On Rape, Safe-Words and Choice

arvan's picture

In the span of 24 hours recently, I came across several vastly different experiences of women regarding feminism, choice and the question of women's control over their bodies.

I saw this post by That Ghoul Ava where she disowns feminism if it means being forced to switch from her identity being defined by men to that of being defined by women - with both excluding her own voice and choices for their own agenda.  Her framework for articulating this, is her experiences in the work force and the rest of her life.  Her point is that she is a woman because she says she is and not because she meets someone's definition.  In her life, she wants to be judged on her merits and that is how she defines herself.

Before you start screaming discrimination, make sure actual qualified people didn’t get denied. Wouldn’t that bother you, knowing you got hired or promoted because the company was required to get women and wasn’t based on your qualifications? That would piss me off. I’m not good enough, but my tits are!!! YAY!

Ava claims to write when she's drunk, pissed off and sarcastic.  Much like Liberating Porn, she expresses herself with a foul mouth and a sense of humor that is not universally shared.  Many could debate whether her language helps or hurts her point.  She clearly states that she's talking about her own experience and there is no debate in that.

Then, I saw this post by Lesbian and a Scholar, which addresses several conversations regarding the use of the term Birth Rape.  The post includes references to a good many posts on the subject and is a great starting point. The focus on this piece is that each of us knows when we are being violated and that no one is more qualified to state our experience than we are.

Rape, as I understand it, is about violation.  It’s about, most importantly, lack of consent.  And I feel that those who are saying that doctors aren’t sadists, that poking and prodding and restraining and cutting women is medically necessary for childbirth, are missing the point.  I feel that those who say “but this isn’t like rape in the Congo!” are missing the point.  It doesn’t matter whether x experience and y experience are the same, what matters is how a woman experiences x or y.  What matters is that a woman is tied down and screaming “no!” and she’s ignored because birth is supposed to be painful and difficult, because we have this cultural understanding that pregnant women are supposed to go to a hospital and lie down and take whatever’s dished out.

I very much agree with this view. 

Rape is an awful thing.  I am a rape survivor and while I may not agree with the next person on how to use the word 'rape' in one context vs. the next, I can appreciate the impact it has on any one of us.  I certainly would agree with a lot of people that rape is no joking matter.  However, I strongly believe that each of us is the one best qualified to assert whether or not we are being raped.  Each of us can say if we are or are not and I strive for a place where that is respected for all of us.

In clear terms, no one can tell me that I was not raped and no one can tell me that I was.  I know and I say.  This goes for each and every one of us.

Lastly, I read through Clarisse Thorn's latest post, discussing how feminism and BDSM coexist.  She covers a great many of her own posts and those of others on the topic.  There are very worthwhile conversations on whether or not a BDSM individual or community is oppressed for their sexuality and identity and how or if that compares to someone being oppressed for something else, like race or gender - to name only two examples.

There are also questions of consent and the elements of context, usage and shared definitions.  The usage of 'safe words' in BDSM and the great many tools of communication, are no small matter.  That agreement of agency is not reached by afterthought nor inherited from mainstream media, religion, politics, family or culture.  It is a deliberate construction to deliver consent for bodies in situations that could include a rape-play scenario or any other delivery of pain sensations.

Like anything else in language, it is complicated:

Safer Communication Practices — There are these words that get tossed around subculturally, like “safeword” or “safe, sane, and consensual”. And sometimes they’re tossed around as some sort of talisman to ward off evil, and sometimes they’re tossed around as contemptible nonsense, and neither of these things gets into the reasons that the concepts exist, why they were created, what they’re attempting to express.

As I read through these posts, I kept thinking of how different people arguing the various versions of Feminism might take issue with any or all of these positions.  Certainly in each of their writings, they had addressed such conflicts of definition. 

At the core, I take Feminism to be about equality for all humans, regardless of sex, gender or body.  Replacing the dogma of patriarchy with the dogma of Feminism is counterproductive in many instances.  At the very least, it limits effectiveness.  I can understand the many reasons why groups organize around a core set of ideas.  I can also see what happens when the opponents of equality try to hijack the word Feminism while taking actions that lessen women's rights, equality and agency in their lives (Sarah Palin...I'm talking to you). 

Ultimately though, each woman will know in her own life, what she needs and wants.  Feminism / Womanism or any other ism applied here, will be adopted so long as it includes and empowers the voice of each woman to define herself in her own terms.

Perhaps the 'work' of Feminism is served in everyone's life, in the fashion that best reflects each person's sex, gender & body identity.  For some, it might look familiar and widely agreed upon.  For others, it will be singularly unique. 

When it comes to declaring one's own safety, violation, boundaries, identity and expression - ultimately, it is for each of us to know, choose and articulate for ourselves.  We are informed by our individual perspective and experiences and there is no group or dogma that can know those things better than each and every one of us. 

Inside these widely different conversations around Feminism, I see a common thread:

We speak for ourselves in the terms of our identity and accept others as they speak for themselves in the same fashion. 

I am no expert here in anything but my own life.  I don't pretend to dictate to anyone reading this - how to define yourself, your life, rape, feminism or consent.  You are going to do that for yourself without any input from me.  I've shared what I think and I would love to hear from you about how these things play out in your life.

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