Tag Archives: language is powerful
Some things I’ve been reading and thinking about – all tied in together. I’m hoping that it will make some kind of coherent sense…
Over at Hoyden About Town there have been discussions on the use of passive language in discussions of rapes (and in discrimination against women more generally). The discussion is that when we report rapes by saying “A woman was raped today” we erase the subject who commited the act from the sentence (and effectively the scenario). Lest sceptical readers dismiss this as ‘just semantics’ the post linked to above contains a study which found that men reading descriptions of rapes written in the passive voice (ie, a woman was raped) they tended to attribute more blame to the victim than when the story was told in the active-voice versions (ie two men raped a woman today).
As Lauredhel points out in that post, it is a short trip from this to rape being a ‘women’s problem’, just something that ‘happens’ to a woman, and from there, straight onto ‘women ought to be more *responsible* in their behaviour or they’ll *get themselves raped*.
This attitude was discussed in a recent post about the compensation scheme for rape victims in the U.K and recent moves to withhold a percentage of that compensation if it was found that the woman was drinking – because if a woman drinks alcohol, and later is raped, the logic went that she *contributed* to her own rape. WTF? Contributed to some guy hurting her and humiliating her for a sense of power? By enjoying alcohol, as so many of us do, so frequently.
Clearly the idea that if a woman drinks alcohol, that she on some level consents to her own rape is appallingly fucked up – but common.
To illustrate this absurdity in a different way, Melissa from Shakesville says in her post Geez, When will women stop getting themselves raped already?:
And, forgive me for being Ms. Fucking Obvious 2008 here, but when two people leave a pub or a party or some other venue where there’s been alcohol, and one rapes the other, what are the odds that the rapist is alcohol-free? When in blue hell do you think any of the assholes who go on about how women shouldn’t drink because they might get raped might notice the gobsmacking inconsistency of routinely failing to acknowledge that alcohol might be lowering the inhibitions of the men who rape? Oh, right—that will never happen, because that would require suggesting that men not drink, and it’s only reasonable to request that of women.
It seems that it’s ok to say that a woman who drinks brings on her own rape – and any assertion that the same could be said of any guy who gets raped would be met with open mouthed incredulity…what? No. AND ALSO, women ought to watch what they drink so they can be sure the guy they are with/chatted to will not follow then rape them. A person ought to be able to expect to buy a kebab and fall into a taxi after a night on the booze – not to be raped, and certainly not to be blamed as though a women drinking is the CAUSE of a man raping. If men rape after alcohol has been consumed with a woman, then why AREN’T we refusing men alcohol? Oh right…cos we KNOW it’s horseshit all along, it’s just this way we get to ignore it.
So thus far, we’ve touched on the issue of the erasure of the rapist from the rape, and the concomitant focus on the actions of the victim, and further this idea that women ‘contribute’ to their horrific ordeals by way of drinking, while men’s drinking goes unchallenged. Just so we’re clear, women are blamed for other ‘contributions’ as well, such as what they were wearing, their sexual history, their behaviour prior to the rape, agreeing to ‘making out’ with someone and well a whole range of other things. Each of them could be a seperate post. But I’m trying to go somewhere with this.
I’ve also hated for a long time men’s ‘jokes’ about prison rape, or their equation of being treated poorly in the workplace/in a social setting to being ‘fucked up the arse’ or having to ‘bend over and take it’. Why? Well, I’ve never formulated the words for it this comprehensively, but commenter Rebekka in this thread slammed this as part of rape culture. This solidified it for me, and thinking it through I am discomforted by it because:
a/ if it suggests rape it equates some dumb passing annoyance with rape and that’s fucked up
b/ if it suggests just anal sex it says that anal sex is always abhorrent, always painful, always humiliating, degrading, a way for the ‘fucker’ to debase and assert control over and contempt for the ‘fuckee’.
c/ it makes clear that the speaker is ‘not the sort of person’ to enjoy anal sex, that anal sex is punishment and submission. It asserts an ‘us and them’ mentality mainly directed at homosexual men, considered ‘wrong’, ‘deviant’, ‘perverted’, ‘violated’ and ‘emasculated’ for the presumed monolithic enjoyment of anal penetration – poofs and women might ‘take it up the arse’, but not ‘real men’. This sort of homophobia makes me furious, and the idea that penetration=violation, the idea that certain types of bodies are penetrable/for penetration and the correct manly role is fucker/violater is horrific, and feeds into rape culture.
d/ Yes, it’s about anal sex, but it also implies that fucking is assertiong of power/submission, that to ‘let’ someone bend you over and ‘fuck you’ is to degrade yourself, to do something you don’t enjoy and to grit your teeth and wait til it’s over. So…where does that leave heterosexual women?
e/ further, the same men seem to not mind the idea of anal sex with a woman. Wait on – you just finished insinuating that to ‘bend over and take it’ is to let someone degrade and humiliate you and inflict pain…and therefore, you either think that to do this to a woman is hot *because* of this, or you know you’re talking macho crap at the expense of others when you crap on with your ’us and them’ crap and that making anal sex jokes is stupid but you like the power in the game, or you see women and gay men as less than human, as objects, lodging places for your dicks to be bent over and fucked – thank god I’m a ‘real man’ and not debased like that. Which is it fellas? I don’t have all day.
So, just to trying to keep this rant together in some way, we’re talking about the erasure of the rapist and the focus on the behaviour of the victim. Further we’re talking about the idea that FOR A WOMAN, having a drink, wearing ‘sexy clothes’ (which, hey, it’s demanded of us for men’s viewing pleasure don’t forget), flirting, interacting with another person, or walking while female equals some kind of contribution to rape. We’re also talking about the representations of some bodies as penetrable/others as impenetrable, something linked with attitudes to do with ‘proper’ masculinity, linked with homophobic violence, disrespect to women and rape culture. If women are penetrable, made for penetration, to be bent over and fucked, and ‘real men’ are not, this affects the ways we think about and talk about rape. Men raping women is natural, normal, a fact. Men raping men is what happens to dudes in prison who never get to be ‘whole men’ again, cos dudes don’t get penetrated. “P**fters”* and “chicks”* get penetrated. That’s what they’re ‘for’.
So many men I know have expressed this fear of jail (and these are dudes who aren’t facing social/racial discrimination, it’s just not likely to happen to them). Why so scared? Cos of the threat of rape. Now I read in a Criminal Laws text book (which I don’t have to hand) that the stats for rape in prison are one in four. That’s the same stat I’ve heard for women out in general society. You know that squelching fear you feel when you contemplate prison rape? Welcome to our lives.
So anyway – what triggered this post is that in the Sydney Morning Herald lately there have stories about a stripper who is accused of raping a man with a sex toy. Now. Stop. If you’re about to accuse me of saying this is ‘less serious’….then shut your face and cool it.
I want to look at the language here. As Hoyden commentor Mindy noted, the passive language is gone in the reporting of this case. The stripper has been mentioned *as the accused rapist* in all the articles I’ve seen. A man did not get *himself* raped at his friends bucks night. He wasn’t raped all by himself. There was a rapist involved. Is this possibly because it is a ‘man’ rather than a woman? That it is just a fact of life that women ‘get themselves raped’, that the rape of a woman is nothing unusual? That a man is not ‘supposed’ to be raped?
The reporting is interesting, for a number of reasons. I can’t draw any conclusions, as I don’t really have them, and because I should be essay writing – but:
I’ve seen headlines that have ‘raped’ in inverted commas – is this a quick way of saying at this point it’s alleged that the stripper raped him, we can’t say she ‘did’ for legal reasons? Or is it more sinister?
Is it some kind of ‘Oh yeah, she ‘raped’ you buddy! Whatevs’. Is it disbelief that he objects? Is it incomprehensions that a ‘straight man’ has been violated by a woman/outside a prison setting?
Now I want to proceed carefully here, because the articles discuss that the guy was at a bucks party where there were two strippers and a topless waiter (and one imagines at this bucks party substantial amounts of alcohol), that the men had been cheering the stripper on ‘in a mature way’ (that’s not my quote). There doesn’t appear to be a tone to this, an accusation. It seems to be very matter of fact.
I am not for a second suggesting that he is lying/wanted this to happen, I am not suggesting he ‘brought it on himself’, or should have known better, or contributed by drinking, or anything else. I’m just thinking through what it would play out like if a woman had been raped by a male stripper witha a sex toy during/after a night on the sauce, after dancing with the stripper, after participating in a rather physical routine, after cheering in a ‘mature way’. I think the narratives would sound somewhat different.
I think this illustrates even further the idiocy of our approach. No one’s saying “Well, he got on the sauce, he danced with her, he saw her whip a guys crotch, he got down on all fours, he clearly wanted it to happen” – what I’m saying is that that *would* be the implication if she was a woman. And why the difference in treatment? Because of the ways we concieve of rape as a woman’s problem, women’s bodies as being ‘for’ penetration and mens as not, because of the language we use that focusses on the woman and her behaviour and erases the rapist from the rape, because of the blame that shifts onto the victim in that way of talking, because we blame women if they drink/dress up/sneeze – because our attitudes to women are fucked. So rather than say ‘It’s less bad’, I’d rather be saying ‘the discrepancies in the treatment/the outrage/shock that a man could be raped by a woman might help some men think through the fact that language is important, and that these reports might help to illustrate that NO MATTER WHAT, any human is allowed to live her/his life in the way they see fit, and swing drunk and half naked from chandeliers if they so choose and still NOT be told they *contributed* to their own *rape*. Rape is not a thing that ‘happens’ to you, not a thing you ‘invite’ – it is a fucked up thing that someone else does to you, and the blame lies with the rapist and with society for the bullshit is spits out regarding rape.
*Sorry – trying to point at the ugly aggression of the word.