“I’m Captain of the Rape Squad for this week,” I joked to Lesley and Emily as I filed my second story about rape in two days. And then I looked at a list of story ideas and it was like a scene where someone’s staring at a wall of text and all you can see is the word RAPE RAPE RAPE in increasingly larger letters and then the scene slowly fades to black and the protagonist wakes up several hours later in a daze.
Here are some things, in no particular order, that I like talking about much more than I like talking about rape: how much I love food, awesome books I am reading, my cats, my latest tattoo (it’s an octopus), my love for the beach, the awesome get-well cards people are sending to my father, how I just rearranged the whole house and I love it, and how I use baking as an outlet for stress, which works out really well for my neighbors and loved ones.
Hell, I could even tell you about the hilarious letter I sent to TempurPedic’s customer service (still waiting on a reply, guys, FYI).
I’m so fucking tired of talking about rape.
I’m so fucking tired of reading about rape. Sometimes our front page looks like the RAPE RAPE RAPE montage or the front page of RAPE DIGEST and I just have to close the tab and sigh deeply. Like a lot of media focused on women’s issues, we appear fixated on rape, which is, as we all know, only one of the many issues faced by women worldwide -- yet it seems to occupy a disproportionate percentage of our attention.
So why can’t we stop talking about rape?
Well, maybe because people keep raping people.
It’s the same reason we keep talking about other horrible things people do to each other. Because they don’t stop doing them. People won’t stop being racist assholes, won’t stop firing people for being trans, won’t stop being sexist dicks, won’t stop generally treating other people like shit.
I’m sorry, Jane, I’m cussing a lot today. It’s because the human capacity for evil brings out the sailor in me. Luckily, there are no small children around.
And eventually, all of us start to hit kind of a rape fatigue wall, staring glassy-eyed and apathetic at the latest outrage. We just can’t cope anymore. We have to pass the baton to a relief team who can come in and take over for us while we slump on the floor in exhaustion, double-fisting chocolates.
WHEN EVEN THE AMBIEN WALRUS CAN'T CHEER YOU UP
I was lying in bed last night surrounded by electronic devices and texting with a friend and I had this sharp and gross realization that every single screen around me was occupied with a story about rape and violence against women. I knew I’d need some zolpidem1 to get to sleep and I told him to go look at the Ambien walrus cartoons to understand the surreality that comes with a dose of Ambien.
Normally they at least make me chuckle, but I found myself staring inertly at them. I mean, come on, Ambien walrus! This should be some funny shit! But all I could think of was RAPE RAPE RAPE.
I got to sleep eventually.
And had a dream about being late on a deadline (something that almost never happens to me) with a story about rape.
WHY WE CAN'T STOP TALKING ABOUT RAPE
There are a lot of reasons why we keep talking about rape, and why it among other women’s issues occupies such a huge portion of our conversations. One, of course, is that rape is a recurrent and constant social problem, and it’s also an intimate, scary, and emotional threat that looms large in the minds of many of us -- whether you are among us victims and survivors, or simply aware that the statistics are not in your favor when it comes to living without rape in your life.
And rape lies at the intersections of so many things going on in women’s lives and with women’s issues; it speaks to the heart of sexism and the battle for bodily autonomy and all these important things. When we talk about rape, if we do so responsibly, we can’t help but talk about why the incidence of violence against women is so high, and why some women (women of color, sex workers, trans women, disabled women) are more at risk than others of being raped and having difficulty reporting and being taken seriously.
We can talk, for example, about threats against women in Thunder Bay and their larger implications not just within the context of rape culture, but within the racist world we inhabit. About the epidemic of violence against Native women across North America, largely perpetrated by white men.
When we talk about how to fight rape, we talk about how to change larger social structures that feed into other issues encountered by women. Raising our boys not to rape requires teaching them that women are people, creating compassion, stressing the need for social accountability and equality. It would require also probing into intersections of violence and acknowledging the factors that can make some women more vulnerable than others.
You cannot fight rape without confronting racism, classism, ableism, transphobia, because these things intersect when it comes to identifying women as targets and how rape is handled by the justice system.
A world without rape wouldn’t “just” be a world without rape: It would also be a world in which a lot of other social issues had been taken in hand as well.
THE WORLD WE LIVE IN IS ONE WHERE PEOPLE RAPE PEOPLE
Talking about rape with a mixed group of friends many, many years ago, I was struck by the differing responses between men and women when it came to the daily reality of rape. The men had a hard trouble understanding that for many of the people present, rape was something that constantly loomed over your shoulder; it wasn’t an abstract thing, something that was upsetting and not okay but not immediately pressing, but something to be thought about on a regular basis.
My friend M was outraged when I talked about rape statistics, and he designed the Rapestop 9000 as his suggestion for putting an end to rape. I still have his drawing after all these years, and sometimes I pull it out and look at it.
If only it were this easy, I think.
We talk about rape all the time because we think about rape all the time and because it’s happening all the time. And because when you take a large group of women and put them together, they’re all going to bring very different experiences and concerns to the table, and those are all going to be prioritized differently, but almost all of them are going to tell you that they think about rape and violence against women in their communities.
This isn’t an “everybody has the same issues” and “we’re all women here” thing; it’s just a quiet statement of fact. Everybody does not have the same issues and being a woman (or being read as one) doesn't erase the differences between you and other people, but we do have some things in common, and rape is one of them.
For so many of us, talking about rape, reading about rape, and thinking about rape cut to the heart of a daily reality, and maybe that’s why we talk about it so much.
Or maybe it's just that, for all our efforts, people still won't stop raping people.
1. P.S. Incidentally, the FDA just recommended that the recommended zolpidem dosage be halved for women to reduce impairment in the mornings. When your doctor prescribes it, double check on the dosage to make sure you know how much you're getting. Return