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mini-rant on the "rape" metaphor - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2007-04-25 12:48
mini-rant on the "rape" metaphor
Public
feminism, language, rape
I hate it when people use rape as a metaphor. Why use a symbol of sexualized degradation, violence, and control -- and something so heavily gendered -- to characterize some abstract idea or unrelated action? How do you think rape survivors reading these metaphors feel about having their experiences compared to some abstract ideological issue in this way? I feel jarred every time I see it used. Also, I feel like it just habituates us to the idea or rape -- that it's not a big deal. What a stupid, ridiculous metaphor -- why would anyone want to compare sexual violence against (primarily) women with anything else?

*ahem* Anyway, back to my reading ...
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rubrick
rubrick
2007-04-25 22:38 (UTC)
(no subject)
Hm, I'd never really thought about that one before. I think the metaphor is supposed to capture the idea of violently using and degrading something without caring about it. I imagine people choose it because it's vivid and pushes emotional buttons; raping the planet sounds more shameful than merely destroying it or wasting it. But you're right, it's really not appropriate; real rape implies many things which the metaphoric usage doesn't.

Incidentally, I read in the NYT today that 1 in 3 Native American women is forcibly raped in her lifetime, nearly twice the national average. Both figures are appalling.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-04-25 23:17 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yeah, I think you're right in that it's often meant to make a strong point, but that it's also terribly inappropriate and insensitive. I'd rather there was some non-sexualized version of it -- there are aspects of war, for instance, that could also make a strong metaphorical statement of this type without bringing up such awful connotations.
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Meryl
earthtomeryl
2007-04-25 23:12 (UTC)
(no subject)
I'm SO totally with you on that. Occasionally, when they're talking about something like serious genocide, the metaphor makes sense, but otherwise... surely there are more appropriate analogies.
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Liz
stellae
2007-04-25 23:48 (UTC)
(no subject)
I suppose it's a "change with the times" thing... In classical literature, rape doesn't necessarily refer specifically to sexual violation; it refers to destruction and stripping the victimof its posession(s). in these instances, the idea of 'rape' didn't have the context of demeaning violence against women that it has come to mean in the last 20-30 years, and I suppose the people who use it in such a way as to discuss an abstract ideological issue are using it in this sense.

Granted, modern writers should probably be more sensitive to present connotations of the word and should seek less emotionally-charged alternatives.

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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-04-26 05:59 (UTC)
(no subject)
Hmm, though in Latin it just means "to take by force," I think its denotation has been sexual violation for a long time. There are paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance depicting rape (or actually, imminent rape) as sexual violation. Maybe it's just recently that women have been in a position to speak out about the realities of rape survivors and how other uses are inappropriate, though.
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Linley
linley
2007-04-26 04:51 (UTC)
(no subject)
When I was at HMC, some male students would say things like "That test totally raped me." Many of these students didn't understand at all why others found the expression offensive. The campus ended up having a lengthy discussion about this and other things that women in particular found to be insensitive. It didn't seem to make much of an impact, though.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-04-26 05:45 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yeah, it's like saying "that's totally gay" -- only much worse. Strange how our culture tends to adopt phrases that trivialize these sorts of things.
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2007-04-26 05:53 (UTC)
(no subject)
If you think being gay is analogous to a crime of violence, maybe. The (possibly-illusory) trend you're concerned about in the meaning of "rape" is opposite in direction to the pejoration trend in the meaning of "gay".
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-04-26 06:06 (UTC)
(no subject)
No. I was just referring to the inappropriate use of "gay" as a synonym for "stupid" as similar to the inappropriate use of "rape" as described by Linley -- one trivializes the experience of being gay, the other trivializes the experience of being raped. I certainly did not mean any analogy like that.
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2007-04-26 05:49 (UTC)
(no subject)
I think people use it precisely because it's so jarring; what more abusive act could one find to compare something to? A lot of rhetoric and hyperbole is constructed specifically to exploit the most vivid, jarring, shocking metaphors available, and rape is high on the list. It's just like when one sports team is claimed to have "murdered" or "cremated" another one by virtue of scoring many more points (maybe if you'd had a sibling murdered, you'd find that metaphor equally disturbing) or when someone compares the legality of abortion to "genocide".

Additionally, I think there are disturbing elements to the crime, especially in fantasy, that make it a uniquely illuminating metaphor for many other crimes --- often specifically the elements of degradation, violence, and control that you've called out above.

Perhaps rape is heavily gendered, but for many readers the gendering is more in terms of the expected perpetrator than the expected victim --- it's not sexual violence against primarily women, but sexual violence by primarily men. I think that a lot of the things people cast in the role of the rapist in this metaphor are things to which they are comfortable assigning a male gender.

I don't know if I've been guilty of this; I try to avoid hyperbolic metaphors in general, but sometimes I succumb to the temptation. I don't want to try to defend the use of the metaphor, but I don't find it as incomprehensible a choice of terms as you seem to.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-04-26 06:04 (UTC)
(no subject)
I agree that people use it because it's jarring, but I still don't think it's appropriate. Every time I see it used it makes me upset, based on my own experiences. I'm also disturbed by the sexual = degrading element of it, and that its overuse could lead to increased habituation and acceptance (such "priming" has been shown to occur on a wide variety of topics).
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(Anonymous)
2009-01-28 19:29 (UTC)
(no subject)
You'd prefer murder? War? These are less 'heavily gendered' atrocities, arguably less "personal" because they affect many lives instead of one. How does that make them less sharp or stinging as potential triggers for trauma victims?

What about fire? It has killed many parents of many children. No more metaphors using fire? If you think that's absurd, you are placing a rape survivor's trauma above that of an orphan, as if the two can be graded.

Do you want the world to apply special rules toward women? Isn't that chivalry? "Pardon me, ma'am...didn't mean to curse in front of you."

Or perhaps you'd prefer people only use safe metaphors. Roses, sunshine, puppies, bunnies? Art reflects life, and unfortunately, life is not always rosy and sunny.

John Lennon, for example, said, "Woman is the nigger of the world." I think it's a fantastic metaphor and he didn't side with racists or misogynists to make it; on the contrary, he used it against both and to undermine a universal standard of degradation, violence, control...

The truth is, in the realm of symbolic representation, no topic is out of bounds. It can't be. Language hurts sometimes. So does life. If we were to limit ourselves to language upon which you (or the government, or whomever) rubber stamp approval, we might as well forget metaphor altogether and keep the language abstract and ideological. That makes for terrible writing that doesn't communicate anything.

The very point of a metaphor is that the tenor and vehicle are unrelated. If they were closely related, you wouldn't really need a metaphor, would you?

I do agree with you that (quite often) rape is used as an amateurish and insensitive metaphor, like a teenage songwriter saying somebody/something "Raped my [pride, peace, security, whatever]." But to argue that there is no place for it (or for anything, if a speaker sees fit and uses it brilliantly)? I can't agree. I think the world already has enough attempts to limit free speech in the name of victims.

Adorno similarly argued "Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." I think somebody who would argue that art has no place in an imperfect world is the true misanthrope. Everything is 'appropriate' in functional context.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2009-01-28 20:58 (UTC)
(no subject)
Jeez, someone's got a stick up their ass. I'm hardly arguing against all metaphor, I didn't say anything about murder or war being (somehow) better metaphors, and I'm hardly for censorship. Pipe down and stop flaming random people, eh?
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