How (Not) To Talk About Rape 

How (Not) To Talk About Rape 

by Gayatri Jayaraman - Friday, July 1, 2016 11:29 PM IST
How (Not) To Talk About Rape Image Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images
  • Two weeks have passed since Salman Khan made a distatestful rape analogy and got castigated for it.

    The rape analogy has been used so often that it is now a meaningless comparison to everything from a terrible client meeting to a tough exercise routine.

    The National Commission for Women (NCW) is absolutely right in going after rape analogies, especially from those who can influence the public acceptability of a heinous crime.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Salman Khan got hauled over the coals for his remark that he worked so hard in preparing for Sultan that he felt like a woman who had been raped.

Shiv Visvanathan, in an appalling article published on Scroll, defended his right to do so by reaffirming his and all Indian men’s right to use rape as a cheap analogy, claiming that all Khan had raped was, in effect, language.

Neither of these two men and seemingly most men who rushed to defend this usage seem to know the meaning of the word ‘rape’, let alone have the maturity to gauge its impact. This is, in fact, because it has been used as an analogy so often that it is now a meaningless comparison to everything from a client meeting that didn’t go well to a tough exercise routine, none of which compare in the degree of atrocity to what rape actually is. Like a devalued currency of sexual violence, rape is now a descriptor to a statistic.

So let me remind you what that word means. Rape is, in fact, the inserting of one or more penises, fingers, and foreign objects such as iron rods and pistols inside a woman’s vagina or anus without her consent. Often, in the rare case that she is not already paralysed with fear and terror, she is screaming and pleading for this violent act of violation to be stopped.

It is an image that every woman - and I mean every - woman has grown up hoping and praying will not happen to her. Not in the safety of her own home, nor in the workplaces where she has to work late. Not on site visits or official work tours and assignments, nor after being kidnapped while travelling in an auto-rickshaw or walking down the street. Not while waiting for a bus after watching a film in a theatre in New Delhi. Not as girl children in rural India will attest, while on the way to school, and as toddlers who can’t speak will tell you if they could. Not the unspeakable horror of adults doing this to you in the safety of your own home and under the protection of your official caregivers.

Women have to watch what they wear, their timings - of arriving at another city, or departure, or social events, of not being alone in a room or house or office or a remote area with anyone, or in their mode of transport back home. Subconsciously, constantly, every moment, women attempt to take responsibility for themselves and to avoid this horrific outcome that could be rape.

Because as society has taught them, they shouldn’t be the ones to cause it. They know that if and when it happens, someone, somewhere will blame them for abetting this crime unto themselves. There is NO social context, NONE, in which you can bring up the word ‘rape’ and not bring this wide range of scenarios to mind.

So, when you are at a work meeting and casually feel the need to use the word ‘rape’ to explain how a client got the better of you, assuming it will explain the scenario better and draw a few laughs, why don’t you try saying—‘the clients pushed me to the floor, stood over me with broken beer bottles, took photographs of me that they threatened to post online if I complained, pulled off their trousers, inserted their penises and foreign objects inside me as I lay screaming and pleading for them not to do it, or as I froze in horror and terror, leaving me with physical and mental wounds that I will never quite overcome and now feel so violated that I cannot come to grips with the range of emotions I feel, from revulsion at my own body and my skin crawling at the memory of that unwanted touch, to extreme depression and thoughts of suicide, and leaving me unable to sleep or eat for the horror of reliving those moments, or alternately my own mind blacking out and leaving me too numb physically and mentally to even remember or react’—and see if that draws a laugh.

If it does, you would be doing humanity a favour by ending the careers of those in the room laughing. Try the same to explain Virat Kohli’s batting and you will discover why women in the room flinch and withdraw, though they are forced to cover up their discomfort, especially in work situations, from the men who use this kind of language.

The normalisation of the word ‘rape’ is a cultural attempt to appropriate and normalise the crime. In reality, the extent of its impact is intrusive, both mentally and physically. Desensitising the word ‘rape’ is a trope that wilfully allows the cover-up of the act itself. It also displays a very real lack of social understanding of the crime: what happens, who is responsible and how it plays out.

Conversely, men who understand the crime do not use the word lightly. To encourage its use, in phrases like ‘the rape of justice’ (Justice is routinely portrayed as a blindfolded woman), is to establish an accepted context for violence against women. That justice may sometimes be raped is now made an acknowledgeable phenomenon by this usage. What it conveys is tacit acceptance, not horror at its occurrence.

In such ways, the act of rape is legitimised and introduced in everyday language. There are now ways in which rape may be made acceptable. Funny even. Did rape even really happen? How bad can it be? Maybe it’s her or your fault. When Kohli *rapes* the opposing team, it is because they deserved it. It is justified. That’s how we win. Rape has now been made an instrument of victory, and national pride even. Let’s burst crackers.

It also exhibits a lack of understanding that the term is equally violent to men. Not only are men equally vulnerable to being raped, by paedophiles and priestly predators, men also get stereotyped in two ways: as being immune to rape and as being perpetrators.

The casual use of the word is a cultural acceptance of these labels. Men are unable to reach out for help in vulnerable situations because rape only happens to women, it is made a valid expression of extreme maleness by being used to indicate the stronger party, or as Shiv Visvanathan used it, an ‘error’, ergo it can be overlooked, dismissed or treated as a forgivable deed, and thus the Indian male acquires a comfort with being labelled a potential ‘rapist’.

Maleness is thus also very easily equatable with the profile of a rapist. So when the goon, or the ill-informed lawyer, or corrupt cop or even an ill-intentioned woman is threatening someone with a fake rape charge to ‘show him’, it is, in fact, an outcome of this appropriation.

The irreversibility of the charge of ‘rapist’ on a man is equally not understood. I recently met the wife of a man who claims he has been falsely accused of rape and who is running pillar to post to clear his name, and his words to her still ring in my ears:

If I had been accused of murder, it would be fine because murder can happen out of a fit of anger or self-defence, but to be accused of rape, you have to be a certain kind of man to inflict rape, and to be considered that, destroys my very sense of self.

Indeed, if your comfort levels with the word allow you to experience its impact at client meetings, cricket matches or the share market, to denote a loss over a win, then it is internalised that rape is not unacceptable in everyday confrontations, it’s just a matter of intensity. Men are applying the label to themselves.

Objections that claim rape speech is not equal to performing the crime fail to take into account that crime begins with intent, not even speech.

Rape is never about sex, gender or attraction, which is why it affects men and women of all ages from toddlers to the elderly. It is about power and control. ‘No’ is also an equally powerful word. The comprehension of the importance of consent is again diminished by reducing the power of speech.

Make no mistake, the use of ‘rape’ to trivialise a heinous crime is an act of disempowering the right to consent, as a badge of power. What are you making a fuss about? Even Salman Khan got raped. Even Virat Kohli metes out rape. There is no crime. Men rape all the time. It’s all lies. Let’s question that it happened at all. It’s all a slippery slope from there.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) is absolutely right in going after rape analogies, especially from those who can influence the public acceptability of a heinous crime.

Join our Telegram channel - no spam or links, only crisp analysis.
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.

Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.

We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.

Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.