Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rape is not a Metaphor

I was pretty irritated by the presumption that rape is an apt metaphor to health care legislation and I’ve decided I needed to write my own post on why rape is never an acceptable metaphor.

"I don't mind paying my fair share, folks," Jack Kimball said at a teaparty rally. "I don't think any of us do. But I do mind when I'm raped. It's awful."
This should be obvious, but this is only my personal opinion. Not everyone, not even all rape victims, are going to feel the same way as I do. And honestly, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Using rape as a metaphor also doesn’t mean I think someone is a bad person or condones rape. Ultimately I believe this is an opportunity for us to question the way we communicate with one another.


Why rape is not an acceptable metaphor:

1. Using rape as a metaphor, especially in situations like this one where the metaphor is used in graphic detail, can be triggering to rape victims.

2. Using the word “rape” to describe anything other then rape normalizes sexual assault. Rape culture often tells us that rape is a compliment and that it’s no big deal. Using “rape” as a metaphor contributes to that belief. I mean, if rape is really comparable to losing a football game then it can’t be that bad can it?

3. Rape is not treated with the significance or gravity it deserves. Some people will argue that using rape as a metaphor does not trivialize rape because the people who use the metaphor actually do recognize the horror of sexual assault and that’s why they’re using the metaphor in the first place. If true situations of rape really were treated with the seriousness they deserved then maybe I would see they’re point. But as long as rape victims are blamed and shamed into silence I can’t agree. How does saying you “got raped by a test” help the true victims of sexual assault who still can’t say the word “rape” out loud? It doesn’t (and it’s pretty pretentious to claim otherwise).

4. Its just plain insulting. I can’t even begin to describe how pissed off it makes me to hear the Becks and the Limbaughs of the world describe their common experiences as “rape” knowing full well that they never have to worry about actually being raped. That’s not to minimize the fact that men are raped as well, but rape is largely a crime perpetuated primarily by men against women (9 of every 10 rape victims are female).

Now none of this is to say that anyone is trying to be the thought police or arguing that these people’s freedom of speech should be limited (or any of the other straw man arguments people bring up to minimize the ultimate point). While I think we should consider the ways we communicate with one another, I also believe that each person has the right to say what they like. The argument can be made that it shouldn’t be anyone’s responsibility to worry about rape victims or whether or not a person’s words are triggering. I completely defend your right to be a thoughtless asshole.

But I also think we have to recognize that until rape is treated the way it deserves, rape metaphors will continue to trivialize the real horrific experiences of 1 out of 6 women in this country.

Chloe Angyal summed it up well:

What I do know is that, in the case of "rape," language is powerful. If we want to change the way our society thinks about and reacts to rape - if we want to ensure that rape kits get tested and that popular culture depicts rape and sexual assault in a just and accurate way - then we first need to change the way we talk about rape. We need to talk about it seriously, honestly and sensitively. We need to talk about it with a full sense of the gravity and scope of the problem. Rape is a crime, and it's also a tragedy. And there's nothing metaphorical about that.
I know this post is getting long, but I want to touch on the idea that using rape as a metaphor is no worse then using murder as one (like “man I got killed on that test” and such). For one, murder is pretty much considered a grievous horrific crime across the board. No one is telling the families of murder victims that the deceased probably really wanted to be murdered and that they should consider the murder a compliment. For the most part the families of murder victims are not shamed into staying silent. Murder is treated like the horrible crime it is and both women and men are murdered. It is not a strongly gendered crime where there is such an obvious disproportion of attack like with rape. Second, murder victims don’t have to hear your casual reference to the most horrific thing that ever happened to them. Rape victims do. Finally, do we really want to argue that since one insensitive metaphor has become accepted jargon that another insensitive metaphor should? That seems like such a ridiculous argument.


  1. Agreed on all counts. I wish I could say more. But you got it all. :P


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