Casual use of the word “rape” implies that actual sexual violence is not a misanthropic atrocity

Amy Benfer as a post up about casual use of the word “rape” to describe some unimportant situation where one feels powerless: “we got raped in that softball game,” “the boss totally raped me in the meeting,” etc. 

My view on this is that it’s totally unacceptable. I clicked on the comments section to post a quick “thanks”-type post, but was then surprised to see that most of the comments involved some iteration of “get over it, you can’t tell me what to do or say.” They’re right in that nobody can tell anyone else what to say, but what people say does give a lot of insight into our society in general. I can’t stop anyone from saying “you’re such a Nazi about x,” or “that guy looks like a pedophile,” but necessary involved in choosing to use those words is somewhat of an unserious attitude about what the Nazis did, or what pedophilia is. In my response at Salon I did draw a distinction between “murder” and “rape” using the rationale that we’ve pretty much decided, as a society, that murder is really, really bad, but rape may not be. I suppose you could apply that rational to “Nazi” or “pedophile” as well, but still: why use such loaded words? And while nobody can explain away murder (and it has been roundly, and publicly condemned for many thousands of years), there is still an undercurrent (albeit small and dead wrong) in our society that minimizes the importance and damage done by Nazism (holocaust denial and anti-semitism in general) and pedophiles (stories about survivors being shamed for speaking up, calls for help unheeded, etc.). Perhaps another distinction is that while murder victims are dead, survivors of Nazism, pedophilia, and rape have that weight to carry for years afterwards. 

Anyway, here is my post in regard to Benfer’s original article:

I’m surprised by the amount of backlash I’ve seen in regard to the original article – and I can’t help but think that none of the posters who think “rape” is a fine euphemism for losing a softball game have not experienced the horror of sexual violence in their lives. I agree 100% that casually using “rape” takes away some of its semantic power, and in doing so gives users (and listeners) the idea that rape isn’t really that big of a deal: Hey, after all, Jon Stewart just totally raped Jim Cramer.

And to respond to those equating the casual use of “murder,” “fuck,” or similar misplaced words and “rape”: Our society still has a long way to go in terms of accepting the gravity, danger, and gross immorality of rape and sexual assault. As a society, we tend to downplay the horror and lasting trauma of rape and other sexual violence. We are willing to laugh away misogyny (or “rape”) and murder, but the salient point is that we don’t really have a problem with how we understand murder: everyone hates it, it is not excused by anyone, and it’s seen as pretty much the pinnacle of misanthropic immorality. On the other hand, misogyny still gets a pass, and use of the word “rape” in inappropriate situations signals that yeah, it’s pretty much OK if we make fun of something that does lasting and horrific harm to women, but not (nearly as often, at least) men. I’m not going to tell anyone to stop using a word (and neither was Ms. Benfer), but our choice of words says a lot about who we are personally, and how our society operates. Using the word “rape” casually indicates a degree of unseriousness about rape. And while it’s well established that “murder” is very serious, “fuck” is decidedly unserious (pretty much the most common curse word in American English for who knows how long), we don’t yet understand just how very, very serious, harmful, and dehumanizing “rape” and misogyny are to the people that are directly affected by it . Using “rape” casually in this context gives it a far too large range of interpretation, and yields the potential that “rape,” as a forced sexual assault, be taken lightly. 

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