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.
I’ve been watching the webcast of a Senate subcommittee hearing on rape in the United States, and though I’m not able to watch the last panel, I wanted to note a couple of things. One is that I’m actually encouraged by what I’ve heard, especially about the need to have better definitions of sexual crimes and the need for better reporting and police support. Then again, the Senators present were Specter, Cardin, and Franken, so maybe that’s to be expected.
One thing, though, that bothered me, was that Specter seemed surprised that a public education and awareness campaign would be needed–what is to me one of the most important elements of eradicating rape culture. He stated that “people are aware of what rape means […] that it is violent and anti-social.” Seems to be missing the point a bit. There was some back-and-forth in this hearing between recognizing and seeming to gloss over acquaintance rape. The problem isn’t that people don’t know what rape is, but that sexual crimes aren’t culturally stigmatized and survivors don’t get social support. So yes, a public education campaign is vitally important, to change the way people think about sex and to prevent rape before it happens.
On the other hand, I was encouraged that particularly vulnerable populations were at least mentioned: indigenous people, immigrants, people with disabilities, people in institutions, LGBT people, the homeless, etc. I don’t know how much hope I have for things improving, but this hearing has shown that journalism, and just talking about it, does mean something.
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.”
For day twenty five of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “Real Sex Education” by Cara Kulwicki. Cara is one of my favorite bloggers because she keeps everyone updated on all the crappy victim-blaming stuff that goes on, but sex education is also one of her big topics. I remember reading this essay for the first time and being really intrigued because I knew I was for comprehensive sex education, but I had no way of picturing what that would look like. If you think about what Cara’s proposing, it really could be revolutionary.
We’re coming into the home stretch of the Blogging “Yes” project. It’s day twenty four, and I read Jessica Valenti’s “Purely Rape: The Myth of Sexual Purity and How it Reinforces Rape Culture.” This essay is basically a very bite-sized version of the argument in Valenti’s book, The Purity Myth, but what really stuck with my is an example from my own state, Maryland, of a law (no longer in force) that made rape impossible if a woman said no after penetration.
For day twenty two of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read a conversation entitled “Who’re You Calling a Whore?: A Conversation with Three Sex Workers on Sexuality, Empowerment, and the Industry.” The sex workers in question are Susan Lopez, Saundra, and Mariko Passion, and the conversation focuses on various issues of power, control, and empowerment in sex work. As I was reading, I found myself drawing a lot of parallels with BDSM, especially when it comes to female control and empowerment, and I thought I’d comment on those here.
For day twenty of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Cristina Meztli Tzintzún’s essay, “Killing Misogyny: A Personal Story of Love, Violence, and Strategies for Survival.” Tzintzún tells the story of her struggles with the cycle of abuse, cheating, and STDs, and I wanted to particularly focus on an issue she brings up towards the end of the essay, which is how the feminist movement and other progressive movements can address the involvement of abusive and oppressive men.
For day nineteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Anastasia Higginbotham’s essay, “Sex Worth Fighting For.” So far, this is the essay I disagree with most in the book, because it focuses on a self-defense program that focuses on actively fighting off men. Though I recognize that some women do feel empowered by physically fighting, I would argue that both men and women need to work towards non-violence, and that fighting violence with violence is not the right solution for everyone.
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.”
For day fifteen of the Blogging “Yes” project I read “Hooking up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry, who works in sexual violence prevention. Perry’s essay includes the story of his own first 13-year-old attempt to have sex and some information he’s learned in working in sexual violence prevention about how effective sex education works. What I found most interesting about the essay, though, was the idea of sex as a “game” that boys can win or lose.