Is the ‘overuse’ of the word rape ‘sanitising’ the act itself?

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

And so, we come back to the topic of rape. I’ve genuinely lost count of how many blog entries I’ve made on this topic now, this is possibly number 4 or 5. Rape and gender violence seem to dominate the discussions I see on the internet at the moment. I can’t speak for America, but there are campaigns absolutely everywhere in the UK that aim to stop domestic violence, and pretty much all of them play to the men=abuser, women=victim mentality, which is so off point it’s actually becoming quite sickening.

Rape is a hot topic at the moment, especially in England. I’m not complaining, it’s a horrible crime, the more we do to try and eradicate it the better, and the quicker we can do it, the better. However, I do have one nagging thought that I can’t get rid of. It’s not a particularly pleasant one so I haven’t really talked about it, but it’s there regardless. One reason, one major reason, why I think rape is such a hot topic at the moment, particularly in the UK, is because feminists are constantly on about it. If there’s a sure-fire way to keep one certain topic high on the political agenda it’s to make sure you keep talking about it. We live in a ‘rape culture’, supposedly, where we normalise, trivialise and accept rape as part of what we do.

Has ‘rape’ become a word so overused that we have normalised it, accepted it into our culture? Possibly. Has that acceptance of the word changed the way we see the actual act of rape? Well, to answer that question I will pose another. The word ‘kill’, as in the verb to take someone’s life away, is in common usage, and has been for countless years. Has that acceptance of the word changed the way we see the actual act of killing? No, of course not. Murder is still seen as a reprehensible act. In fact, you only have to see the outrage amongst the public in the UK when a murderer’s sentence is seen as lenient. Take the example of Mick Philpott and his wife (I can’t spell her name, sorry):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mick_Philpott

He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 15 years before consideration for parole. When the public heard ’15 years’ they went berserk saying it wasn’t long enough, that the law had gone soft, that life should mean life. As is too common with cases like this, the emotion of the case often got in the way of the facts. Mick Philpott was sentenced to life in prison. If he hadn’t been sentenced to life he would have got 30 years, generally speaking prisoners in Britain serve 50% of their sentence before consideration for parole. That’s where the 15 years comes from. Mick Philpott will serve 15 years before he is considered for parole, it is very unlikely, due to the highly public nature of the case, that he will actually get parole. But that’s the problem in a nutshell, emotion often overrides facts. People heard 15 years and, instead of actually doing the research and approaching the subject from a view of knowledge, they took to their soap box while only knowing a tenth of the actual situation. That’s dangerous.

And so, the whole point of the above paragraph is to highlight that, just because rape is a word used in our everyday vernacular, just because some people use it as a verb or an adjective to describe something other than the actual act of rape, it does not mean we diminish our feelings toward, or indeed trivialise and normalise, the act of rape. The word ‘kill’ is used every day, yet when someone does actually kill someone else, we don’t fail to find the outrage to condemn that person. It still comes pretty naturally.

So why all this focus on the semantics or rape and kill, am I subtly trying to hint at a future rampage I’m going to embark on? No, of course not. I wouldn’t be that transparent! This article is what has prompted all of this:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/jamiebartlett/100012021/the-word-rape-is-becoming-a-joke-on-twitter-are-we-in-danger-of-sanitising-the-crime/

I don’t, for one second, dismiss the idea that Twitter is a breeding ground for some of the scummiest arseholes on the internet. I’ve spent my fair share of time on Twitter and can definitely attest for that fact. However, it does cop a lot of unfair flak, and rape has a lot to do with that. The problem I have with Twitter is that it’s the internet version of a motorway bottleneck. You know when you’re driving down the motorway and there’s a 5 mile queue of traffic due to an accident? How much of that 5 miles is caused by traffic slowing down to try and get a glimpse of the accident? It’s happened to me numerous times, yes there’s been an accident but the sole reason for the tailback is people slowing down to get a glimpse. I see Twitter as the same. Any time a controversy arises, people cannot wait to get involved. Sometimes, as with Mick Philpott, it’s to put their two pennerth in without actually knowing all the facts, sometimes it’s simply to try and be as offensive as possible.

Sadly, when it comes to rape, feminism holds such a monopoly on the word that, even in jest, or even obvious trolling, doesn’t stand a chance of just being dismissed. If you mention rape on twitter in a joke, or as a verb, or an adjective or even just as a blatant trolling attempt it becomes big news. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s definitely clear now, particularly in the aftermath of the ‘deluge’ of abuse Caroline Criado-Perez got when suggesting a woman should be on an English bank note after Elizabeth Fry was ousted in favour of Winston Churchill. While I won’t get in to that whole saga (I do believe it was somewhat overblown) the consequences of it are now beginning to see the light of day:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10555737/Twitter-trolling-charges-woman-faces-court.html

The thing that bothers me with the hysteria over rape, and this is directly related to the article above, is that abuse towards women on Twitter is automatically seen as so much worse than any other kind of abuse. Abuse on Twitter is a daily occurrence for a lot of people, particularly famous people, yet the biggest outrage we’ve seen so far has been based around a woman receiving rape threats. I’m not diminishing the vileness of what happened, I’m questioning why we acted as if we weren’t aware of the dark side of Twitter before this happened? Twitter’s been around for long enough, hell the internet’s been around for long enough, that we know there is a small section (and it is a small section, despite what some people would have you believe) that are complete arseholes, that use the anonymity the internet offers as a shield to say some of the most depraved, shitty stuff they could think of. But why did it take until the summer of 2012, when Twitter had been around for 5 years, for it to become a national outrage issue? Was it because the abuse was directed at a woman? Was it because it was directed at a lesbian? Was it because it was directed at a feminist? Was it because the abuse included rape threats? Honestly, it probably encompasses all of those reasons, it was a tinderbox of a situation that blew up extremely quickly.

Abuse on Twitter is a problem ,and the Criado-Perez situation did highlight it quite well. It also highlighted the hysteria around feminism in general. Men and women get abused on Twitter all the time, I’ve seen some of the people I follow retweet some really nasty stuff, some properly nasty stuff. Things like telling a child sex abuse victim that he wasn’t abused enough, some real dark shit that doesn’t have a place on the internet. But, the outrage that the Criado-Perez situation caused, particularly about the reporting system, to me, came down from an increased sense of victimhood that engulfs feminism. Man gets abused on twitter with death threats and sexual abuse threats and no-one does anything, people just trundle along like nothing happens, turning the other way and pretending it’s not as bad as it is. Woman gets threatened with rape and, later on, bomb threats and the whole structure of Twitter needs to be re-dressed as it’s, obviously, completely outdated.

I go back to the motorway metaphor, once the abuse towards Criado-Perez on Twitter became public knowledge it spiralled from there, attracting Trolls from all over the internet to join in. How much of the initial abuse can be put down to actual hatred of Criado-Perez and distaste at the campaign and how much can be put down to the snowballing effect of internet Trolls is unclear.

If you think I’m making excuses for the abuse suffered by a feminist, if you think I’m a woman hater, then I point you to two similar controversies in recent years:

Sachsgate:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Brand_Show_prank_telephone_calls_row

The London Riots:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_England_riots

Let’s take Sachsgate first. Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross made some, admittedly rather poor taste, phone calls to Andrew Sachs discussing all manner of things. The actual event, as it happened on Radio 4 (I believe), garnered very little attention, and only a small amount of complaints. Once the issue hit the national headlines that number of complaints spiralled, to the point that, a week later, people who had not actually listened to the original broadcast started complaining, simply because they had become outraged by proxy.

Similarly with the London Riots. Initially they started in one area of London and then, when news spread, outbreaks that had nothing to do with the original matter cropped up in other parts of the country, miles away from London.

Mob mentality is a powerful thing and, while Twitter has no doubt helped the organisation of such events, the internet is not solely to blame. We had riots before the internet; we’ll probably have riots again. What the internet has done, and the 24 hour news culture in general, is allowed this outrage to be beamed to us almost immediately and very publicly, to the point that it becomes just as easy to join in, whether or not you know what the original reason was for, as it has ever been.

But what’s this got to do with the word rape? Well, with all the attention the word rape has placed on it, it doesn’t matter what context it’s used in, or how private a conversation it was used in, you now cannot either use the word rape, or even question the use of the word rape, without it being linked to the suffering of women. Feminism holds such a great monopoly over the word rape that they can generate a mass amount of outrage over very little. If they think a man is a misogynist because he used the word rape as a verb then, pretty conclusively, he is a misogynist for using that word. Using the word rape undermines all the victims of rape (of course, ‘victim’ automatically implies woman) and trivialises it, in a way that using the word ‘kill’ in general conversation doesn’t seem to trivialise the act of murder.

The article in question is problematic for me for many reasons, one occurs pretty early on:

 “I’ve written about trolling, especially the misogynistic variety, elsewhere”

To me, the fact he has to qualify that his earlier writings have focused on misogynistic trolling already put this article on shaky ground. Immediately, to me, it suggest this will be a female-centric focus on the word ‘rape’ as opposed to a general look at how the word is used. To me, that discounts every male victim of Twitter abuse and automatically A) victimises women and B) discredits male sufferers of rape, which is disconcerting.

The main focus of his article is his unscientific look at the use of the word on Twitter. He breaks it down quite nicely, immediately disregarding 20% of the findings as discussing the song ‘rape me’ by Nirvana. Another 40% is disregarded as being discussions about the actual act of rape. ‘Nearly 30%’ of tweets were using it as a joke, verb, adjective, metaphor, synonym or some other way that wasn’t threatening, possibly in poor taste, but wasn’t about the actual act. That ‘nearly 30%’ actually becomes 28% when you find out that 12% of the tweets were the most worrying, the ones directly using the word in a threatening manner.

Just before continuing, I do find it very interesting that, of the examples he gave of the word being use as a joke, he picked this one to show us:

“WOW, he’s so cute, I wanna rape him!”

He states at the top of the article that his focus elsewhere has been on misogynistic trolling and opens with a recap of the Criado-Perez affair but, when talking about the poor taste of rape used as a joke, he mentions male rape. For someone whose opening paragraph suggests he thinks abuse on Twitter is a matter affecting women, this is a curious tweet to highlight. Either it’s an oversight on his part, or he wants to address the over-arching nature of abuse on Twitter, and perhaps the double standard of rape hysteria, but feels he can’t do it openly without running the risk of people deliberately ignoring everything else in the article, so resorts to sticking a tweet in as an example.

The author goes on to say he didn’t find any direct threats to specific people (which is good) but does clarify that by saying that it was just a small dip in the ocean (a random collection of 500) from the 30,000 tweets that his search revealed. He then states he is surprised by how often the word is used as a metaphor for all manner of everyday things:

“passing a test, a sporting conquest, a joke punch-line. This isn’t really a question for the police – it shouldn’t be illegal – but for all of us.”

I can’t disagree, I’ve heard people use the word rape as a verb before, but it’s what comes next that is interesting:

“ Words matter, because they often reflect and affect our perceptions. The slow and steady dehumanisation of other people in society – think of the Jews in 1930s Germany – often begins with normalising epithets about them. If rape becomes just another verb to be cast around in everyday language, the danger is that it sanitise the concept and blunts the uniqueness of the crime it describes.”

This is where I disagree with him. I do agree that words matter, I do agree that some words become more ingrained into public lexicon than others, but, for the most part, I don’t think that sanitises the word. If we take the word ‘paedo’ or ‘kiddy fiddler’, another couple of words that are big business at the moment in the UK, I’ve often seen them both used to describe men with moustaches or beards that amount to no more than ‘bum fluff’. Of course, the sexist assumption that sexual predators are men with moustaches is a discussion for another day, but the point is that, no matter how everyday the word becomes, no matter how much it is used as a punchline, no matter how much it is used as a joke, or a friendly insult between mates, it will never, ever, lose its impact when it comes to actual cases of paedophilia. If you ever had any doubt that people would lose their ability to get outraged at the antics of a paedophile you only have to look at the mass outrage caused by Jimmy Saville and the subsequent Operation Yewtree investigation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Savile_sexual_abuse_scandal

This wide ranging abuse investigation has absolutely torn this country apart. Interestingly, the name ‘Jimmy Saville’ now seems to have entered public lexicon in the same way as rape has. It doesn’t mean that people loathe and despise Saville any less than they had, it just means that, for whatever reason, the British public’s macabre relationship with language and crime continues unabated.

What I did want to include in this blog was my own unscientific research conducted on Twitter. This is on a much smaller scale than the research conducted in the article, but it’s still valid. Instead of taking 500 random tweets, I simply picked the first 20 or so. I typed ‘kill’ into Twitter’s search bar, and just screencapped the first few that came up:

http://i1276.photobucket.com/albums/y472/johnsalmonworld/twitterkill_zps45bf5710.jpg

http://i1276.photobucket.com/albums/y472/johnsalmonworld/twitterkill2_zpsaba0e947.jpg

http://i1276.photobucket.com/albums/y472/johnsalmonworld/twitterkill3_zps824a1208.png

http://i1276.photobucket.com/albums/y472/johnsalmonworld/twitterkill4_zps439b6be1.jpg

First off, if you take the first picture, you’ll see it says ‘317 new results’. That’s 317 new comments since I typed the word ‘kill’ into the search bar. That means in a matter of seconds there were 317 new tweets containing the word ‘kill’ published on Twitter. It’s a very popular word it would seem.

My point is very simple, like the article’s search of the word ‘rape’, some of those results are pretty innocuous, some of the ones I saw were talking about Kill Em All, Metallica’s debut album. However, there are a number of rather ‘poor taste’ tweets as well that are threatening and directly state the desire to murder someone based on something extremely trivial, like turning off a particular song on the radio. Much like rape, do we not run the risk of normalising the idea of murder by allowing usage of the word in that context to go on? Do we not run the same risk as we do with rape of ‘sanitising’ the act of murder by allowing people to make such a violent comment with such a blasé level of accountability? ‘Kill’ has been around in our lexicon for a long time as a way to describe things other than the actual act of murder. It is used in everyday talk to describe all manner of things. Mostly used in empty threats and as a synonym for something else, it doesn’t mean we have diminished our understanding of the damage and severity of murder or the act of killing someone. It means we have developed a way of disassociating the literal act of killing, the illegal act of murder, with the use of the word in another context, either a joking context, or simply as a descriptive way of making a point – “ooh, I’m gonna hill him/her!” = “wow, he/she must be angry!”

The difference is, to me, really simple, we don’t have the same hysteria surrounding the use of the word kill as we do the word ‘rape’. We can use the word kill on a regular basis, whether we are famous or not, and generally get away with it. We have become aware enough of our own language to see that words evolve and can be used in different contexts to mean different things. As suggested above, “I’m going to kill him/her!” doesn’t get us immediately diving for the phone to call the police as we understand it is not a real threat; it is simply a turn of phrase to express frustration and anger.

That leads me to believe that the hysteria surrounding the word ‘rape’, and perhaps even the word ‘paedo’, is a construct created to hold monopoly over that word. Rather than genuine concern and outrage it is a word that has been artificially elevated to a status beyond that of its worth, a word that has, through the constant usage and application to only one gender, become synonymous with feminism and misogyny. It allows the feminist movement to claim victimhood every time it is mentioned. “he used the word rape in a sentence in a way that we don’t like, woman hater!”. As we’ve seen with other mob-mentality instances, and indeed with everyday feminism, it doesn’t take a lot for the torch-waving, pitchfork-wielding sheep to come out of the woodwork and condemn the public-court-accused person, particularly a man, without actually knowing the context of the situation.

I am, in no way, suggesting we should all go outside tomorrow and start saying shit like “I’m going to rape this car with petrol”, not at all, I do believe that some words are used in poor taste and, if you are a public figure, your hold of the English language and an awareness of what you can and can’t say is important and necessary. What I am saying is that, if other words that have entered public lexicon, words that hold either similar or worse connotations than rape, and not changed the way we, as a public body, react to the literal act of those words, then why do we still hold ‘rape’ in such high esteem? Is this not a case of ‘if you ignore it, it goes away?” Surely by claiming outrage and victimization every time it’s used we are just handing power right over to the people who know they can use it to get a rise out of people.

Of course, the fact that feminists get outraged over the use of rape and apply it solely to women victims is a form of sexism in its own right, but when has feminism really done anything publically about male victims of rape? Plus, can feminists claim anger over the misuse of the word rape when they post utterly stupid shit like this:

http://i1276.photobucket.com/albums/y472/johnsalmonworld/starerape_zpsdb061a74.png

I think the comments on that picture explain it pretty concisely.

“But John, women still get raped every day, do you understand what you’re saying?” Yes I do, people still get killed every day, paedophiles still abuse children every day (ok, ‘every day’ might be an exaggeration), but from recent events it would appear the social use of the words ‘kill’ and ‘padeo’ have not diminished the disgust and shock we feel when we are told of those acts happening, I fail to see rape as any different.

Now seems as good a time as any to stop, seen as it’s late and my fingers are burning.

It’s 9:10pm on a Sunday, I’m going to go and do what any responsible, mature adult would do in my shoes; eat a bowl of cereal! I’m thinking Rape Crispies?

Ok, that was in bad taste!

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Comments
  1. escort says:

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this post plus the rest of the website is really good.

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