Why Women Should Be Allowed to Use the Term Birth Rape

18 09 2010

There’s been a lot of talk about birth rape lately.  I first picked up the thread of the discussion with Cara’s post On Birth Rape, Definitions, and Language Policing, a post which incidentally got a big fucking “Amen” from me.

But even questions of technical definitions and what exactly it is that we wish to eradicate in fighting this thing called “rape” aside, I do know one thing for sure. When women come forward and start saying “I was raped,” when they find the power to use that word to describe their own experiences and open up to share their trauma with the world, responding with “no you weren’t” — with whole blog posts about the subject, in fact — is about the worst possible way that a person can do feminism.

Cara’s writing here in response to a slew of recent posts that challenge a woman’s right to use the term “rape” to describe traumatic birth experiences.  These include What Is “Birth Rape?” on Jezebel, Amanda Marcotte’s Bad Birth Experiences Aren’t Rape, and The Push to Recognize “Birth Rape” on Salon.  Scare quotes.  How to know something really good’s coming.

Joking aside, I wholeheartedly agree with Cara when it comes to the problems with feminists policing language in the way these bloggers do.  You kind of have to step back and ask why those fighting against the term birth rape are so adamant about claiming the word “rape” as this one specific, identifiable thing, when last I checked, third wave feminism’s stance toward rape focused on highlighting the blurriness of language in this area.

Rape, as I understand it, is about violation.  It’s about, most importantly, lack of consent.  And I feel that those who are saying that doctors aren’t sadists, that poking and prodding and restraining and cutting women is medically necessary for childbirth, are missing the point.  I feel that those who say “but this isn’t like rape in the Congo!” are missing the point.  It doesn’t matter whether x experience and y experience are the same, what matters is how a woman experiences x or y.  What matters is that a woman is tied down and screaming “no!” and she’s ignored because birth is supposed to be painful and difficult, because we have this cultural understanding that pregnant women are supposed to go to a hospital and lie down and take whatever’s dished out.

This is a cultural problem.  And whether x, y, or z act have the same cause or effect, they’re all tied up in this culture.  This is a culture that restricts a woman’s right to give birth in whatever way she chooses, and tells her to hurry up because the obstetrician has somewhere to be.  This is a culture that views rape in wartime as unfortunate but an acceptable consequence of a kind of violent conflict that is accepted as “normal.”  This is a culture that constantly questions the power of women and trans and gender queer people to use language in the ways we see fit.  This is a violent, power-wielding, out-of-control, rape culture.

It’s our right to tell it like we see it.

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Thoughts on Gender from a Telemarketer

10 01 2010

At the moment, I’m working in the subscriptions office of a major symphony orchestra, and I’ve found some trends emerging in the past four months or so when it comes to the spin callers and patrons place on gender (and sexuality).  This is just a list, maybe intelligent thoughts will follow:

  • Husband: “You’ll have to talk to my wife.  She’s my secretary/social secretary/the family secretary.”
  • Callers assuming that the wife might be home during the day but the husband will only be home at night.
  • Callers saying “is your wife home?” or “is your husband home?” without any evidence that the relationship between the male and female member of a household is indeed husband/wife.
  • Callers assuming that “partner” means opposite sex.
  • Callers suggesting that a patron bring a date to the symphony, as opposed to a friend or family member.
  • Wife: “My husband’s in charge/has all the control/etc.”
  • Husband: “No, she doesn’t want that” or “Honey, you don’t want that.”




Categorizing “Worlds”

30 03 2009

We were talking today in my human rights course about the “First/Second/Third World” system of categorizing countries, and also about the “Fourth World” of marginalized groups such as indigenous people.  Obviously, using the number system means you’re making a value judgement, but I also object somewhat to the use of the terms “developed” and “developing” to create a dichotomy that I also feel is value-based.  I use those terms sometimes when it comes to economics, but I’m uncomfortable with them.  It’s not just that we’re calling some nations undeveloped or underdeveloped, but more that we assume “developed” is a good thing.  The right to the development presupposes that everyone wants the kind of development that we have reached in our society, as I mentioned in a previous post, and ignores not only “side effects” but also the kind of broad conceptual/perceptual shifts that are inherent in this terminology.  

So what are the alternatives?  A lot of people use the terms Global North and Global South, which are a little more “accurate” than East/West, but they still ignore the vast differences among “Global South” countries.  Another problem to any form of geographic or value-based classification system is that it ignores disparities within a country.  Some scholars, for example, have pointed out that labelling the U.S. or European countries as “developed” ignores the right to development that women living in poverty in these countries have to seek development on their own terms.  When you frame development in this way – the right to seek out your own well-being and ways to earn a living on your own terms – I think we’re really hitting on something.  

This relates to another point that I made in my law of war seminar last week, related to the question of whether the international community should have been involved in Rwanda or not.  One student repeatedly stresssed that based on state sovereignty, we should only intervene if the country wants us to – “If they ask us.”  My problem with this, is that though I think culturally appropriate tribunals and decisionmaking are a good thing, I also think that we need to be wary of using this vague “they.”  There is no “they” in a situation like that.  When women were being subjected to mass rape, and many were traumatised and extremely fearful, it is difficult to say that we should simply ignore the situation because “they” don’t want us to get involved, or because women have forgiven the perpetrators.  Perhaps they have, but I do think that it if women have no resources, no medical help, don’t feel safe, etc., we need to ask if the “forgiveness” claimed by men in power is genuine.  I’m not saying that paternalism is a good idea, but I am saying that it’s important to consider the varying experiences within a culture and to take those experiences into consideration when offering “development” or other assistance.





The Significance of Rhetorical War

9 01 2009

John Dickerson has a short piece up on Slate about rhetorical wars, the next one of which appears to be war on the economy.  Oops, I’m sorry, that’s war on the economic crisis.  My mistake.  Anyway, in my National Security Law intersession course this week, one thing we talked about was whether the war on terror is any different from the other rhetorical wars on drugs, poverty, cancer, etc. or if it’s just another phrase in the presidential bag of tricks.  I’d say yes and no.

In some ways, it’s like all the other rhetorical wars, in that the word “war” announces a policy priority and commission of resources.  It’s intended to make those who are doing whatever we’re at war with a little more afraid of us in the case of something like the war on drugs, and to make victims believe that we’re serious in the case of the war on poverty or the war on cancer.  The war on terror does announce a policy priority and commission of resources, and it is supposed to make terrorists fear us and Americans feel like the government is doing something to protect us.  But that’s not all.

While other wars may have done this to some extent, I think the war on terror sets a new precedent in terms of using the “war” as a justification for actions that may or may not be legal or otherwise socially justifiable.  Increased surveillance?  We’re at war!  Questionable interrogation techniques?  We’re at war!  If Congress doesn’t give the President more and more authority, then it looks like it’s on the wrong side of a war, and that’s something you don’t want to be.  It’s also fuzzy because while Congress has not actually declared war on terrorists (something it doesn’t have the legal power to do as the enemy has to be at least somewhat identifiable), it has authorized the use of force against those responsible for 9/11 in the AUMF.  We’re actively fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the President is allowed to do whatever is appropriate and necessary to track down the Al Qaeda people responsible for the 9/11 terrorist plot.  This means that the rhetorical war gets the added brunt of being associated with a real war, and sometimes the two get disturbingly enmeshed.  For example, it was easy to call Iraq just another battle in the broader war.  But Congress authorized force against those who had attacked us first; it never declared a wider war or referred to the war in Afghanistan as an opening battle.

Things to think about.





Why is love the defining line?

20 09 2008

Now that I’ve come out of my hermitage once again, I have so many thoughts to share with you!

I was thinking about love in the shower (no, no, not like that) and I came to an interesting conclusion.  I was thinking about what the function of “I love you” is in a relationship, particularly when said for the first time.  When I was dating my college boyfriend, he said those three words after about six months.  We hadn’t been friends first – we met, we started dating, and we’d been cruising along for a while when he dropped the bomb.  I said “I love you, too” instinctively, but later in the comfort of my dorm room I started freaking out with my roommate.  Do I love him?  Do I, do I?  The next morning I decided that I did, but it was something of a foregone conclusion.

So what does love mean in such a context?  A lot of things, but two major ones come to mine.  (1) The people involved have come to a certain level of intimacy and affection.  (2) It’s a signal of commitment, possibly monogamy, that you’re in it for the long haul (or feel that way at the moment).  The reason it has to serve that double function is the assumption that you didn’t start out intimate or affectionate.  Mark and I were not friends in advance, and I never would’ve come to love him on that basis – we just aren’t that compatible.  This is why I really like my current approach, i.e., I don’t have sex with anyone I don’t consider a close friend.  The fact is, I already love my close friends.  We’ve reached that level of intimacy and affection and I already trust them.  I know that I like that individual as a person before we move into relationship (or just sexual friendship) territory.  “I love you” isn’t some huge revelation.  I already did!  We love each other, yes, and I don’t mind communicating it, but it doesn’t have to serve function (2).  It’s not some big bomb-dropping.  I think it’s best not to conflate love and commitment or love and long-term relationships because there are so many forms of love.  I could name about twenty people that I truly love, and none of them am I in a relationship with.  I like being a bit more practical about it.  If I feel that I want to be long-term with someone, then we can talk about it.  It doesn’t have to be code words that confuse everyone and require long conversations with a third party.  Communication, it’s what’s for dinner.

Off to the Iowa City Women’s Music Festival: Like Michigan, but with Shirts!

(shouldn’t that be their motto?  seriously?)





The Many Faces of Violence

11 08 2008

I read a quote that struck me yesterday, from lesbian activist Kathleen Sadaat: “There is a violence in not being able to live your life, and whether you are ever actually struck by someone is not the only issue.  Anything that pushed you toward being less than human, anything that tells you you are not a part of the human family, is a violent act.”

What a powerful statement.  This is why I crave lesbian discussion groups, conscious-raising, etc (unfortunately not available in my area).  I just want to believe that I am part of the human family, and though I know intellectually that there are others like me, and even know other lesbians, the lack of lesbian representation in the media, in news, in literature, etc., is something that I think is very subconsciously powerful.  These messages say “you are different.  You are not wanted.”  Whenever I write a paper arguing that LGBT people are just like everyone else, that we deserve rights, a voice in my head is saying, “no you don’t.  You’re an animal.  What makes you human?  What says that those people aren’t right, that you’re not sinning, that you aren’t less than they are?”  Where does this voice come?  Nowhere conscious, that’s for sure.  I was never taught these things, and never believed them, but somewhere I do.

The same is true when it comes to this latent fear of men and masculinity I’ve apparently been carrying around without knowing about it.  I don’t know that it’s there, but when it surfaces, it’s violent, and it will take no prisoners.  I read a post by a kinky lesbian blogger today and my reaction to some of her comments was abject fear.  Why?  I understand the sentiment behind her feelings (she’s a top, incidentally) and I see why others might want to be put in a submissive position for those reasons.  But emotionally, I reacted strongly to it.  If I trust someone with that part of me, will they break me?  Can I trust anyone?  And why am I afraid of all this?  It doesn’t make sense, intellectually.  I’ve never been raped, harassed, or sexually abused.  There are no skeletons in my closet.  Men have never given me reason to fear them, nor have aggressive women.  The only answer I have is that it’s socialized.  Maybe one day if I make enough money I’ll look for a therapist.