Comparison, allegory and metaphor are important tools for communication. When someone doesn’t understand something they can be used to link the subject to something they can relate to and empathise with. So it’s understandable that in many discussions of rape someone will try to come up with a narrative that those who don’t live with the constant threat of sexual assault can understand. Unfortunately, there are very few things that are comparable. One of the most common narratives that floats around is the equivalence between rape and being mugged – both potentially traumatic and violating experiences, yes, but still qualitatively and inherently different. To use this comparison to make people understand you not only have to get them to imagine being mugged, you have to make them imagine a whole alternate reality where there is a huge amount of baggage and shame that simply can’t be conveyed in a transcript of a police officer questioning whether the victim was at fault. Mugging is also primarily a crime committed by strangers, while rape is the opposite, so you also have to find another way to convey the loss of trust, the affect on ability to create and maintain intimate relationships, and the potential damage to a survivor’s future sex life. Most mugging victims don’t have to overcome trauma each time they later donate to charity.
Looping back to the present, Culture Map has an article up titled ‘The best response we’ve heard to Daniel Tosh’s “misquoted” rape joke‘. Read that and return.
I have problems with this piece. For starters, it implies that only women get raped (or at least, only people with vaginas). Also that all men have dicks. Further, while rape is a horrible, horrible thing, and this sentence should do nothing to belittle that, one of the insidious things about it is that there is no visible injury that comes about from rape itself. If there were, it would perhaps receive more sympathy than it does. Instead, victims/survivors are expected to simply get over it. And some can – maybe not fully, but over time they can take on the trauma and beat it into submission, which is why many people prefer the term survivors to victims in the first place. A victim is often read as helpless, someone who needs an external agent to save them. A survivor saves themselves (though perhaps with the help of a good support system). However, the article’s comparison of rape to castration fails to convey any of these subtleties. Someone who’s been castrated is visibly injured, and disabled, for life, and is no longer able to engage in the penetrative sex that is most likely to be what they consider the norm. No one reasonable would argue that one in five [people possessing dicks] wanted to be castrated, whereas sex is generally supposed to be pleasurable, leading to the overwhelming incidence of dismissing rape reports as morning after regret. Because people are expected to want to have sex. They’re not expected to want to have parts of their body chopped off.
As for the visible injury, another characteristic of rape survivors is that it’s not something you can discern by looking at someone. The statistics tell us that pretty much everyone probably knows someone who’s been either raped or sexually assaulted in some way – but because we don’t talk about it, most cis men in particular don’t know that. Now obviously since we don’t walk around naked, castration isn’t immediately obvious, but it’s not something you can hide from an intimate partner, and could cause problems in places like gym or swimming pool changing rooms if you didn’t want anyone to know. It would also affect the fit of pants, though that could be corrected by packing. So in this alternate reality presented, women would not find it as easy to be completely unaware of the issue as men do in our world.
The thing is, you don’t actually even really need to create these convoluted metaphors. Men do get raped in real life, and even moreso than women it’s presented as comedic, because men are supposed to want sex all the time and be strong enough that you can’t overpower them, so being raped is ridiculous, like if they were a woman or something! Hilarious, I guess. The line of reasoning applies whether the rapist is male or female, though obviously there’s also a lot of homophobia tied up in it when both parties are male. So instead of trying to walk men through a complete re-imagining of the world, it seems like it would be easier to ask them to imagine that they had been raped. I can guarantee they’re aware of the social attitudes towards male rape victims. And while they don’t have the burden of having to be always aware of the possibility, the impossible rules that women have to follow in order to not be blamed for someone else’s crime and the knowledge that even your own friends cannot be trusted not to turn on you, that’s a much smaller gap in understanding than any of the comparison scenarios I’ve seen provide.
Personally when it comes to articles about the issue of rape jokes in stand up, I prefer this one from a guy who used to make rape jokes himself. (Though I admit I’m leery of using a cis man as an authoritative figure on a subject that disproportionately affects women and trans folk.)