Why Women Should Be Allowed to Use the Term Birth Rape

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.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on September 18, 2010, in rape and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I see rape as a specific violation – one of non-consensual penetration. I think that there is a good case for using the term “rape” to describe this in medical settings – where penetration is forced or coerced, but I am wary of “rape” being used as a general catch all for non-consensual violation – either sexual or medical.

    Firstly it dilutes the specifity of the crime, making it far more general, and secondly – should this discourse catch on, it risks the whole “envelopment rape” scenario currently being pushed by Mens Rights Activists, which could see women being prosecuted for rape should they have PIV with a man who is coerced.

    I understand that there is a queer feminist argument for the extension of the term and its legal boundaries, and I’d like to read more to properly understand it, but I am struggling to find sources. Do you have any suggestions?

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