Friday, April 13, 2007

Rape and bullying - further thoughts

I was doing some ego-googling earlier this week, and I found some folks discussing the rape/bullying metaphor, and one person felt that this was tiptoeing around the word "rape". Rapists need to understand that they are not mere "bullies", but they are rapists.

I don't remember much of the discussion, and too much ego-googling is bad for the head. Whether it causes swelling, or grey clouds of despair, it's best not to check up too much on what other people think of you. So, I'm not going to try to find it again, so I can check my memory or link to it. If I'm misparaphrasing, the participants have my apologies.

Anyway, I was thinking about that, because, you know, it is a danger. Why, exactly, am I trying to hammer this metaphor? Could I, in hammering this metaphor, end up making it seem as if rape was "merely" bullying?

So let me talk for a bit about why I found this metaphor so appealing.

Words are tricky little buggers. While a lot of our thinking and communication is done through words, words are inherently inexact. They can end up having too little meaning, or too much. Back when rape was viewed as being a stranger in a dark alley (or similar location) grabbing a woman, and using a gun or knife or simply overwhelming physical force, it was easy for people to despise rape.

But then it changed, and not that long ago, within my lifetime.

I think, before the 70s, rape was viewed more as a perversion than as an act of violence. Before the 70s, it was frequently impossible for a man to rape his wife under the law. Think about that... rape is a terrible act of violence involving parts of one's body, mind, and spirit that should never be touched by that kind of violence. A man raping his wife is one of the most horrible betrayals imaginable, but, if rape is seen as some kind of perversion, some kind of weird sex, well, how could a sex act be weird or perverse if it's "ordinary" sex between a man and his wife?

We had to change the word rape, and make folks understand that it wasn't some stranger hiding in dark alleys, it was sex without consent.

For some folks, that's enough. They understand the horror without having to go any further.

But for a lot of folks, it's not. To these people, consent seems like an invisible thing. What exactly does it mean to consent? Or to not consent? Consent is just a word to them, because they don't think it all through. The words "sex without consent" just don't have enough meaning to them. They don't drive home the implications.

By discussing rape as "sexual bullying", I think some of that barrier can be broken, that the implications can be driven home.

More importantly, I know that a lot of guys ask questions about a rape situation they hear described, and they start to wonder if, from the description, they could have done the same thing. And the answer is, "only if they were bullies, willing to ignore obvious, real distress, while close enough to have sex with a person".

Until I saw the suggestion that rape could be viewed as bullying, I simply hadn't thought to raise that super-obvious issue: that a rapist is right there, doing something terrible that takes time. It's not like rape happens in the blink of an eye, and it can be missed by one of the participants! By looking at rapists as bullies who are ignoring the many signs of a lack of consent, we bring forward the idea that those signs are there, and are clear, for anyone who is looking for them (or who can stop and ask a question, if there isn't absolute certainty).

Anyway, the long and the short of this is, I see it as a way to educate folks about rape in a manner that I believe is more accessible and more illustrative of the problem.

One person felt that this was tiptoeing around the word "rape".

I got a similar reaction when I raised this idea on another blog. (The response you saw might even have been to my comment.) But I think you're absolutely right, when you suggest that "words are tricky little buggers". But, more than that, most people react to the same word in the same way, every time. Too many people (more often men, but some women) "know" what 'rape' means, and any explanations that differ from their "knowledge" is shrugged off. And it will continue to be shrugged off, no matter how much talking other people do, because they cling to their certainty that they know what "rape" is -- generally, something that they could never be guilty of, or something that could happen to them.

So, I think changing the words WILL help people move beyond that "certainty", and maybe help them reframe the issue.

No, rapists are not "mere" bullies. But, if the actions that they used to procure sexual access to a woman's body would be recognized by anyone else as "bullying", then they did not "have sex", they raped. Hopefully, since it might be easier to deal with the idea of bullying/not bullying (because dealing with raping/not raping can be scary), connecting these two ideas might make some men stop and think.

You're not saying that rape is "just" bullying, or "only" bullying. You're saying that, if a man is bullying a woman, he needs to recognize that and stop, because any sex after that WILL be rape.

I think this is a great message, and I'd like to see more guys get on board with it -- especially boys in the 8-12 year range. If they learn young that you're a "creep" if you bully a girl (or another boy, for that matter), I doubt that they'd ever bully a woman for sex when they were older. Yay! Rape rates go down!

And I really like this series, and what you've done with the idea, how you've analyzed it and expanded it. You took a tiny germ of an idea that I proposed, and have given it a lot of validity. Thank you so much for running with this ball; I think the message may be even stronger coming from the male perspective.
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