Feminism | Posted by Talia on 11/9/2010

Why Couldn’t I Say “Rape”

One of my extremely good friends is finishing out her high school career abroad, and I spent the weekend at her apartment with some other friends as a send-off party before she left. When we were discussing how she would get around, since she can’t drive yet, she said that she wouldn’t go into a taxi alone. I agreed.

“Yeah, that’s not a good idea, you don’t wanna get…hurt,” I said.

The word I had in mind was raped, but I felt uncomfortable saying it. She didn’t, though.

“Yeah, since I definitely do not want to get raped or molested or something by a cab driver,” she said.

Why did I have such a problem saying the word rape? Seriously, what was wrong with me? Rape is a crime, just like murder. Both are horrible, horrible sins, but they happen every day. I have no problem saying the word murder; why did I feel uncomfortable with the word rape? I felt sickened with myself.

I’ve only just realized that I shouldn’t have felt that way. I should feel sickened with society for fostering the idea that rape, domestic violence, and other crimes against women are bad words, taboo topics, Things-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. The only way to combat something is to be able to discuss it; if you sweep it under the rug and try to forget it exists, it’ll never be stopped.

My favorite book of all time is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. (Every self-respecting feminist MUST have read it. If you have not, go reserve it at the library. I’m serious. Right now.) The main character, Melinda, is shunned by her peers for calling the police at a party – but they don’t know that the reason she called was because she had been raped. Nobody does. Because of her outcast status and PTSD from the rape, she stops speaking until she finally tells what happened at the party.

We need to speak out loud on behalf of all the Melindas out there who feel that they can’t speak for themselves. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them. Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted. We need to be vocal about stopping rape and other sex crimes, and helping survivors go on with their lives. If we don’t force society to talk about rape and help those who have survived it, rape will continue to ruin the lives of women around the world.

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  • Katherine C. @ at 11:36 am, November 9th, 2010

    This is very true- until very recently, I couldn’t say it either.

  • Lolita @ at 2:47 pm, November 9th, 2010

    Maybe part of the problem is that for some of us myself included. It was a big huge deal, something to be angry and upset about until it happens to /you/ and then you’re expected to suck it up and move on. Like nothing happened and acknowledge and feel /great full/ at how much worse it could have been.

  • A @ at 3:02 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I had trouble saying words like rape really until last year, when I was 14. I’m like a crazy liberal at my school, and almost all of my friends have trouble saying those words.

    And Speak is my faaaaaavorite book EVER.

  • A.S. King @ at 3:04 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I am so glad you wrote this Talia! So many people ignore that rape is a completely acceptable epidemic in our world. If 1 in 4 people had swine flu or bed bugs, you KNOW the news media would be all over it.

    And yet, the word is still taboo. I once had trouble saying it myself. Now, I am a proud member of V0Day and I work with survivors yearly raising money for local survivors through our Vagina Monologues show. I also write books that include rape and domestic violence and all sorts of other topics that make people uncomfortable.

    I have received letters from adults (women, actually) that say, “No 15 year old girl should have to think about rape.”

    To think that any 15 year old girl doesn’t already know about rape and shouldn’t be thinking about it–at least in order to know that if it happens to them, it is not their fault–is such a bad way to deal with the whole thing. It just breeds more shame and more blame and it allows the epidemic to continue.

    So thank you, Talia, for addressing this. You rock and give me hope!

  • Tessa @ at 4:04 pm, November 9th, 2010

    Yup, I completely agree. I’m really trying to work on having an easier time saying it. It’s reality and it’s completely wrong, so there shouldn’t be any sort of embarassment in saying something that affects so many women’s (and men’s) lives. “Speak” is a wonderful book. DEFINITELY read it!!!

  • SarahC @ at 4:57 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I think we all need to say rape more often. Why? Because we spend so much of our time living in fear of it.

    In Harry Potter, Dumbledore makes the point that saying you-know-who instead of voldemort builds further fear of voldemort. I think we’re doing the same thing about rape. We all need to say rape, when we mean rape. Don’t disguise it as ‘mugged or raped or killed,’ don’t use placeholders.

    As you point out, we need to talk about rape. But to do that, we have to say rape. We can’t talk about assault, or robbery, or being ‘hurt’, when we mean to talk about rape. We have to quit using placeholders and start saying what we mean.

    One side effect I’m hoping for: realizing how much we all live on a rape schedule. Sure, we don’t do things so we won’t get robbed. But how many of the things we do to avoid mugging do we really do because we live in fear of rape? Let’s own up.

  • Jen @ at 6:59 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I read speak when I was in middle school, and saw the movie (yes theres a movie) a few years later.
    Very powerful book, very simple writing style.
    Definitely a must read.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 7:12 pm, November 9th, 2010

    In my original draft of the article I actually mentioned the whole Voldemort “fear of a word –> fear of a thing itself” concept, but I ended up cutting it because it didn’t sound right in the context I was using it in.

    Reading these comments I actually just remembered a conversation I had with a girl in my grade last yea – we were discussing dress and modesty, and she said something to the effect of “I dress modestly because I don’t want to be…you know…” and after pretending I had no clue what she was talking about, she finally spat out in a half-whisper, “raped.” When I gave her a whole spiel about how rape has nothing to do with sexual attraction, she looked at me like it was a completely novel idea, and that really hurt me – like, how are we educating our girls?

  • Aiden @ at 8:19 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I’m a survivor of rape, I was raped multiple times by the same poor excuse for a man when I was twelve. I was also raped at thirteen by a boy I considered to be a close friend.
    It’s wonderful that you addressed this issue. When I told close friends of my rape, they never said the word. They always hinted or implied. That really hurt me, and made my recovery a lot harder. My friends not wanting to acknowledge the fact that I was raped more than once made me question that fact. It was hard for me, and I still live in fear.

  • Aiden @ at 8:20 pm, November 9th, 2010

    Sorry for the above rambling ^

  • Bell @ at 9:17 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I agree with the point of the article, and that there should not be shame saying rape just like there isn’t when we say murder. But perhaps you didn’t say it in that context because it’s a bit… too exaggerated? Isn’t it a bit overboard to not take cabs because of a fear of rape? You could be attacked anywhere, cabs are no different than the rest of the world. There are plenty of safe cab companies you can call from your cellphone if you don’t want to take just any cab in the street. But avoiding them altogether sounds a bit too much to me. And I live in a very big metropolitan area with a high crime rate.

  • johnny @ at 10:42 pm, November 9th, 2010

    does this place even have mods? if so, why the fuck do they keep approving this ‘ryan’/’seth’/’gaping misogynist tool’?

    what he’s saying about ‘real rape’ has crossed over from trolling to outright violent and harmful. this website is supposed to be a safe zone from that kind of bullshit.

  • Natalia @ at 11:09 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I think that people might not like saying the word because the word has been so trivialized and joked about. I personally feel that if I say the word, it comes out as a joke and people start laughing. Just picture the situation “omg Marie, don’t go to Mcdonalds alone, you could get raped!”. Do you know what I mean? Unfortuntely, it is seen as a joke and it is not taken seriously. Great article btw!

  • Steph @ at 11:38 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I agree with johnny. As these comments get more and more incendiary, they really do destroy safe space. Julie, if you’re busy and having difficulty with moderating the comments, I’d be absolutely willing to help out rather than let this kind of thing be perpetuated. At the very least, the comments in question should be deleted.

  • Jake @ at 12:19 am, November 10th, 2010

    Wow Ryan, you’re a fucking retard.

  • Steph @ at 3:41 am, November 10th, 2010

    This goes against all my rules, and I’m only directly addressing your points this once, just to offer a counter-argument.

    The IWF are anti-feminist. This much is undebatable. They view encouraging women in the sciences and critical analysis of the wage gap as “radical feminism”.(1) They run misleading ads filled with false information designed to scare women into compliance.(2) They view Title IX as inherently biased.(3)
    I could continue, but I trust that these three sources illustrate my first point that the IWF’s interests do not lie in protecting women.

    Secondly, even barring your use of scare quotes around the word rape (disgusting, by the way – I expected better of you), I think you don’t seem to get just why the statistics you’re mentioning are important.
    I agree that over half of women who are victims of rape are raped either AT their home or within a mile of it. You seem to think that this means these cases aren’t really rape. The message to take from it is that women can never let their guards down, as there are almost no spaces that are truly safe.
    However, only 34% of rapes are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs.(4) Hardly ‘most’. Even then, being under the influence doesn’t excuse a rapist of their actions.
    You use the phrase ‘non forceful’. While it’s true that only 11% of rapists used weapons (3% guns, 6% knives, 2% other), another 84% of victims reported physical force being used. That makes a total of 95% cases of force, or 5% “non forceful”. Again, hardly ‘most’.

    Finally, I’m not sure what you’re saying with this bit about pathological rapists. They commit only a minority of rapes, it’s true. Unfortunately, when rape isn’t committed by one of these few pathological rapists – it’s still rape. It’s still an atrocity. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you’re defining ‘rape’ as violent coercive rape committed by a complete stranger. So the conflict here is that you’re the only one who’s defining the word in that sense on this entire blog. Does that make some sense to you?
    I really do feel that a large part of the conflict brought up here comes from a consistent clash over definitions – as neither of us acknowledges the other’s data to be evident over our definition, we will obviously never reach consensus on anything complex. Hopefully, more essential concepts, such as ‘rape is bad’, and ‘this source is nonpartisan’ will be easily communicated.

    References: I tried to find the most nonpartisan sources possible. For source one, a multitude of data is available with a simple web search – I just happened to have been reading the report yesterday, so it was fresh in my mind. With that exception, source two is from Media Matters, a nonpartisan organization. The Center for Individual Rights is a conservative/libertarian organization, and the US Department of Justice can hardly be accused of pandering or identity politics.

    1: Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics (2008)
    Ronnee Schreiber

    2: http://politicalcorrection.org/factcheck/200908210005

    3: http://www.cir-usa.org/articles/82.html

    4: U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Study. 2005.

  • Steph @ at 3:43 am, November 10th, 2010

    Oh, and since I screwed up on this: sources for the following clauses: “11% of rapists…”, “another 84% of victims…” are likewise (4), the US DOJ study.

  • Emily @ at 5:00 am, November 10th, 2010

    Yeah Ryan, you adore women so much that you think raping them is perfectly acceptable. Obviously us women are just making a BIG DEAL ABOUT NOTHING. God. I’ve ignored many of your stupid posts before in an effort not to get involved with simple-minded trolls, but frankly, your post today simply SCREAMS ignorance. I’m guessing that you havent been raped before (and yes, I am talking about physical rape, not the ridiculous “control taking rape” you introduce) and probably never will. But if you were, you would soon understand just why everyone gets so worked up about this issue. Your comments cross the line here, so kindly just fuck off :)

  • Tessa @ at 6:22 pm, November 10th, 2010

    I wonder why Ryan’s comments aren’t being moderated. They’re blatantly offensive and mysogynist.

  • Layla @ at 7:23 pm, November 10th, 2010

    What the fuck is wrong with you, Ryan?
    You think that the only kind of rape is after drinking? You honestly think that the man has no fault in this whatsoever even though if he was out of the situation, no rape would have ever occurred?
    God, it’s one thing to rant shamelessly about the evils of feminism, but it’s another to blow off what happens to women (and some men) like it doesn’t even happen.
    That comment was truly disgusting.

  • Zei @ at 11:41 pm, November 10th, 2010

    Now that you mention it, I realized that the times I have said rape, it was more of a half-whisper.

    As soon as I saw the picture of the girls with the duct tape with speak written across, I thought of that book. I agree; whoever hasn’t read it, should! It’s very touching.

  • Natalia @ at 1:44 am, November 11th, 2010


    What the hell is wrong with you, Ryan? I mean, seriously, have you seriously had a horrible experience with feminists or women in general? Most rapes do not occur under the influence of drugs and alcohol. And when they do, it’s because even though the woman was drunk, she most likely said NO and the attacker proceeded anyway. And that is why it is called a rape! You really do make women sound like idiots because apparently, we can’t distinguish what real rape is. And if a woman has had consented sex with a man under the influence (and regretted it the next morning), she will most likely get dressed quickly and go home! but she won’t randomly tell people that she got raped. I mean seriously, what would she gain from telling people that she got raped when she didnt? Ok maybe it has happened a couple of times in history, but IT RARELY HAPPENS! Maybe you’ve never met a rape victim, but just turn on the fucking tv and watch how rape victims are truly suffering and ask yourself, why would anyone make this up?!
    And I really don’t know what you mean by men not having control over their bodies. It’s called a condom you know…so don’t act like men are totally vulnurable and women have the decision of having sex with or without protection or whether to have an abortion. If you want birth control, then use a condom.
    Also, where the hell did you get the statistic that men work harder than women!? that is such a generalized argument! Would you say that all men are the same?! NO there are lazy men, smart men, stupid men, energetic men, crazy men..etc…does it make any fucking sense to say something so stupid like that?!
    You know, I am open minded but I can’t take crap from ignorant, ungrateful, and sexist pigs like you.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 11:22 am, November 11th, 2010

    -Sigh- Why must the universe be such a bitch, millions of people die every day, is it too much to ask that Ryan be one of them?

  • Steph @ at 3:18 pm, November 11th, 2010

    @Alex: I think that’s maybe going a little far? We can dislike him and his rhetoric all we want, but wishing death on him is, I think, something else entirely.

  • johnny @ at 3:24 pm, November 11th, 2010

    i’m pretty sure she was being facetious.

    he’s been more than enough of a misogynistic brat to deserve at least a little snark amimed his way.

  • Steph @ at 7:06 pm, November 11th, 2010

    Snark, yeah, I agree. Maybe even a little bit of ridicule.
    I guess I just have issues with murder threats, even over the internet, even if they are facetious. I don’t want to come off as humourless here, but I think there’s a line that gets crossed between snark and wishing someone would die. Death is such a…a huge thing that I’m not sure wishing someone would die can really be justified.
    Not to say that I agree with Ryan – I don’t. I’m just a little bit taken aback at Alex’s words. She’s a good person, from what I’ve seen on this blog, and I’d hate to cause enmity between us.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 10:47 am, November 12th, 2010

    Have you ever met a real life Ryan Steph? They are nasty, nasty creatures, who will hurt girls/women given the opportunity, the really twisted ones would KILL us, happens all the time.

    As you can see from the rape survivor responses above, there is a global war on girls. So who is it going to be shoved into oblivion? The Ryans of the world or the girls?

    Rotten people are what they are, we can’t change them, we can only change ourselves.

    Every girl has a choice, she can become something to be feared/respected in the same way as fire is feared/respected, or she can become cannon fodder in the war on girls.

    I did the cannon fodder thing before, not happening again.

  • Steph @ at 12:16 pm, November 12th, 2010

    No, see, I agree with what you’re saying. I just think that killing people doesn’t necessarily make the problem better – in the short term, the problem is diminished, but the only thing death does is drive the sides farther apart.
    I’m not arguing that nothing should happen to rapists or people who commit hate crimes. That would be disgusting. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t take that process to its final conclusion and, y’know, kill the guy.
    I don’t know, I’m speaking at a hate crimes vigil later this week, so maybe that’s informing my feelings right now. Whatever it is, I’m not arguing that nothing should happen to people who do these things. I want bad things to happen to them. I just don’t want to have them killed – I think we’re better than that, can be better than that.

  • Genevieve @ at 1:17 am, November 14th, 2010

    Oh yeah, I completely agree with this post. I have used the words “sexually assaulted” rather than “raped” several times, which seemed easier somehow, even though rape is a form of sexual assault. For some weird reason I’d rather use a longer, vaguer term than get into the specifics of what happened.

    Rape is one of those things that people either treat as a joke or just isn’t supposed to be talked about. Dumbass dudes say stupid things like “wow, that test totally raped me,” yet a girl saying “I was raped” is seen as being…scary, in a way. Though in a way, words related to death kind of are seen in the same light–we use all these euphemisms like “passed on,” yet people joke around about being “killed” at football practice or whatever. As a society, we seem to have a real problem dealing with the existence of some of the more difficult things in the world.

  • johnny @ at 10:25 am, November 15th, 2010

    don’t say ‘as a man’ as if you represent the entirety of the male sex. the vast majority of men do not share your disgusting, misogynistic viewpoints.

  • someone @ at 2:07 am, July 31st, 2012

    I do agree that rape should be seen as an appropriate word without any negative connotations. Though, how can taking a cab increase your chances of being raped? That reminds me of one of my teachers telling the class that you shouldn’t walk alone at night with headphones on, especially the girls because there are weirdos out there. And I thought “why especially the girls?” If it was to “prevent” rape, then really, how does that prevent it? There are no real precautions to avoid rape. Limiting yourself from walking outside after dusk or refusing to take cabs because of rape is plain ridiculous.

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