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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Blogging “Yes” Day 26: A Culture Gone Wild

1 05 2010

Note: I wrote this post last night, April 30, but for some reason it didn’t go through. Here’s take two.

It’s day twenty-seven of the Blogging “Yes” project, the final day.  Thank you to everyone who dropped by to read the posts, and to everyone who picked up the book and read along with me.  You can see all the project posts by using the Blogging “Yes” tag.  So, today I read Jaclyn Friedman’s essay, “In Defense of Going Wild or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Pleasure (and How You Can, Too).” Not everything in this essay sat well with me, but what I do want to focus on is the correlation between male drinking and rape, and how a particular male-focused culture is partly to blame for our stigmas about girls “going wild.”

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Blogging “Yes” Day 16: The Not-Rapes

20 04 2010

For day sixteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Latoya Peterson’s essay, “The Not-Rape Epidemic.”  This was another of the most powerful in the book for me on first reading, and it’s informed a lot of how I think about rape culture and my own experiences.  Peterson, the editor of Racialicious, tells the story of her own “not-rape” and a later experience in finding herself at a later rape trial of her “not rapist.”  She also talks about the common experiences of young women with molestation, harassment, and statutory rape and the myth of the “cool older boyfriend.”

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Blogging “Yes” Day 13: Linking the Discourse on Female Sexuality and Date Rape

18 04 2010

Here we are at day thirteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and Lisa Jervis’s essay “An Old Enemy in a New Outfit: How Date Rape Became Gray Rape and Why It Matters.”  Jervis is the founding editor of Bitch magazine and her essay is another that will contain concepts very familiar to most feminists.  It focuses on the idea of “gray” rape, which is an updated spin on the “date rape is not as serious” victim-blaming discourse that’s been around, well, probably as long as dating culture.  What I wanted to highlight here is the connection between the “gray” rape discourse and modern  messages about women’s sexuality.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 11: Rape, Immigration, and Citizenship Privilege

15 04 2010

Today I read Miriam Zoila Pérez’s essay, “When Sexual Autonomy Isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women in the United States” for day eleven of the Blogging “Yes” project.  You may know Miriam from Feministing, or from her own blog, Radical Doula.  She’s one of my favorite bloggers out there, and in this essay she sheds light on an important issue, namely sexual violence faced by immigrant women. I also want to recommend a related blog post on Feministe written by brownfemipower, Confronting Citizenship in Sexual Assault.

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Pissed off woman warning

12 05 2008

I have to admit that for a large chunk of my life, I never really thought about or talked about rape.  I know that rape is an issue that weighs heavily on many women’s minds, whether it’s because they or someone they know is a survivor, because it’s what makes them afraid to go out alone at night, or whatever else.  For me, it was just never really like that.  Part of it is that, as cowardly as this is, I always assumed if someone raped me, I would just kill myself.  It seemed horrible enough that I would have no desire to live afterwards, but as an extreme a response as that is, it was sort of an open and shut case for me.  It seemed very unlikely that rape would actually happen to me, and if it did, I had my solution.  As for fears of being raped, I wasn’t really concerned.  I’m a tall woman, and I have a very no-nonsense dress style.  When I’m striding down the street at night, if there isn’t enough light to see my face or the breasts tucked underneath my jacket, you probably can’t tell I’m a man.  I figured this made me fairly low-risk for the sort of “drunken man jumping out from behind a building” urban legends you always hear about.

There was, however, one thing about rape that really fucking pissed me off, and that’s victim blaming.  Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and in the fall I studied rape law in a Criminal Law survey course.  I’ve started to get rather fired up about the whole thing.  Also, I finally had a friend who told me she was raped.  I always suspected that I had friends who’d been sexually assaulted or raped – kind of like having friends that are gay, most people do – but no one had ever said to me “I’ve been raped.”  It made me think about the problem in a little more of a personal way.  

Now, unsurprisingly, I’m even more pissed off about victim blaming.  But that’s not all.  I’m pissed off that our culture always, always, has an excuse when it comes to rape.  I’m a native North Carolinian, so I had the Duke lacrosse thing shoved down my throat for a while, but that’s just one example.  It seems like it really is not that uncommon on American university campuses for a woman to be gang raped by some sort of sports team while everyone else in the room cheers.  I thought The Curvature did a really excellent job of explaining how there is always an excuse in these cases in her recent post.

In short, rape apologism shifts. When it’s a “date rape” people will say “how do we know she didn’t consent? It’s not like she’s covered in bruises.” When she’s covered in bruises, the victim in question will simply “like it rough.” When the woman is unconscious and therefore can’t just “like it rough,” she will be accused of misidentifying her attacker, or people will argue “well, she didn’t say no.” When she does say no, it’s “why didn’t she fight? He didn’t have a weapon.” When she did fight back or he did have a weapon, it’s “well there’s no DNA evidence.” When there’s DNA evidence, it’s “well he probably did it, but it’s not like there were any witnesses . . .” When there are witnesses, three of them in fact, who are willing and eager to testify?

When there are witnesses, they just won’t be allowed up on the fucking stand.

It is embarrassing and unacceptable that the American legal system treats rape cases this way again and again.  Most, if not all, of the fifty states badly need rape reform.  The Model Penal Code, a front-runner in many areas of legal reform, is hardly inspiring when it comes to rape.  I hate to run around being the Man-Hating Lesbian, but at the moment, I do have to blame it (at least mostly) on men.  There are some women who fuck up in this area too, but my God, the men are just… aaaarrrgh.  

So you get men who think it’s okay to rape, or who think that if everyone’s drunk and it’s a party and there are some sympathetic buddies in the crowd, they’ll probably just get off.  And they’re right.  This is ridiculous.  I’m in favour of a positive model of consent.  If a woman doesn’t say “yes,” then she might as well be saying “no.”  If she’s so drunk she can barely get the yes out, she’s also as good as saying no.  If she is saying no, even in a playful, teasing, sexy, flirtatious, whatever the hell your poor ears are hearing way?  She’s saying no.  There may be times in a relationship where no doesn’t mean no – in a BDSM context, for example – but that’s why BDSM has safewords.  It’s a context based on mutual understanding and trust.  If she (or he) says “no,” it may not mean no, but the two of you have agreed that if she (or he) says “alligator,” or whatever, you’d better stop what you’re doing right away.  If that’s not the context, and you just think your wife or girlfriend or whatever means yes when you says no, there’s something wrong.  There needs to be a conversation.  It’s one thing if people have talked it out and a woman has been very clear about how she says no “for real” and what the man should be looking out for, but in most of the cases I’ve read, that isn’t what’s going on.  If there’s a mixed message, the rapist gets the benefit of doubt.  

Also, one last thing that pisses me off.  My hometown paper, The News & Observer, ran this article on how victims in North Carolina have to pay for their own rape kits.  The article says “part of the cost,” but for uninsured victims, that can be hundreds of dollars.  What a great way to further discourage rape victims from reporting rape and getting treatment.  Thanks to Harry for the link.