Sorry. My “eight” key is broken.
What’s particularly annoying about that is how many of my internet usernames involve the number “eighty-four” (my birth year).
So I just got back from grabbing some lunch, and it is easily the most dismal, shitty, dreary day, like, EVER. Great googly moogly.
Anyway… TRIGGER WARNING FOR AFTER THE JUMP
I was expressing concern over the way that we often sweep all different forms of sexual assault under the term “rape”, and often seem to dismiss or belittle the differences that exist between the ways that a sexual assault or rape can occur. The term “rape” being used interchangeably, describing an extremely broad range of things. What might the motives be behind that? Are we sure that this is really a good way to approach things?
There is exactly one occurrence in my life I describe as “rape”, and even that one occurrence took me a long, long time to finally be able to face as such. It was the time with the knife. When an older, much stronger, and very intimidating man, who I’d never met until that night, and who was quite drunk (I was too), threatened the adolescent Boy I Used To Be with a knife and ordered me to engage in acts of penetrative and genital sex.
I didn’t report.
I was young. I was confused. I was scared. I was already in a ton of trouble for having spontaneously gone to an overnight party, and having obviously gotten drunk while there. I was deeply ashamed of myself, and in my head was thinking of it as having been “sex with a man”, and that was what I was ashamed of and horrified by, and couldn’t get past, not the knife, the age difference, the threat of violence, or the fact that it was not in any way consensual.
And I didn’t quite understand that it wasn’t consensual, because of how my body responded. Because one of the things I was made to do was to top him. Because I didn’t try to run away or fight back. Because I was drunk. Because I had been a little bit curious. Because when he flashed the knife, I just resigned to it all and said “okay”. Because I wasn’t scared “enough”. Because it was all my fault for being interested in guys. Because I somehow magically brought it on myself for having fantasies about men.
All of that, everything that happened, everything I needed to process in order to work through it… it took a very long time. Not least because I hated thinking about it, or remembering it. I still hate thinking about it and remembering it. Mostly, I go through my life pretending this, and the other horrible things that happened to me, just didn’t really happen. Or somehow don’t “count”.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I was finally able to look back on that event and describe it as having been raped.
And that is the only thing that ever happened to me that I describe as rape.
But what if I were to ahead and assume the definition that many feminists use? If I were to apply to myself the definition of rape that I don’t feel justified in questioning when other women apply it to their own experiences? What if I were to term “rape” every instance of uncomfortable, non-consensual physical intimacy in which one feels their boundaries have been violated?
If that’s the case then I’ve been raped a lot. Repeatedly. For two different significant chunks of my life, I was raped over and over again.
Do I want to see it that way? Am I okay with regarding that way?
One of those series of events was definitely physical intimacy. And definitely non-consensual. And definitely left me feeling violated and uncomfortable. And is also something I hate thinking about and remembering.
Which is exactly why the questions that have arisen for me in regards to the Ira Gray accusations are painful.
But what was far worse than those physical violations was the sequence of events that followed. Some people came to believe that what was occurring was an explicitly sexual thing. Basically, they suspected I was being molested. And so I was pulled through a seemingly endless sequence of interviews. With nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, etc. All of whom were asking me really, really scary questions.
What made things really horrible, though, was that this was “conveniently” timed to a legal battle taking place between various parties connected to me. As such, the possibility that I was being abused presented a wonderful trump card. My extremely painful and conflicted emotional situation, even as a child, was being exploited by the adults around me in their strange, inscrutable, petty little fights.
I was young, but I was smart enough to understand what was going on. I knew I was being used, that this event was important to the power games they were playing, and that whatever I did or didn’t say was going to have consequences for them. I also knew that the degree to which my own well-being was their interest was very, very compromised.
All of that felt like at least as much of a violation as the physical ones.
Despite those pressures, I did simply stick by what I understood to be the truth. I said that nothing genital had occurred. Although I didn’t possess the kind of terminology I now have, I maintained that to the best of my knowledge it hadn’t been sexual in nature. I confessed what did and didn’t happen. The only way I distorted the truth was, in trying to get everyone to shut up about it and leave me alone, suggesting that it was “no big deal” and that none of it had really bothered me.
It did bother me. A great deal. But I went along with it because I guess I thought I was “supposed” to. But having so many people invade my life like that, with so little respect for what I was going through and how I felt, and so much self-interest and pettiness tainting everything…. that was a lot worse.
None of it, though, was really rape. At least I don’t call it as such.
Why don’t I use that definition of rape? Well… it might be simply that that is something to painful to acknowledge, that that would require facing the depth and hurt of a whole lot of experiences I’d much rather just forget and put behind me. It might be because that would mean recontextualizing all that pain, and then having to process it all over again through that new context.
But it’s not really that. The real reason is that they were different.
The different things that happened to me felt different. And meant something different. And had very different consequences. They just weren’t the same fucking thing.
Being forced to perform fellatio on someone who’s holding a knife to your throat is NOT the same as someone stealing a kiss or touching your breast without permission.
It’s just not.
And erasing those differences? Erasing the gravity of those differences? It’s really fucked up.
I don’t by any means think anything should ever be EXCUSED on the basis of “not being RAPE rape”… but please, don’t you dare act like the distinctions between sexual harassment and violent penetrative rape are meaningless.
And to be honest? I think there’s some pretty creepy motives underlying this.
Consider, for instance, the distribution of risk in terms of who is more likely experience violent rape, or rape at the hands of a stranger, and who is more likely to experience acquaintance rape or date rape instead.
The fact is that there are a number of groups who are at much higher risk for violent rape. Women of colour, women living in poverty, trans women, sex workers, women with addictions, women with mental health issues, etc. These types of women are disproportionately at risk.
Everyone is at risk for acquaintance rape and date rape, but in so far as women benefiting from certain social and economic privileges such as being white, middle-class, cisgender, etc. are spared the additional, disproportionately distributed risk of violent rape (though of course they’re not completely safe from it, either), it ends up being in the interests of a feminism dominated by privileged women to position acquaintance rape and date rape as a priority, and to de-emphasise the differences in intensity and consequence between different forms of rape.
There can definitely be exploitation at work here. By erasing the distinctions, and placing everything under a single term, it becomes possible for privileged feminists to make statements such as “1 in 3 women have been raped by the age of 30”. By exploiting the experiences of less privileged women (women of colour, sex workers, trans women) and the violent forms of rape they’re at considerably greater risk of experiencing, and using that image of rape for its emotional impact at the same time as erasing the disparities of risk and sweeping all forms of sexual assault under the same term, they can use the fear and horror of violent rape to petition for resources to be allocated towards the needs of white, middle-class women without attention being paid to who is really at risk of what, and how. Without attention being paid to disparities in who is suffering, and whose needs are and are not being met.
I don’t have any precise information on hand right now, and no time to research, but something I intend to investigate in the near future is how rape-relief funds are allocated. My understanding is that relative to incidence and consequence, considerably more money, time and effort goes into supports for victims of acquaintance rape than victims of violent rape.
So, when we speak of “rape” all under one term, I think there’s a lot of important questions we could be doing a much better job of asking…
Are all forms of rape really the same thing? What do we mean when we say “rape”? Who is that definition benefiting, and who might it be harming? Whose needs are we trying to meet? Whose needs might we be ignoring? And what, exactly, are our goals when addressing the question of rape?
Oh whose behalf are we really working?