Say! You know what’s a fun word to have an argument about the definition of? Probably not “rape,” as it happens. But for some reason, everyone’s just in a rape-definition-debating mood. Like, for starters, we have “birth rape,” reported on by Birth Trauma Truths via Irin Carmon over at the Jezebel, which goes like so:
A vulnerable woman, who is powerless to leave the situation, is at times held down against her will, has strangers looking & touching at private parts of her body, perhaps without appropriate measures being taken to acknowledge her ownership of her body or to preserve her comfort levels. Perhaps she has fingers or instruments inserted without her consent, and sometimes against her consent, invading and crossing decent boundaries.
Sounds assault-y! Ah, but wait, because Amanda Marcotte over at the DoubleX has some hesitations:
The problem is that actual rapists have completely different motivations than imperious doctors who inadvertently traumatize their patients by pushing them around in the birthing room. Actual rapists want to traumatize their victims—getting off on the power they have over their victims and the fear it instills in them is the whole point of raping them. (Don’t believe me? Here’s some evidence to ponder on this subject.) Doctors who push around their patients are rarely doing so out of sadism so much as contempt for the intelligence of their patients… If the social definition of rape is rooted in the trauma to the victim and not in terms of what the actual rapist did and why, we’ve lost our main tool in stopping rape from actually happening.
Well! A different opinion! But could we add a third, unambiguously messed-up voice as well? Turns out, we can. Because over at the Daily Caller, someone has decided that there is one group of people who should definitely not be allowed to use the word “rape.” And that is researchers, who interview rape victims.
[The] SVCW study reports that when those categorized as rape victims were asked if what they described was rape, nearly 50 percent said “no.” Further, 80 percent of the subjects researchers labeled as rape victims stated that the incident resulted in neither physical or emotional injuries. Only 5 percent of those identified as victims of rape actually reported the incident. “If an attorney defending a rapist were to use this, they’d say ‘Well, what’s the big deal? 80 percent of women who are raped don’t have any adverse affects,’” Gilbert said.
And how did we know about this? Why, because of the lovely and delightful Amanda Hess of TBD! Join us, therefore, as we engage once again in a hearty and spirited debate (with jokes? Sure, with jokes! What could go wrong) about who gets to use the r-word. SPOILER: It isn’t you.
SADY: Well, hello! Had any thoughts about rape lately? Specifically: When we are allowed to call it rape, if ever?
AMANDA: Yes, decided, this week, by various people: If you do not call it rape, it is not rape; if you do call it rape, it is childbirth. Do I have that right?
SADY: Quite possibly! I don’t even know any more! However: The study you linked to is exciting, in that it seems that LOTS OF FOLKS who are ACTUALLY RAPE SURVIVORS don’t know? Which should not be shocking to me, but is.
AMANDA: or they’re not telling, you know?
SADY: Right. People shy away from the “rape” word, but if you ask them whether someone ever used force or the threat of force to make them have sex, they’re like, “oh, right, that! That was not cool!” Which, like: The “birth rape” thing is controversial because people think rape is such a Powerful Word that it shouldn’t be appropriated. And I’m sympathetic to that, except for the part where the use of the word “rape” is so uncontested, otherwise.
AMANDA: I actually think that rape being a Powerful Word, in some ways, discourages actual rape victims from using it, because of the very specific expectations people have for that word. So, if you ask a victim if she was raped, and she says, “Yes, I was raped,” she might then have to answer a lot of other questions, like:
a. “Why didn’t you report it?”
b. “Who raped you? Why I oughtta etc. etc.”
c. “Were you drinking?”
d. “From which bush did he jump out at you?”
And so on. And I think a lot of victims don’t use the word rape because a lot of other people wouldn’t use that word either.
SADY: e. “Are you sure? Perhaps you are just exaggerating? Are you aware that women, they wake up after unfortunate hook-ups and blame the mens sometimes?” Yes. Whereas if you are like, “it was sex that I did not want and yet, it happened,” there’s an easier narrative in place for that. A narrative that encourages you to blame yourself! By sheer coincidence!
AMANDA: Indubitably. But back to “birth rape.” By the way, I’m already afraid that no matter what is ultimately decided on the appropriateness of “birth rape” it’s already out there possibly never to be forgotten
SADY: Yes. You know, I am not unsympathetic to the term, in some respects? Having never given birth, I don’t have like any pro-tips on the process. And yet! It seems like the ladies, they are getting unwantedly penetrated and hurt, in the tender regions. Which, I’m fine with us classifying that as a variety of assault.
AMANDA: Sure. Co-sign.
SADY: And duh, sometimes doctors have to do things that you don’t enjoy, for your own health and that of the kid you’re currently giving birth to. But this seems less about that and more about other abusive birth practices like: Shackling, verbal abuse of patients, unwillingness to provide appropriate information or ask for consent where necessary, etc. Which happen, if my sources are correct, more often to poor or otherwise marginalized ladies.
AMANDA: That is probably true. It’s been pointed out, though, that this doesn’t really come from the same place as rape, and also that ending this sort of abuse will take such a vastly different approach, that I’m not sure how helpful it is. It may be helpful to the women who adopt it, though, and I think that’s fine. I was wondering about similar transgressions on the part of doctors—performing procedures without a person’s consent when they’re awake and able to consent, and I realized that it really probably happens way more often when there’s like, you know, a baby involved that wants to get out.
So … that creates all kinds of medical consent issues, and i’m sure some of these experiences come from the same place that a lot of anti-choice stuff does, where the body a baby comes in isn’t all that important.
SADY: Yeah, definitely. So, there is in fact also a history of invasive and disrespectful attitudes toward ladies’ bodies, in the reproductive health department!
SADY: And I don’t think it’s totally unwarranted to say that having invasive, un-consented-to procedures, done without the information you need to give informed consent, and done with an attitude of contempt, can create the same feelings of powerlessness and trauma that sexual assaults can create also. I think “birth rape” is being used to give seriousness to the issue, and as I said, I think the experiences of sexual assault and birth assault are kind of overlapping, in some key respects. So I don’t know what I gain, really, from telling women they can’t or shouldn’t use it. But perhaps I am missing out! Perhaps you can point out some of the cons, here!
AMANDA: I think it’s just that I would prefer not to use it, to describe the assaults and malpractice and non-consensual medical procedures that are happening here, because I think it’s a lot easier to explain what’s going on and point out the actual crimes occurring there, instead of investing some sort of amorphous term for it that doesn’t have much of a real-world meaning. Again, if it has a personal meaning to victims, that’s fine
SADY: That makes sense!
AMANDA: But then again, as you said before, I’ve never given birth. I’ve never even been pregnant. I have had doctors put things inside my vagina and I appreciated extreme care on his or her part during those procedures! So I’m not really a person to Decide.
SADY: Right. Dear Pregnant Ladies: I Can’t Tell You What To Call Your Experiences, It Turns Out! But I can say that apparently the word rape is very important, which is why every single time a person uses it we have to put it past a judging committee, and otherwise act like a nation of Whoopi Goldbergs, it would seem?
AMANDA: Yeah, and also, if someone DOES NOT USE IT, we have to write articles about how they are manipulated by feminists into believing that they didn’t like it when that guy simply put his penis in her vagina by force and without her consent.
SADY: The feminists: They’re always, extremely effectively, telling women what not to like, when it comes to sexual experiences!
AMANDA: I mean, the Daily Caller article calls “scandal” on the idea that half of “rape” “victims” don’t identify as “rape” “victims,” and really—we should respect what someone does or does not want to call an assault. But that doesn’t mean that the word is the only consideration here.
SADY: Right, like: So are people FORCING OTHER PEOPLE TO HAVE SEX WITH THEM? Because that maybe deserves some focus, here!
AMANDA: “Meh!” – Daily Caller
SADY: “These chicks clearly don’t think it’s a big deal. Why do you have a problem with it?” – Daily Caller. It is weirdly putting all the onus on the victim to experience sexual assault correctly? Like, instead of focusing on how it is wrong and you shouldn’t do it, we’re saying it’s not a problem if the victims aren’t having total breakdowns over the whole deal. Rape is defined, not by the act, but by how people respond to it or name it. Which: Huh?
AMANDA: I mean, it’s pretty clear from writing about rape for a while that no one can really decide on what that means? And so the idea that describing actual physical assaults instead of asking about “rape” or “coercion” or what have you somehow confuses the issue is, uh, it’s fucked up, Daily Caller.
SADY: Indeed! And the exciting terror is, this can’t even be disguised as “well, people might go to jail for something they didn’t do.” This is basically ALL ABOUT whether we have the right to describe something as rape, based on this piddling little fact of it having been non-consensual. So, fun! I’m glad someone spent their morning protesting that one! Daily Caller: Making The World A Better Place Since WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE WERE NO PROBLEMS IN THE FIRST PLACE SHUT YOUR TRAP
AMANDA: Haha, yes, with a side-order of “Whatever will happen to romance?” For the slippery slope of describing rape as “rape” could potentially lead to Whitman’s samplers being classified as a form of sexual assault.
SADY: When both people want sex to happen, it is the end of romance, clearly! It is like wearing sweatpants for your entire life. The disgusting, Cheeto-dust-covered sweatpants of mutual attraction. Don’t let this happen to you!