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SEXIST BEATDOWN: Nation of Whoopi Goldbergs Edition

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!

AMANDA: Indeed.

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!


  1. AMC wrote:

    Yay! First comment!

    Seriously-why can’t you guys have TV shows and books? The world would be SO MUCH BETTER if a headline read:

    “Sexist Beatdown: Funny Fun Feminism for the Ladiez Today [BONERS}” by Sady Doyle and Amanda Hess

    Seriously-if I had money I would pay you to write that book. Instead we have…Twilight.

    *Goes off to mope*

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Permalink
  2. AMC wrote:

    Note: I meant if the headline read “New York Times Bestseller”-“Sexist Beatdown: Fun, Funny Feminism for the Ladiez Today [BONERS}”

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  3. S. wrote:

    Having been both raped and had a hideously bad and traumatic childbirth experience (among the high points, being strapped to a table, given inadequate anaesthesia, and having a large hole cut in my lower abdomen)?

    The childbirth experience was pretty much worse, because it involved physical danger to both me and my child (and later on the threat of having custody taken away from me when I asked for a second opinion or to see my regular doctor — that was awesome!) But I still have nightmares about both experiences, years later, and I could probably call both experiences rape. Although I’d call my bad childbirth experience “medical rape,” to emphasize that the people who did it to me had the full backing of the huge and powerful medical industry. The guy who hurt me? He was a fucked-up guy with serious issues that went on to kill him; there are limits to how responsible I think he was capable of being for his own actions. The doctors who hurt me? They did it saying the whole time that it was for my and my child’s good (it wasn’t).

    My second child was also born by c-section — but everyone in the room was ALSO A MOTHER. Such a huge difference in how they treated me, I can’t even tell you. I support all-mommy obstetrical teams for all, I really do.

    Also, I’ll be happy to be lessoned about childbirth by Amanda Marcotte if and when she gets around to doing it herself — and not until. *sigh*

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Permalink
  4. emjaybee wrote:

    Even among crazy sweaty birthin-in-a-big-tub-is-awesome types (hi!) “birth-rape” is not noncontroversial as a term. It arose mostly in bulletin-board conversations and blog posts, usually with quotation marks around it. Mostly because there is no one word for “experience of being traumatized and assaulted by medical professionals during birth”.

    (If we were Germans we could just run all those words together and make a term).

    What’s sad is that what happens when you post/write “I felt like my treatment during my child’s birth was traumatizing and dehumanizing and humiliating in a way I can only equivocate to sexual assault” you will get women commenting almost immediately who say “me too.” It’s a problem.

    The Jezebel post included a link to Navelgazing Midwife’s (who is a rape survivor) very excellent and insightful discussions of the pros and cons of this term re the usual use of “rape.”

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 12:03 am | Permalink
  5. JfC wrote:

    I thought this was already discussed under the wider category of ‘medical rape’ or ‘medical assault’ Renee has some words on it here:

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 1:16 am | Permalink
  6. Siddalee wrote:

    Just to add a bit of perspective (albeit just one person’s), as both a rape survivor and a woman who has birthed a child, I really get why birth trauma advocates are using the term “birth rape.” I completely disagree with Marcotte that because someone is an OB they are somehow unlikely to be sadistic &/ or contemptuous of women- especially pregnant and very vulnerable women. Tho I would probably not identify as someone who experienced birth trauma, I felt a distinct lack of respect from several medical professionals that I couldn’t possibly know what I wanted. I was bullied, mocked, and teased at different points by hospital staff. In the end, I was going to give birth the way they thought I should, and my wishes were often considered superfluous. And while I never would have stood for that shit normally, once you’re high on an intense mix of birth hormones, 9.5 cm dilated and experiencing serious contractions it becomes a lot harder to maintain a rationale discussion. I wish I had had better options for a birth hospital, but I didn’t– only game in town. And once you’re admitted to a hospital and are in hard labor, you literally cannot leave.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  7. Sam L. wrote:

    #2 on this informative coaster = rape, yes?
    “If at first you don’t succeed, try again, and again, again. All it takes is one to say yes.”
    The rest isn’t that much better. I felt sick to my stomach when I saw this this morning. Unfollow!

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  8. latinist wrote:

    Wow, that Daily Caller piece is idiotic. First of all, the idea that “80 percent of the subjects researchers labeled as rape victims stated that the incident resulted in neither physical or emotional injuries” means those victims weren’t harmed. Because of course, the best way to find out if people were emotionally harmed is just to ask them! They oughta know, right?
    Also, the piece really goes out of its way to reinforce the idea that “rape” is a crime committed by strange men in dark alleys. How could college rape rates be “higher than Detroit’s”? That’s crazy, because Detroit, unlike colleges, has lots of poor black men in it! (Also, we’ve never heard of the possibility of rape not being reported.) And these statistics are absurd because they imply that “colleges are letting in tens of thousands of violent criminals.” Because there’s this separate class of people, called “violent criminals,” who commit all rapes, and colleges just identify them and don’t let them in: it’s that easy! Just let in the good students, and leave the “violent criminals” in their separate, non-university neighborhoods! Ugh.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  9. Point #2 sounds like advice on not raping anyone, even if you happen to be a total sleazeball.

    The wise coaster is telling young douchebags: You should ask a woman for sex and if she says no you should listen and move on and ask some other woman. Keep asking until you find someone who wants what you want.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  10. Alyssa wrote:

    I was disturbed by some of the comments on Jezebel that amounted to: but you don’t understand! These women have HORMONES, and are doped up! How could they possibly know what they want? Sometimes we must tell them! Basically that women are mentally incompetent during the birthing process and should not have any decision making power or they will endanger themselves and their fetus. Silly women!


    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
  11. AK wrote:

    Here is a link to a Canadian birth trauma organization, specifically to the page where women describe their own experiences:

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  12. auktastic wrote:

    The SVCW study makes sense to me — as Sady said, “people shy away from the ‘rape’ word,” and I think that’s because naming it makes it seem so much bigger and worse than it is or than they want to think it is. For example, I have some experiences in my past that I’ve never known what to call — basically, it amounted to being groomed for assault by an older family member, but without the actual, physical assault. When I told a friend about these experiences for the first time, she insisted to me that I’d been molested, but I resisted the use of that term. I felt (and feel, currently) that what I experienced wasn’t on the same level as what happened to people who were physically assaulted/molested, and I didn’t want to equate my experiences with theirs or in any way diminish their experience. However, I think that even if my experiences had included physical assault from this person, I still would have resisted the term, because I would have found ways to minimize what happened to me — “at least it happened when I was old enough to understand that it was wrong/not my fault,” “at least it only happened a few times,” etc. For a class I took in college called “Sexual Violence Against Women and Children,” I read an article about a woman who was abused and raped by her grandfather throughout her childhood, but she said she sometimes thinks that she has “no right to be affected by [her] experiences” because they only happened a few times a year and she didn’t have to live with her abuser.

    It makes sense, in some ways, for survivors to try to minimize what happened to them, to think “it could be worse.” If someone doesn’t want to label what happened to them rape, that’s their prerogative. I know for me, when my friend kept insisting to me that what I had gone through was molestation despite my not wanting to use the term, it made me lose some trust in her and somewhat regret telling her at all. And now, I feel like I’ve somewhat lost track of where I was going with this comment, besides saying that I had somewhat the opposite reaction to that study from Sady — I SHOULD be shocked, because women SHOULD feel confident in naming what was done to them and pinning the blame on the person who did it, rather than on themselves, but given my experiences, I’m not.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink
  13. Loz wrote:

    Ummm… I’m all in a tizz after reading this.
    I consider myself a birth rape survivor.
    My birth rape occured with my husband and mother by my side.
    I kept shouting NO NO NO and the Ob/gyn and the midwives just ignored me and kept inserting their fingers and whatever else into my vagina.

    If you’re being restrained, if you are powerless to leave, if you are being intimidated and threatened AND you’re being physically violated. Then that’s rape. right??

    If that happened outside of a hospital, there would be question about it being rape. and I doubt my husband and mother would have stood by to let it happen if it was outside a hospital.

    I know it was rape, but I rarely use the term out loud. It’s just too powerful. the first time I said it, I had someone, who I had know for a few years, spit at me and abuse me for being selfish and stupid. After that experience, I very rarely speak about my birth rape.

    I find it both exciting and confusing that Birth rape has recently gained some media attention. Exciting because maybe now women, as consumers of birth services, will be more aware and confusing because I just know it’s not going to be taken seriously.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 2:43 am | Permalink
  14. The proponents of the concept of “birth rape” need to define the term.

    Does birth rape only apply to cases where the patient explicitly refuses a particular procedure and the doctor does it anyway?

    Or does the term include cases where the women gives informed consent in the moment for a procedure that she originally said she didn’t want (like a c-section or an epidural).

    Does the term cover cases where the doctor acts with the woman’s full informed consent but the woman still experiences the intervention as a humiliating violation, despite the doctor’s best efforts? That’s pretty a pretty common feeling for major medical procedures in general–most of us feel at least a little embarrassed about being naked and helpless in front of strangers, even if we’re totally on board with whatever medical treatment we signed up for. Just the state of vulnerability is tough to deal with for most of us, myself included.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  15. MomTFH wrote:

    Thanks for writing about this. I am training to be an ob/gyn, and I am an activist in the reproductive rights community, including in the pregnancy and birth category.

    I have witnessed and discussed many incidents during the birth process that can only be defined as assault. And, many of these assaults involve penetrating the vagina, and a complete power imbalance and lack of consent.

    I am also reeling from a week of having to defend sexual assault on an intoxicated individual as actual rape as opposed to drunk-sex-with-regret to medical professionals, who should really know better. And, not so ironically, are the same group of people participating in these birth assaults.

    Women already have a problem owning their bodies. Wait until you’re pregnant. The idea that you have no autonomy gets magnified x a bazillion, and it’s not just the busybody at the grocery store who wants to touch your belly or ask you if you’re going to breastfeed who perpetrates this invasion, it’s medical professionals who are in charge of your care.

    I think it is much better to err on the side of the people defining their experience as nonconsensual and traumatic than not, and to be an advocate for them rather than a critic of them.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  16. Melinda wrote:

    I’m a medical professional, and I think OBs who try to rationalize their behavior in the birthing rooms and ORs are lying to themselves. I get the babies once they are out and I rarely go into a room where I am not appalled by the behavior of the physicians (and often the nurses). I have seen doctors roll their eyes, yell at women, and physically abuse them.
    It’s trained into them, the contempt and maltreatment of patients. I honestly believe that obstetrics and gynecology is one of the most patriarchal branches of modern medicine, and few (although SOME) new physicians are working to change that. It’s not about the patient (the mom) or the baby, because research has shown us that many of the birthing practices we have don’t improve outcomes for either mom or baby, but they do increase costs and make things “easier” for the doctors.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  17. Melinda wrote:

    also, to MOMTFH: GOOD FOR YOU! I’m SOoOooooo glad we have people like you working!

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  18. MomTFH wrote:

    Thanks, Melinda. I am afraid my residency is going to be very trying. It is going to be a delicate balance of biting my tongue and being a crusader who bangs her head on the wall and is hated by the powers that be.

    You are absolutely right about the evidence about labor interventions. I did a year of a research fellowship on labor interventions, and the ones that increase autonomy also have the best evidence of improving outcomes, and are rarely used. The ones that decrease patient autonomy, increase physician autonomy and do not improve (or hurt) outcomes are frequently employed.


    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  19. There are rapists in every profession, including medicine. No feminist denies that it is possible for a health care provider to rape a woman in labor (with genitals, fingers, instruments, or whatever). In those cases, nobody should shy away from using the term rape or birth rape.

    What skeptics of the “birth rape” concept want to know is what else falls under that rubric. How does birth rape differ from ordinary rape? Why not just say my “ob raped me,” as opposed to “my ob birth raped” me?

    What I’m trying to get as is whether “birth rape” applies just to sexual coercion in the delivery room, or to that plus coercion in the delivery room in general, or to all of the above plus a more general sense of violation or humiliation associated with a conventional (and consensual) hospital birth experience.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  20. Melinda wrote:

    I am having those same struggles biting my tongue RIGHT NOW in residency! It’s trying, but then you have patients who recognize what you are doing to help them, and it’s awesome too.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
  21. shallowwater wrote:

    Okay, wait. I am SO CONFUSED now. I though Rape = nonconsentual bodily penetration. Assult = nonconsentual physical contact.

    WRT Amanda Marcotte’s blather about motivations: How does that even matter? When we talk about other kinds of rape, the ‘level of sadism’ (whatever the fuck that even means) doesn’t come into it. No one is claiming that some asshole who rapes the drunk girl is doing it specifically to hurt her. The asshole is doing it because they feel entitled to what they want above what anyone else wants. How is this any different when the asshole is an MD and the girl is a mother in labor?

    Maybe if we call these things what they are, assholes might think twice about sticking shit in other peoples bodies.

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink
  22. alanna wrote:

    For interested readers, I highly recommend Emily Martin’s “The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction,” which examines the mainstream medical establishment’s treatment of women’s reproductive health. It is fascinating. And scary.

    I would link but the comments don’t seem to be cooperating…

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  23. Hell. When you said “shackling,” Sady, I thought you meant like when female inmates get shackled during childbirth. Because delivering a newborn baby is the perfect time to make an escape in Cook County, I guess.

    I’ve got a hard enough time convincing people that shackling female convicts giving birth is inhumane. But is it more common than I thought? Is shackling done to women who haven’t been arrested? Who are just, I dunno, being too uppity for the doctor’s liking?

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  24. Kathleen wrote:

    I’ve been surprised how many feminists have said “oh yeah, *that* shouldn’t be called rape” when the principle behind it is one and the same: women only provisionally control their own bodies, and *especially* their ladyparts. Flirt? Whoops, your ladyparts are no longer yours. Wear a short skirt? Whoops, ylanly. Drink? w, ylanly. Go home with a boy? w,ylanly. . Get pregnant? w, ylanly. Go into labor? w, ylanly. Become a mother? w, ylanly.

    And the response people offer when women protest: “WHAT??? YOU SHOULD BE GLAD THAT

    -he didn’t take advantage of you when you were clearly fair game
    -he didn’t also hit or kill you
    -you can learn from your mistakes
    -he was willing to date/marry you afterward
    -we didn’t allow you to make the terrible mistake of having an abortion
    -your baby is healthy
    -we didn’t take custody of your kids

    like, how are these aspects of the culture of pregnancy/birth/mothering not part of what feminists are willing in other contexts to call “rape culture”?

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  25. So, birth rape only applies to medical interventions that (i) the patient explicitly refuses, (ii) the doctor performs on her anyway (iii) that involve penetration of orifices usually associated with sexual intercourse? Because I’m seeing the term applied much more broadly than that. For example, one of some of the paradigm examples are abuses involving anesthesia.

    Most kinds of anesthesia aren’t administered by penetration of “sexual” orifices, but people use birth rape to describe that. It seems like birth trauma where the doctor or midwife refuses a woman pain medication for no valid medical reason, even though she asks for it, are just as much a violation of the principle that women should control their bodies as cases where anesthesia gets pumped into a woman without her consent. Are we going to say that it’s birth rape if they knock you out with a vaginal suppository, but not if they use a patch, or a needle in your spine, or a gas mask, or nothing (even though you you begged them to and there’s no good reason not to)?

    I think it’s a inference from the claim that something isn’t rape to the conclusion that it therefore isn’t as wrong as rape, or a as traumatic as rape.

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink
  26. I meant to say: it’s a bizarre and unfounded leap from the claim that something isn’t rape to the conclusion that it isn’t as wrong as rape or as traumatic as rape. Are we going to proclaim that kidnapping is less traumatic than rape? That non-genital torture is less traumatic than rape? Of course not. All of these things are wrong, and we can’t say a priori what kind of violation is the worst or the most traumatic–it depends on the person and the circumstances.

    What you call the offense depends on what actually happened, not how the badly hurt the victim is.

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  27. kristinc wrote:

    I find it completely plausible that there are people (okay men, mostly, in this context) who gravitate towards obstetrics and/or gynecology because it allows them to have authority over women’s ladyparts, which they can then treat in sadistic and/or uncompassionate ways because they hate women. Not that I think anyone here is arguing against that possibility, really, but books like “Hard Labor” will probably convince you, in the absence of personal firsthand experience, if you’re skeptical of it.

    So, rapists in every medical specialty, yes. Medical specialties that specifically provide access to and control of ladyparts? Only just the two, really.

    Part of what I see as a problem with the attempts to define birthrape is that it starts sounding like disingenuous attempts to “define” rape. Again, I don’t think anyone here is doing that! But when you ask “does the term include cases where the women gives informed consent in the moment for a procedure that she originally said she didn’t want” you need to remember that “informed consent” in practical terms is whatever the medical staff call informed consent, and that true consent is pretty much impossible if you’re physically unable to leave and/or know you might face legal action for leaving, as a woman in the labor ward might.

    Luckily, I’m pretty sure these difficulties can be handled by just removing the idea that says having a medical provider do something to you is different from having a guy on the street do it to you. Stick something in her vagina when she doesn’t want you to? Rape. Lie to her or withhold information so she’ll allow you to put things in her vagina? Rape. Put something in her body (veins or lungs) without consent? Strap her down to do things to her? Hurt her maliciously during an otherwise legitimate medical procedure? Refuse pain medication? Assault. Hold her someplace with threats if she leaves? Unlawful detention.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  28. Jennifer wrote:

    I disagree with Marcotte. How does she presume to know the motivations of “doctors,” as opposed to “actual rapists”? In both cases it’s the actual behavior and the effect on the victim that matters–not why the abuser acted that way. In both cases, I would argue, the problem is not the motivation of the abuser but the conviction that the abuser is entitled to do whatever he/she is doing—more entitled than the right of the victim to his/her body.

    Health care workers can be very abusive, and as a patient you don’t know what their motivations are and you don’t know what the standards of care are, so you’re not even sure if you’ve been abused. The most serious unwanted groping I’ve endured was at the hands of doctors. In one case this occurred with a nurse in the room, where he grabbed my breasts and squeezed them a few times (in the “honk honk” kind of way) with no warning or explanation. This was a physical for a job–I was young and too naive to complain to anyone. The other was a doctor at my university health services who behaved in all kinds of creepy ways when I came in with a fever/respiratory illness (asking lots of questions about my sex life, blocking me into my seat with his leg touching mine as he interviewed me, and then listening to a heart murmur involving me lying on my side with his hand underneath my chest area and against my breast. I talked to a nurse who did my gyn exams about it–she thought it sounded suspicious and referred me to the female attending doc, who raved about how thorough the guy was (I’ll say!) and how he was one of their best residents.

    I recall a story about a dentist in my community who was doing breast exams on patients and sexually assaulting patients under sedation—for years, and finally someone complained and other women came forward, many of whom hadn’t realized it was abuse. I looked for a news report and didn’t find one for him—but I found others: (note that one of the docs had previously pled no contest to battery charges for touching patients, but apparently did not lose his license and went on to “practice” on more women and girls). Another link from New Zealand: . All of these practitioners claimed some kind of medical reason for the things they were doing—at least, the things they did while their patients were conscious.

    I have given birth–I did not feel assaulted, though I did feel disrespected. My providers were mostly women and I wasn’t examined internally many times. I was just talking with a colleague the other day who hasn’t returned for a pelvic exam at all in the nearly 3 years since she gave birth because all the exams were so traumatic for her. She didn’t use the term birth rape, but when the treatment women get is so traumatic that they avoid seeking care for years afterward, there’s something wrong with that picture. The arguments about what is or is not rape tend to obscure this.

    I would echo the statements above about the experience of pregnant women in terms of owning their own bodies. I was struck a couple of months ago where Jessica Valenti talked about how she felt there wasn’t a socially acceptable way to ask people not to touch her stomach

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  29. lauredhel wrote:

    Lindsay Beyerstein: It is difficult to pass comment without seeing the actual stories you’re referring to. One thing you may be missing, however, is that the anaesthesia may be being forcibly or coercively administered in order to effect a rape – forcing a gas mask on a woman to do a forceps delivery she has not consented to, and so on.

    Either way, however, the possibility that some women may mis-use the term in no way invalidates the reality of the many women who have been raped in labour rooms. Bringing it up is rather like bringing up ‘false rape accusations’ as some sort of trump card in conversations about non-birth-related rape.

    As for why birth-rape is a little different from other rapes – I guess I would have thought that was rather obvious, but to people unfamiliar with birth stories and birth trauma and medical assault, I guess it isn’t. Birth-rape is different – not 100% different, but different – because it is so comprehensively and completely denied in popular culture, feminist culture, medical culture, and legal culture, right across the board. Yes, other kinds of rape have been denied (rather less so in feminist culture than in the other cultures), but not to the same degree and absolutely not in the same ways. The starting point for this conversation is pretty much proof of that.

    How many convictions for birth rape are you aware of? I can tell you how many I’m aware of. Zero.

    How many people who’ve been raped are told in feminist spaces by self-identified feminists that they should be happy about it? That their rapist meant well? That it was good for them? That they should smile and enjoy their baby and get over it?

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink
  30. Kate wrote:

    I agree, Jennifer. I know lots of lovely lovely doctors who would NEVER “get off on the power they have over their victims”. On the other hand, I know plenty of doctors who do exactly that, who take smug pride in ‘knowing what is best’ for their patients, even if their patient is lying spread in front of them shouting ‘NO’!

    I don’t know what I would call it, but I know that it is not ok, both because of the action and the intention.

    Friday, September 17, 2010 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  31. weight wrote:

    i can has cheeseburger?

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 5:48 am | Permalink