Fucking Friday: Rape (S.A.A.M.)

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and, to kick things off, I’d like to take issue with the growing prevalence of the word “rape” as a slang synonym for “dominated”, “rocked’, or “killed”. Both I and a friend have recently had Facebook “friends” (which of course could be anyone from a mere acquaintance to a spouse) claim to have “raped” a final in their status:

her: is hoping that she raped that final!!! PARRRRTTTAYYYY time!!!

him: Fuckin raped 2 finals and now one more to go

I know the author of the second well enough to comment on it. Facebook now allows a user to “like” or give a thumbs up to something someone else has posted. The following thread ensued:

me: “Fuckin raped 2 finals” …I wonder if one can “unlike” a comment.
him: haha possibly… all you gotta do is type that you dont like it.
me: consider it done

He later changed his status to

him: fuckin destroyed all three finals and now time to turn off the brain!

which I considered a win. I “liked” that status.

But now I wish I’d gone farther. I wish I’d made it more clear that I was offended by the status, and that I was offended by “raped 2 finals” rather than “fuckin”. Swearing on your Facebook page is stupid, but inoffensive to me (I know for a fact that all his managers are on Facebook—I’m friends with most of them). Using “rape” as a description of power and of power over an inanimate object is flat out offensive. When I sent my messages, I felt like the Bad Feminist FriendTM: the one who is offended by little things that “normal” people aren’t offended by and don’t even notice; the one who never finds jokes funny and is just a pain to ever be around. But I simply couldn’t let it slide.

I know that others disagree, but I would much rather replace “rape” with “kill” in the above. I have killed finals in the past (I have had finals kill me, too); I have dominated, I have destroyed, but I have never raped a final. Or anything else (besides the earth, with my car…). This is not a term to be used lightly. This is not a word to be normalized.

20 Comments

  1. Davis

    So are you saying that you would also rather be killed than raped? I’m not sure I understand you completely.

  2. Linguistically speaking, in our social lexicon “rape” really only has one meaning, whereas “kill” has many nuanced and metaphoric meanings that have long been separate from the literal meaning of the verb ” to end life”. And even then, killing isn’t always seen as a moral wrong, as in butchering animals for food, whereas rape is a universal wrong in our society.

    Just a couple thoughts as to why using “rape” in that instance is more offensive than using “kill”. And for the record, I agree with xJane. While I’m usually not a prescriptivist, there are a few words I think are better not being used in certain colloquial contexts, – this usage of “rape” and the usage of “gay” as “lame” being another.

  3. Amber

    I don’t think of myself as particularly easily offended, but I have a visceral reaction to the use of “rape” in such a casual way. It’s alarming.

  4. “This is not a term to be used lightly. This is not a word to be normalized.”

    Exactly. Personally I want the word ‘rape’ to retain its impact. Not only that, but I hate the thought of rape being used as a positive in any context. And it’s not my main reason for opposing the casual use of the word, but I feel sorry for any rape victims who have to constantly hear the word used around them as if it’s something good or cool. It’s like adding insult to injury.

  5. Denine

    Thank you for saying this xJane. It’s a truth that needs to be spoken. The power it needs to be spoken to is our peers. I find the use of the word ‘rape’ for anything other than actual rape, to be extremely offensive. And I find it frightening that there seems to be an element of pleasure or delight accompanying it. Swears are fine. ‘Rape’ is not a swear.

  6. John

    With my love of words and their flexibility and adaptability, I’m struggling with this one. My first instinct was to look into the history and usage of the term. Here’s the etymological examples from one of the several uses in the Oxford English Dictionary:

    1572 J. BRIDGES tr. R. Gwalther Hundred, Threescore & Fiftene Homelyes xxxj. 227 In the meane season we be taught, what names they deserue, which defraude the poore of Christ, by raping and reauing the Church goodes. 1732 J. MITCHELL Poems Several Occasions II. 304 Bold Prometheus rap’d the heav’nly Fire.

    My worry is that by making a taboo out of the word, we actually sacralize it in a way. But when I turn off the cold reasoning and feel more, I think I agree with xJane. Craig speaks my heart the best:

    While I’m usually not a prescriptivist, there are a few words I think are better not being used in certain colloquial contexts, – this usage of “rape” and the usage of “gay” as “lame” being another. (I would add “lame” as I word to be cautious about as well) 🙂

  7. @John,

    Yes, “lame”, “retarded”, “gay”, etc., when used pejoratively are actually saying something about the culture, apart from their usage as a colloquial pejorative – i.e. that our society condones the disparagement of those who have physical or mental handicaps, or are a member of a sexual minority simply because the majority of people aren’t like that, and see those things as “bad”, so use them to disparage others of the majority community, perhaps not quite realising (or not caring) how offensive that can be to members of those various minority communities.

    And then using “rape” like that seems to make light of an especially serious, traumatic, painful, and horrifying violation of a person’s human rights.

    But I also feel the same reticence in proscribing how language “ought” to be used.

  8. I had a long discussion with my wife about this one yesterday. I dislike the use of the word “rape” as a term for doing well on a test or at anything for that matter. Because the word doesn’t even carry that meaning. No use of the word with its true definition implies that you have used appropriate means. So if you raped a final you either drugged it, kidnapped it or worse… all if which would imply to me that you had in someway cheated in order to do well on the final.

    As I was discussing this with my wife I wasn’t to keen on the comparison to killing a final either, but as we discussed it i found it to be a more personal issue with that description. For right or wrong colloquially “kill” has become an acceptable term. I think it has done so because of phrases like “slayed the audience with laughter”, which I do not have a problem with because of the interesting juxtaposition. It is a creative use of the english language and causes the mind to think about what is being said. Now we use words like “kill” as a reference to creative phrasing like that because we are lazy in our language. I find that to be a very sad state of affairs.

    The bottom line in the conversation between my wife and I on this topic was that I agree wholeheartedly with xJane that it is without tact to use the word “rape” in this way; I am also disappointed in the lazy way in which we use language.

  9. I think a major issue is the violence and lack of acquiescence that rape implies. “I fucked that exam!” does not have the same connotations that “I raped that exam!” does. Eric said it right, it implies that something illegal was done. And yes, Kirk, it is “just” a word. But words convey meanings and emotions—it is not the combination of an “r,” an “a,” a “p,” and an “e” that is concerning to me but the cultural and emotional significance of the act of rape. Especially as applied to an inanimate object.

  10. Kirk

    Sorry, didn’t read erics post before mine.
    Hm. I dont know how I feel on this topic. I use rape all the time, I honestly dont think its that big of a deal. My ex-gf was raped and I would still use it in front of her. I guess its just another division among people. Oh well.

  11. Kirk,

    No offense, but there is no such thing as just a word. Words are how we define the world around us. We use words to endear ourselves to one another, to supplicate the divine, to offend, to reprove, and to love.

    Rape as used refers to the forceful sexual assault of a woman or a minor. It conjures a very specific image when used, and is a very insensitive word used out of context. This is why we are discussing it.

    It is difficult for me to understand the argument that something is just a word, especially here in the blogosphere where flame wars and heated debate are so prevalent. To dismiss this discussion because rape is just a word is disingenuous at best and insensitive at worst.

  12. Kirk

    We use words in different methods. Society changes how we use words, it always has and always will. I guess I really have no room to stay in here and talk because my opinions on this word are obviously very different from yalls.

  13. Kirk,

    I started my reply 45 mins ago and didn’t see your further replies. Murdered or killed caused me to have quite a conversation with my wife on this topic. Unabashedly I will say that it is as inappropriate as rape as there is only one way to interpret that word, the illegal taking of another’s life. Kill however has more colloquial meanings, one of which is to terminate…

    I would prefer a more eloquent use of our language, but that is my opinion.

    Just because you would use a rape in front of someone who was raped does not make it acceptable. When you use it do you mean the forceful sexual assault or abduction of something? Because if you do not you are using the word wrong as it does not have another definition…

  14. @Eric,
    I don’t think that any usage of any word is ever “lazy”. That sort of epithet is commonly used by people who think that “those damn kids are destroying our language” – in order to invalidate their usage of a word or their entire idiolect. From a linguistic standpoint, it’s part of the essence of language for words to change in meaning, to acquire new meanings, and to be used very differently just within a few years or generation. It hasn’t anything to do with laziness, but an inherent attribute of human language.

    Also, it’s not only women and children who can be and are raped. While perhaps less common, men are raped as well.

    @Kirk,
    I certainly enjoy hearing your perspective, and am reasonably certain no one here is insecure enough to not have their views or beliefs challenged. That’s what I think this blog is all about, in fact.

    And as pertaining specifically to the usage of the word “rape” as a colloquialism similar in meaning to “kill” , “destroy” , “conquer”, or “be victorious”, I personally would not use it that way because I feel it would be offensive to someone who had been raped because it equates the word “rape” with a very common, nonviolent, non-violating action, and that seems to me to lessen the gravity of rape. I feel similarly when people make jokes about the molestation of children.

    I’m not saying that no one should use “rape” that way, but why I don’t, and why some (including the feminist community) might find it quite offensive. But, as a linguist who is trained to describe language as it naturally occurs, and not to proscribe how it ought to be used, I find myself very ambivalent on this issue.

  15. @Craig

    I used the Merriam Webster definition for my reference:
    1. an act or instance of robbing or despoiling or carrying away a person by force
    2 : unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent — compare sexual assault , statutory rape
    3 : an outrageous violation

    I did not mean to imply then men are not raped just that the image generally conjured at the use of the word is generally a woman or child as the victim.

    I think that there is value in observing the evolution of language at the same time I think that there is value in preserving language as well. Why bother with a dictionary if you want allow wide flexibility in language. I think there are some words that it is a noble pursuit to prevent their dilution through colloquial misapplication. I would argue that “rape” is one of those words. for 7 centuries it has maintained the same definition and is as raw today as it was then.

    When the definition does not fit the use of the word it is lazy because the user has chosen not to find a word that fits the meaning they are trying to convey; in this case rape does not mean to successfully complete nor is it a synonym to “kill”, “destroy”, “conquer”, or “be victorious”

  16. G

    I tend to use some violent slang (ie. “I destroyed it,” “slew it” “beat the hell out of it” etc…) but yet I have a pretty strong reaction against this use of the term “rape” as slang in these particular contexts.

    it’s all in the implication:
    did you have to face some lethal foe that was hell-bent on destroying you and almost did but you conquered in the end?
    or
    did you go out and attack (unprovoked) something less powerful than yourself because you are a coward and would never pick on something your own size who might have a fighting chance and thus build up your own flagging pathetic (serially psycho) ego?

    In that sense, I can see where the term can be used as slang in certain situations. but being successful in an exam is not one of them.

    oh, and xjane, you are my hero for saying something about it.

  17. G—I think that’s a good distinction; with an exam, you “face some lethal foe that was hell-bent on destroying you and almost did but you conquered it in the end”. Thus, you killed an exam; you slaughtered a final; &c.

  18. G

    exactly!
    I’m trying to think of ways that “rape” might be applicable as slang…
    perhaps if you went into a Circle K at 1 am, shoved a Saturday night special in the face of the terrified 17 year old working the late shift alone, took all the money from the register plus a bag of potato chips and then ran your pathetic ass off into the night, yeah; you could say “I fuckin’ raped that Circle K.”

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