexual assault serious enough anymore and it's quite sad. Despite the old sayings, words do hurt and do have power, and it's the young people who internalize this idea that rape can be a laughing matter that we need to worry about.
belenen passionate
*nodnod* thanks for your comment ♥
twelvepetals lost in thought
I completely agree with everything you said here and I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before but I really like the way you explain why you feel and think about various topics. Your point of view makes perfect sense and if I were someone who used that word casually, reading this entry would definitely have made me stop and think about the weight behind a word like that and omit it from casual vocabulary.

<3
belenen passionate
oh, thank you! Usually I like to be more gentle in my phrasing because more people hear you that way, but on a subject like this I feel it necessary to be firm. So I'm happy to hear that it would have affected you in a positive way! ♥
i am wondering how much of this is cultural? or perhaps i just hang out with 'sensitive' people, but no one i know has ever used the word 'rape' casually. (i'm thinking maybe the use of the word has been 'casualised' in the states more so than in the uk (?)).

i am deeply mortified by the act of rape, can not watch it in any movie/ tv show and am often dumbfounded and deeply moved to terror when i read about the experiences and traumas of sexually abused people.

i particularly related to how you described the effects of rape as dehumanisation. i was discussing rape (in specific: gang rape) with a group of nvc people 2 days ago, describing my utter despair and hopelessness when i imagine a group of men rape 1 woman, and said as you did; the horror of the invasion of oneself and the complete disregard for how this act effects the victim)...

it would probably upset me too if someone used the word rape casually as you described above. if it did happen, however, i'd try to communicate my discomfort and attempt to connect and process my issues and their motivation for using the word in such a way. ie; i'd hope to try to get to an understanding on both sides and attempt to get to some sort of transformation on both sides to mutually need meets. (nvc stuff)

i can understand though that even just witnessing the word being used casually is so painful and violating that it can be hard to remain in connection with that person.
I don't know how the word is used in the U.K., but I know that in the U.S., it's used casually in certain subcultures or geographic regions much more than in others. It would be possible to live in the U.S. and not hear it used casually, if you happened to spend all your life living in the right place, hanging out with the right subculture, and watching the right movies and TV shows. Most people in the U.S., however, have at least some contact at some point in their lives with regions or subcultures where the word is used casually.
i had a close friend make fun with that word. i told him it wasnt funny and he responded with how i said it all the time. uh, i never used it casually like he had to the point where he said some girl he didnt like didnt even deserve to be "raped". i was like horrified.

its also touchy, because since ive been reading about bdsm, people have "rape" fantasies. and ugh.
belenen passionate
yeah, that is horrifying! It implies that rape is a good thing. Ugh.

yeah, I knew that about BDSM. :-/ I think for some people it might be a way of trying to work through past abuse, and for others it's a way of acting out the porn they have watched.
Wow. This is a difficult subject.

First off, let me say that I have experienced that terrible, awful thing. It was as a young child, and other than nightmares occasionally, I have managed to wipe it out of my life.

I feel like words are just words. But I also understand how much words affect the people that hear them. Had I been in your situation, I would've done the exact same thing: frozen. It would've been an awkward, painful situation.

And while it's wrong for people to be so okay with the casual use of the word, and that casual use may affect me more than others, it still isn't my place to say that it's "wrong" to use the word rape. The word itself has many definitions. All I can do, as a woman who has had negative/ forceful sexual experiences, is try to nullify my triggers and learn to cope with the choices made by the people around me.

belenen passionate
And while it's wrong for people to be so okay with the casual use of the word ... it still isn't my place to say that it's "wrong" to use the word rape.

Well, I generally avoid use of the word "wrong" because I don't believe in black and white anything. But I do think that if a respectful person carefully considers this in light of how it could have negative effects, they will choose to refrain from using it lightly. Which is why I confront it when I see it -- to give people a chance to reconsider. Whether it is 'wrong' or not is for each individual person to decide, and if someone decides that it is not wrong for them, that's fine with me -- I'll just refrain from having contact with them.

All I can do, as a woman who has had negative/ forceful sexual experiences, is try to nullify my triggers and learn to cope with the choices made by the people around me.

Well, I disagree. For me at least, I see another option -- confronting those choices and educating those people and THEN coping with either losing them or not having to deal with that anymore. I don't see any reason to cope without confronting first. Obviously if I don't have or want a relationship with them, I simply cope.
Thank you for this post.

I've discussed this with all of my close friends about why it offends me when they say it, and now they've gone on to "educate" others about using "rape" casually as well. When I do hear it, it shocks me because I'm not used to it.
belenen passionate
♥ that's wonderful that they have gone on to educate others!
I totally agree with everything in this post.

Sadly, I think a lot of people are just really unaware of how much sexual abuse really goes on. Especially men. Not to make generalizations, but I hear men using that kind of language a lot more often than I hear women using it.

I do feel like I have read poems or heard songs that used the word rape metaphorically before where it didn't bother me...(obviously not about something as trivial as spending too much money) but I can't remember any specific examples. I'd like to think there are appropriate metaphors or comparisons in which any word can be used, but I think that's because I'm a writer.

Kind of related to this, I think there is a lot of language that people use casually that causes/reinforces the cultural imaginaries about gender in general. There are so many times that I hear men using language that completely objectifies women, and they seem to think nothing of it. Or even times when I hear women using the same language. It really irritates me. I just think people need to be more conscious of the words they use in general. But then I probably say things that are offensive, too.

belenen passionate
Not only are people unaware, but pornographic media supports the myths that all women want it all the time (therefore rape is impossible) and men are the primary consumers of porn. Since they are also far less likely to have experienced it themselves, it makes sense that they should take rape far less seriously. (not that it is acceptable, just that the generalizations have good cause)

Yeah, when an actual violation has occurred it doesn't bother me quite so much, but I still find it inappropriate because most people who would use the word have not experienced rape. Rape is a unique experience that unlike others, cannot be approximated from similar experiences because there are no similar experiences.

YES. Objectifying language is everywhere -- that and gendered language sometimes overwhelm me to the point where I just don't want to associate with anyone. I agree that people need to be more conscious of the words they use in general.
Thank you for posting this!! It really made me see this issue in a different light, and I love when that happens. I just wanted to add a thought to this discussion. I think that one of the reasons actual rape is incomparable to any other experience is because it is the the taking away of the sovereignty of one´s body and in effect, making it public property. As women, this has historical and cultural significance, clearly and I think that possibly in a some circumstances the word could be used to evoke a very particular emotion.

For example, in describing the use and abuse of the Earth, I personally resonate with the description that the word ´rape´ brings. Although, to be fair, it isn´t a phrase that I generally bring up in casual conversation, even when talking about ecology.

I guess, my question to you is, do you see a clear distinction in this- violation of human and violation of earth when it comes to developing language to describe it?

belenen analytical
one of the reasons actual rape is incomparable to any other experience is because it is the the taking away of the sovereignty of one's body

Yes, indeed.

For example, in describing the use and abuse of the Earth, I personally resonate with the description that the word ´rape´ brings.

That resonates for me in a way -- when I see a clear-cut area I feel a similar pain and revulsion as I do when I hear about a rape. But we cannot know for a fact about the effect it has on the earth emotionally, and physically the clear-cutting of one area does not have the effect on the whole that a rape has on the whole being. The earth is not going to self-destruct or destroy another planet as a result of being abused. I think it is accurate to say that the earth is being physically violated, but not in a sexual way, therefore the word rape is inappropriate. Because rape is about much more than physical violation.
i'm so glad this doesn't come up in Hungarian (it does in the other languages I speak, including English and Serbian). I recently saw a topic called "rape by English language" (it was about using English words here and there in your writing to make you sound smart, when there's perfectly good Serbian words you could use instead.) This surprised me, because I'd previously seen it used like that only in English.

But in Hungarian, the word for rape means "sexual violence" (which unfortunately leads to public debates about how it can be rape if it was not particularly violent), and no one says "sexual violence" unless they mean sexual violence. It's nice; it means I don't have to hear the word over and over in trivial contexts. Though the word itself perpetuates rape myths.
belenen passionate
both a positive and a negative effect then... but even in English there is a myth that without violence there is no rape. This is perhaps because the dominant sex can relate to being beaten but cannot relate to having one's body used sexually against one's will.
folkchick3 Namaste hand
This is SO important, thank you for saying this! As the (step)parent of a child who experienced molestation at age six (not in my household) I spent the subsequent five years picking up the pieces of a shattered little soul. He will never be the person that he was born to be - that life full of untainted promise is forever denied to him now, everything will be colored by what he experienced. There is NO acceptable time to take these words and these actions lightly, to de-mystify or de-horrify them. I don't want them sugar coated, diminished or made to seem less than they were... I want them exposed as the glaringly destuctive and violating actions that they are. No dismissal, no sweeping under the carpet. Our society already has a skewed perspective toward sexual assault, making victims afraid to report these crimes, and that perspective is so often used against them ("she must have been aking for it...") victimizing them a second time rather than bringing them justice. I agree with you so strongly.Thank you for speaking out about this!
belenen passionate
I want them exposed as the glaringly destructive and violating actions that they are. No dismissal, no sweeping under the carpet. Our society already has a skewed perspective toward sexual assault, making victims afraid to report these crimes

Yes, exactly. We really cannot afford to have even a slight increase in the current indifference toward rape.
I made a post very similar to yours once on my journal and I was shot down by quite a few individuals who thought I was being overly dramatic over this. (I had written the post because a man at work had told me "work is raping me today" and I involuntarily shot back with "I hate it when people use that word so causally")

I admire how firm and strong you are, I'm disappointed in myself for not having the same courage to stand up for myself against the above individuals. Thank you for writing publicly, thank you so much <3
belenen passionate
ugh! I'm sorry those people responded to you like that. And I'm glad you responded to the person who used the word in such a disrespectful way. That was brave!

About standing up -- it's practice that helps the most. I'm so lucky in that I have had an amazing group of friends who've given me so much support that it's easier to speak up to the naysayers. But I wasn't like this always -- I think having a public journal and accepting comments from anyone has taught me how to do it (even so, it's still very difficult when it is a really emotional subject! I get so drained).

you are so welcome! ♥
cunningbunny odd bunny
I remember this rant from way back when you first posted about it. I also remember consciously ammending my speech because of it, which stuck, and which I consider a positive change.

I do have a question though, because there is one instance in which I use the word "rape" which is not casual, but also not in regards to the forcible attack (sexually, emotionally, or otherwise) on a human being. I will refer to what is essentially "the rape of the natural world" in regards to ways in which humanity (or certain groups of people) will utterly destroy aspects of Nature for selfish desire, completely disregarding the pain and emptiness they leave behind. This is something that I consider a reasonable use of the word, because I don't use it casually (not all logging or hunting or trash disposal is "raping" Nature), but only in those instances where I feel it is a maliscious, careless act of utter brutality upon the Earth. Somehow I would assume you'd excuse this, because I feel you have the same respect and reverance for Nature that I do, but I don't want to make an assumption and risk saying something that might offend you, so if you disagree, I can promise to not use the term around you. (Though, I would hope you would respect that I would not feel obligated to eliminate my use of the term entirely, as I do feel that such brutal violations of the natural world are just as devestating as that violation of a human being.)
belenen connate
Someone else made a similar comment, and I'll copy-paste some of it: That resonates for me in a way -- when I see a clear-cut area I feel a similar pain and revulsion as I do when I hear about a rape. ... I think it is accurate to say that the earth is being physically violated, but not in a sexual way, therefore the word rape is inappropriate. Because rape is about much more than physical violation.

BUT. Even though I technically disagree with it and it makes me cringe a little, I also kinda feel like it is appropriate in some cases. So even though I would not use it myself in that way, I would be okay with other people using it in regards to the earth, as long as they did it with serious consideration (as you seem to be doing). Short answer: I won't like it but it won't offend or hurt me either, and I appreciate your concern and respect ♥
i couldnt agree with you more. i've had people say "i wanna rape X celebrity" as well and other such phrases. 1 i had just heard the other day was "he just raped the idea from my mind like i was some little bitch." which bothered me so much i had to walk away. if i wouldve said something, i dont think i couldve contained myself, so i walked away. but i agree completely that we live in a culture where it's ok to say/think/feel these things, and if you disagree in any way, youre made fun of/ridiculed/called a prude/too sensitive, etc.
I sort of thought what you've posted here was a GIVEN. That people should know better... hearing the word makes me physically cringe.

But I do have a question for you - Bel, what do you think of the word "fuck?" Is that the other "sexually violent language" you were referring to?

In my personal opinion, if the F-word is not used as a VERB, but rather as just a curse (ie, "I hate this f'ing place," or "F it"), then it's ok. But when it's used as a verb describing sex it's awful.
inkedfeathers Pinoko; ace of hearts
A very thoughtful post. I especially love the second-to-last paragraph.

And I'm horrified at— but not necessarily surprised by— the "joke" that person cracked.

Absolutely horrifying.

Also, it's good to hear that not every victim will be triggered! I always thought it was necessary so I was worried that it was something unnatural not to be triggered at all... good to hear that it isn't entirely unheard of.

While I agree with your position, what of people who wish to joke about their condition as a coping method? Perhaps only among those who are similarly frightened or who have similar experiences, to avoid giving people the idea you mentioned, but people joke about all sorts of inappropriate things that they know is horrible and tragic in real life.

The dreadfully unfunny in style "dead baby" jokes, for example, are built on this trope, but they're just plain not funny in my opinion... not so much because of subject matter, but because even the jokes themselves aren't clever, usually, they just have dead babies thrown in for shock value, which is a far cry from comedy, in my opinion.

But I do agree that in mixed company and especially with those who might not understand how grave a crime this really is or those who would rather not have even the word mentioned in their company, it would not be wise to joke about it.

I do despise the casual use of the word and belittling there is of the act and its effects on many people. So... thank you for this post. ♥
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.