And now that I have your attention, let’s talk about words instead and besides, “sex” is a word too, so I wasn’t even making it up. With the uncommon exception of things like aphasia, esoteric developmental disorders, and dubiously divine inspiration, most people use words to communicate with each other, and with the less uncommon exception of online dating messages, most people choose those words according to subtle sociocultural conventions and expectations. Because, even in the FREE SPEECH future, propriety matters. You probably wouldn’t tell granny to go suck a dick when she asks you to pass the Brussels sprouts, would you? No, because you have manners and nobody wants to talk about granny’s Tinder date at Sunday lunch, anyway. Gross.
So why do so many people use the word “rape” like it’s no big deal?
Maybe you’re even one of them. Maybe you’re not. Maybe you used it that one time and somebody else called you out on it, so now you don’t, but you secretly resent the outrageous tyranny of political correctness and something something “SJW” and what next, a totalitarian dystopia? I’m not going to insist that you stop using it in casual contexts that have nothing whatsoever to do with actual, real rape. But I am going to ask that you think about the fact that I’ve had to distinguish between “actual, real rape” and some… other kind of rape, and why that’s the actual, real problem.
But Tarryn, what about using the word “murder” to mean something that isn’t actual, real murder?
Okay, but society already acknowledges that murder is an egregious thing – one with an irrefutable victim and no lame excuses for the perpetrator. No defence attorney would argue in court, for example, that a person stabbed while passed out at a party was “asking for it”, or suggest that being shot dead in a bar toilet was just some kind of misunderstanding, or even explain that the accused didn’t mean to do it and is very sorry, and you know what, she was wearing a strappy top. The crime of murder – including its very legitimacy as a crime – is unquestionable. When a person uses the word “murder” to describe something that isn’t murder, it’s understood in the context of, and as a figurative extension of its literal definition.
Rape, not so much, and not just because most people can’t even decide what exactly constitutes rape*, but that too. Society owns up to rape being an egregious thing as a sort of perfunctory concession to basic morality, but not much more than that. Parents teach their kids that killing is bad, but a discussion about consent is too embarrassing, apparently – and so, she had too much to drink and blacked out, what did she expect? She didn’t say “no” properly, loudly enough, or more than five times. She was wearing a strappy top. Although statistics necessarily vary from one place to the next, most rapists are not ever convicted because what even is rape, and but-but-but, and they probably made it up, anyway. We live in the worst timeline, the one in which Brock Turner got six months for “20 minutes of action” because some of us can’t even use the word “rape” to talk about actual, real rape. So when a person uses the word “rape” to describe something that isn’t rape, what does that even mean?
But if awkwardly ambiguous metaphors don’t matter to you, let’s go back to propriety. South Africa has some of the worst rates of rape on the planet, with dismal arrest and conviction rates. You know somebody who has been actually, really raped, and you probably wouldn’t tell them about that time you raped this guy in PUBG, would you? No, because you have manners and who wants to compare an inconsequential moment in a video game with a violent, traumatic experience, anyway. Gross.
*Ask ten people whether or not a woman can rape a man. Ask five, even.