Note: In this post, “rape” is used to define 90% of rapes that occur; that is, the rape of women. While I acknowledge that men are also raped (they do make up that final 10%), rape culture is not something that vilifies and blames men for their attacks. In fact, when such excuses are made in regards to male rape, they are normally rooted in misogyny (which can best be tackled by dealing directly with the prejudice laid against women) or homophobia (which is another can of worms altogether, and not what I’m addressing here). Also, huge rape trigger warning on this post; it gets a little graphic.
I have made no secret here of the fact that I am a survivor of rape. This is actually a very large step for me, as it’s something I made a very deep secret of for years. It’s something I denied in my own mind, tried to erase, blocked out, and never, ever discussed. It’s been several months since I first acknowledged my attack, had the courage to share my experience with anyone. I spent so long unwilling to admit what happened to me that this revelation was horribly traumatic. It was like being thrust back to the event, freshly recovering from the trauma, and for the first time being forced to bear the burden of admitting to myself that I had been raped. Sometimes I think I deal quite well with it, and other times I fear it will unravel my soul.
Triggers can be innocuous enough. There are many things that are considered acceptable in society at large that can be really dangerous for survivors of rape. So much of this I never noticed until I acknowledged my experience; now I can’t escape it. For example: I started marathoning 30 Rock, and Liz Lemon (often held aloft as a feminist protagonist) made at least two rape jokes over the course of the show. Not surprising; comedians, media, and individuals make rape jokes all the time without stopping to think that perhaps it’s not an appropriate subject to joke about. I’m also a gamer, and am forced to hear other players make comments like, “We really raped that other team.” The word itself is treated so casually, because people who have not been the victims of the crime have no concept of how deeply it embeds in the psyche of such a victim.
“Rape” is not a metaphor. You cannot rape an inanimate object, and no inanimate object is raping you with its high prices or stringent standards. “Rape” is not a synonym for “dominate” or “destroy,” though rape victims have both done to them. “Rape” is not a funny threat to make against someone who antagonizes you.
So what is rape? It’s a horrible violation of your body, mind, and soul. It’s an act that harms you physically, mentally, spiritually. It’s an act that instills such deep feelings of mistrust, fear, disgust, and horror, that you may never fully be able to escape them. It’s a display of misogyny, hatred, and disrespect that surpasses any other I’ve personally experienced. It’s a hate crime against women, with acceptance perpetuated by a culture that blames the victim, and rarely punishes her attacker.
Even people who claim to understand this often display disturbingly little support for rape survivors. I was recently engaged in an angry confrontation with a male regarding his contribution to rape culture. I was horribly triggered, frantic to keep my sanity, and clawing for a way to get him to listen to me. But silencing victims is one of the main tenets of rape culture, and one that even feminist non-victims engage in terrifyingly often.
I don’t quite know how to explain the problematic nature of dealing with a subject like rape. But foremost in any discussion of a kind of victimization, the obligation falls on non-victims to simply shut the fuck up and let the survivors have their voice. There is a hierarchy of respect in any discussion of a marginalized person, and in the discussion of rape, it’s pretty simple: Males are at the bottom of the list; misogyny lets men get their words in all the damn time, because we are steeped in rape culture that tells us women are objects. Female non-victims are allowed more of a say, because they are affected daily by the misogyny that forms rape culture. But first and foremost, it is those female victims who deserve to be heard. Those of us who not only struggle with the possibility of rape, but also the reality of it. I daresay there is a sort of non-victim privilege that can inspire women to silence other female victims, under the belief that they understand the dynamics of rape culture as well as we do, simply by virtue of being female. I’m sorry, no. No one understands the realities of rape as well as those who have suffered through it. And it is the responsibility of every equality-minded male and non-victim to let us speak.
And no, I don’t care about your privileged objections. I’m being hostile, overemotional, or too sensitive, and you think my bad temper gives you the right to silence me? I’m taking the discussion of rape too personally, and am just clinging to an opportunity to be offended? We weren’t talking about my specific rape, so my opinion holds no more weight than yours? Or maybe I just need to shut the fuck up and stop getting so upset when there are bigger issues at hand?
My response to every single one of those objections? Shut the fuck up. I have every reason to be emotionally vested in this subject, to be sensitive to discussions of rape, and to become angry or hostile when people minimize it. I have been raped. I live every day with the reality of that violation, and it colors my every decision. I do not “enjoy” the opportunity to yell at a privileged person; I am lashing out against the horrible pain caused to me when they smack me in the face with that privilege, with the fact that they can even elude to the act or use the word “rape” without an internal shudder, a flash of traumatic memory. I’m raging against the fact that people can simply not give a damn about how their use and abuse of that privilege burns those of us who lack it. I try my damnedest to hold discourse respectfully, but I am not obligated to treat a male or a female non-victim delicately on this subject, particularly when they are showing me and other survivors no such respect.
Non-victims often think that if they understand the complications of such a violation, they have the right to be heard equally on the subject. The problem is, if you have never been victimized, you simply cannot understand the depths to which a victim suffers. Knowing something academically is not the same as knowing it through personal experience. You’ve never been paralyzed with fear simply by being in a man’s company, because your brain won’t stop showing you slideshow stills of your attack, and reminding you that this guy could do it, too. You’ve never been engaging in consensual sex, had a flashback to your rape, and then been struck by the desire to withdraw from physical intimacy for the rest of the year. You’ve never been haunted at night by dreams of how your attacker might violate you again if given the chance. You’ve never been triggered merely by the voice of a friend who you talked to after the attack, because it makes you remember surrounding circumstances. You’ve never felt disgusting, worthless, filthy when discussing your sexual history with a partner because of a violation that was beyond your control. You’ve never unexpectedly gotten your period, and suddenly flashed back to how vaginal trauma caused you to bleed for days after your attack. You do not understand.
This may seem harsh, but to a survivor of rape, so does your ignorance of their pain. I don’t need someone telling me why my opinion on any subject involving rape is less valid than theirs; I’ve had my experience minimized, ignored, disrespected for long enough. If you don’t want to hear the words of victims, stop talking about the crimes that victimize them. The very least you can do is not turn us into victims again, this time at the hands of your privileged self-righteousness.