The Girls Who Cry Rape

The Girls Who Cry Rape (or, Defining Emotional Rape)

The Girls Who Cry Rape

In 2012 the legal definition of rape was expanded for the first time (since 1927!!!!!) to include victims of oral and anal penetration, rape of males, rape of females by females, rape with a foreign object and non-forcible rape. I almost shat myself when I heard that. I was aware that before then, the law had defined rape only as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”(1) …That’s kind of a dinky definition, isn’t it?

The former definition speaks volumes as to how this nation addresses the topic of sexual assault. There are some unsound assumptions attached to the former definition which its replacement seeks to address. Among them are the assumption that only a certain kind of man rapes, the assumption that only men are capable of rape, and what I concern myself most with in this article — the assumption that rape only happens when physical violence occurs. That a woman who calls coercion rape is essentially “crying wolf.”

What I find most problematic about the words we’ve used to define rape for the past 80 years, is that it highlights a troublesome way of thinking that has lingered in our collective conscience since at least the 1800s. Riding tenuously on the idea that humans are nothing more than animals at heart, the ‘biological viewpoint’ finds an almost convincing way to naturalize sexually coercive behavior. In the essay Rape and Sexual Coercion, D.E. Critchlow writes of this biological viewpoint:

Playing the role of hunted animal the female conceals her sexual passion by adopting a demeanor of modesty in order that the male be more ardent and forceful. …as the hunt becomes more sexually charged, ‘an element of real violence, of undisguised cruelty’ is introduced.“(2)

We may have matured enough since 1886 to note that ‘real violence’ and ‘undisguised cruelty’ are a huge no-no in the bedroom, but this biological explanation of what normal sexual behavior is remains a familiar sentiment today.

We all learned “No Means No” in our high school health classes, but how many of us have also seen the countless scenes in movies and television where arguments are solved with passionate love scenes? Where the woman objects at first, but then gets carried away by ecstasy? The way it is presented to us in the media — the way it has been presented throughout history — is that sexuality and violence go hand in hand.

The two are so inextricable in our culture that we fail to even recognize coercive sex as a violent act. Both men and women tend to view coercion as part of a normal, sexually active relationship and don’t know how to react when lines have been crossed. A critiqued episode of the HBO show “Girls”, and the collective reaction to it, brings to life exactly what I’m talking about. When presented with what is a very uncomfortable and non-consensual act, many people have an unclear idea of how to react — and whether not we should even call it rape.

How is it that we think “But don’t you love me?” or “It just makes me question how you feel about me” or “If we don’t have sex in this amount of time, we’re breaking up” are completely normal things for a girlfriend to hear from her boyfriend? How is it that in a 1985 study by Ms. magazine, “the great majority of rape victims conceptualized their experience in highly negative terms and felt victimized whether or not they realized that legal standards for rape had been met”?(3) Meaning most women who experienced rape feel it, but don’t know it.

How is it that, despite the fact that it leaves an emotional stamp of hurt on its victims, we are still reluctant to categorize coercion as a violent act? I, even, have trouble thrusting coercion onto the same level as what most define as rape — something that happens between a stranger and an innocent virgin, something that leaves a physical mark.

The thing is, just because physical rape may be more easily quantifiable than emotional rape doesn’t mean we get to gloss over the just as traumatic effects that coercion has on its victims. The fact of the matter is that emotional rape is far more prevalent than stranger rape, and so it must be addressed.

Legally, we can recognize that coercion does not meet the legal standards for consent. Culturally, we still lack the words to hold up conversation about this. If we aren’t comfortable calling coercion “rape” because we want to shy away from the ugly connotation it brings….

Then what else can we call it? Do you consider coercion to be rape? When do you consider the line to be “crossed”?

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4 thoughts on “The Girls Who Cry Rape (or, Defining Emotional Rape)

  1. No matter how manipulative someone has been, I don’t think it should be considered rape if the other person consents. But if a woman never explicitly says yes, and he just continues to move things along against completely negative body language, I would call that rape. Whatever the case, I agree wholeheartedly that coercing sex is an evil thing, and I think it probably deserves legal consequences of its own. Of course it would be difficult to prosecute, but having a law in place might call attention to sex coercion as something unacceptable in modern society. With or without a law, I would hope that eventually we have a strong cultural norm that coercing sex is a form of emotional abuse and a break up-able offense.

    1. I agree with what most of you’re saying, but not the very first sentence. Sometimes in order to manipulate a “yes”, partners will use things like drugs/alochol and emotional ransom (threatening to break up if you don’t, proving you love them enough) in order to get a yes. The person who says “yes” in that situation was still uncomfortable and didn’t want to do it…..and I call that rape. Maybe there’s some other word we could come up with to make other people more comfortable with recognizing it as wrong (but not rape since rape is a scary word), but at the end of the day I think sex without pure consent is rape.

  2. I like that you call coercion “emotional rape,” because I never thought about that type of rape in those terms.

    I do have some questions. What about all the sex scenes that don’t involve violence? Are those, too, marked with an inherent violent undertone?

    On another note, I agree, I think the trouble for the coercive rape survivor is that “physical rape [is] more easily quantifiable.” On the other side, the problem for the rapist is that he sees himself as convincing the other person to have sex–that is, after pleading his argument, the other person consents. In the mind of the victim, and in reality, she is succumbing, not consenting, and she feels raped. How, then, is the rapist responsible for his actions if the victim perceptibly agrees to sex? In a perfect world this situation could be prevented through education, but what would be the answer to this situation if it did occur? Jail the rapist? Slap on the wrist? What do you think?

    1. In answer to your question about sex scenes that don’t involve violence, I think it depends on how you define “violence.” We might see scenes in silly high school movies where the teenage boyfriend whines and whines until his teenage girlfriend gives in, and I don’t think anyone would categorize that as necessarily violent, but the point of my article is that maybe we should.

      That example about movies was just the first example that came to mind of all the different ways that line of behavior is seen as normal in today’s society. I should have thought of more, but I was getting at the point that it’s glossed over to be seen as something completely normal for men to do, to always push the line until they get what they want. It’s a precarious balance between recognizing that “No Means No” but still not taking no for an answer.

      I had this conversation with Gabriel about a situation that happened between our two friends. In the context of our conversation he was taking sides and calling the girl a liar and his friend completely in the right. It took a while, but eventually I got him to see that in most cases of emotional rape there isn’t a “side” to take.

      If we wanted to play the blame game, we could say it’s on women to stand up for themselves more and to be more assertive. We could say it’s on men, for being so selfish as to only think of their pleasure as opposed to the feelings of their partners. But at the end of the day, both of these are just symptoms of a much bigger problem we have going on with the way we think about sex.

      I don’t know how I would go about finding a corrective action for this kind of thing, because like I said I think it’s actually just a sad situation for everyone — not anyone’s direct fault. In response to my own personal experiences with coercive sex, I blame “society” a lot more than I blame my ex-boyfriend (or myself). I think education is the best way to treat this kind of thing.

      I wish more people would comment! Maybe they would have some ideas!

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