Rape is not a metaphor

Owing to an unfortunate misuse of this word in a recent work situation, my attention has been drawn to this subject. And like anything I find myself caring about, this one really gets under my skin.

To be offended by the casual use of the word “rape” is completely right and normal. In fact, I encourage everyone to take exception to it. Don’t allow yourself to become desensitised. We give words their impact. We cannot dilute this one.

Despite what some people may say, adopting this mindset is not over dramatic. It’s not precious and it’s not something we should be apologetic for.

Using the word “rape” to describe anything other than its literal definition, categorically shouldn’t happen.

I wish this post didn’t need to go beyond that as a statement, but unfortunately it seems it does.

Yesterday I was in the elevator at work and another casual use of this word came about.

“Oh hey! Did you get raped by the Victoria line this morning too?”

I usually walk to work but owing to an uncharacteristically long run, I’d decided to catch the tube. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I chanced upon a signal failure which had held up the entire line. I decided to get out and walk the rest of the way instead.

So yes, I was held up by the Victoria Line. I further irritated a blister I’d formed on my run, which at a stretch I could blame on the Victoria Line. And I was about 20 minutes late to work, again, because of the Victoria Line.

But I was not raped by the Victoria Line.

I understand in this sort of context “rape” is never used literally. It has become a theatrical, laddish way of referring to something ‘screwing you over’.

Similarly, when people use the term “rape and pillage” they rarely, in fact I’d hazard a guess they never, mean it. Yet, through repetitive use it has lost any sense of impact. We barely hear what we are saying anymore.

Rape cannot lose its meaning because it is a serious, very real, ever present threat. As a word it needs to embody this.

Have you ever had that feeling where something doesn’t hit you in the same way it used to? I was going up the escalators at Angel station on Sunday and thought “I swear this felt longer the first time I saw this.” The difference is, I’ve seen those escalators so many times now that I’m used to them. I barely register that they’re the third longest escalators in Europe.

That can happen to words too. And by using a word like “rape” as an illustrative way of speaking, we normalise it.

If you really wanted to play devil’s advocate on this, you could argue that as a jovial descriptor “rape” is no worse than “shaft”, “screw” or “bugger” – that they’re basically interchangeable.

“Were you buggered by the Victoria Line?”

“Were you screwed by the Victoria Line?”

But it’s not the same.

While using either of these words isn’t clever or tasteful by a long stretch, they’re not the same as saying “rape”.

I was talking with a friend on this exact point recently. She put it so perfectly that I can only quote her:

“I don’t spend significant portions of my life calculating the risk of a shafting.

I do, however, consider what levels of light are in a given street, how far behind me that man is walking, if it’s safe to walk home or should I cab, is there enough signal on my phone in case I need it, is that man I berated in the pub for touching me without my consent because “banter” going to follow me when I leave?

All because the threat of rape is real and present. And it’s low-level, always-on, and terrifying.

So to use it as a term in any flippant way is leagues apart from using other synonyms for being shafted/stiffed/buggered/fucked. Purely because they can happen with consent. Rape cannot. Ever.”

Rape is not an analogy, it’s not slang, and it’s not something that should ever become everyday speak. And while it may be uncomfortable, we have to be vocal about having zero tolerance for its use.

Yesterday in the elevator I was so shocked that I didn’t say anything. I’m annoyed at myself for that. I should have.

There’s no room, place, or audience where using the word “rape” is appropriate. Shrugging it off is the equivalent of accepting it.

Stay affected. Don’t put up with it. Call it out.

Rape is not a metaphor. Let’s not allow it to become one.

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