As Brazil suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of Germany a little under two days ago, and some irate Brazil fans took to the streets, rioting, Facebook found itself as being a site for horrendous violence as well – but the sort of violence that was being perpetrated on Facebook was a different kind of violence: it was violence of the mind and against the mind, and against good sense and one’s intellect.
I found in my newsfeed a steady stream of rape analogies describing the 7-1 loss – “Brazil got raped by Germany”, read one comment, “Germans rape Brazilians” read another, and so it went, this flippant misuse of the word “rape”.
The word “rape” has become “a catch-all for anything negative”, according to one commentator. Any manner of negativity, particularly such manner of negativity as emanates out of or is associated with a sense of loss, real or imagined, is quickly subsumed into the word – nay, I say, the idea of ¬– “rape”: if I am to lose an arm-wrestling contest to another person, I would necessarily have been “raped” by the victor; if the Sun sears the skin in this infamous July subcontinental heat, then the latter is supposed to have been “raped” by the former; or, as in our case, if a sports team (Brazil) is to lose to another, it is said to have been “raped” (or “gang-raped”, depending on the imagination of the person making the suggestion).
Thus, the word “rape” has become so normalized, deeply incorporated into, and entrenched in, our common vocabulary that it has become easy, usual, average, and “shruggable” to use it, and more worryingly, without our feeling – well, anything at all about it. The case of the word “rape” is quite similar to the equally flippant misuse of the word “gay” to describe anything deemed “uncool”, not the “in-thing”, disagreeable and, extendedly, (however marginally) “feminine”. We see that the misuse of the word “gay” is, in fact, an expression of a heteronormative worldview, on the one hand, and of entrenched misogyny, sexism, inflated male egoism and socially ill-constructed and ill-construed ideas of masculinity.
Very similarly, it follows very naturally that the misuse of the word “rape” too is, in fact, a more extended expression of something else – of deeply held values and beliefs: values and beliefs which are informed by misogyny, sexism and male egoism, which are in turn rooted in a socially conservative, deeply and intrinsically patriarchal, tribal ethos. Rape is an expression of male power and need for dominance, which transmutes into role-casting of the victor as the rapist, and the defeated as the rape victim.
I shall come to illustrating such more clearly as we go along. I am wont to state that the analogy is flawed in its very construct. In a football match, two teams consent to the act of playing against each other. Conversely, rape is rape because it is committed in the absence of complete, conscious, lawful and “pressure-less” (if I may) consent. How then is the losing side in a match “being raped”? Or are the word’s (mis)users suggesting that the victims of rape consent to the act?
Or there can be a third suggestion implicit in this analogy: that the losing side was “raped” because it lost. That one side will lose and the other will win in any given match (except in cases of a draw; but then such instance does not invite the use of “rape” analogies) is inherent in the idea of a “match”, is obviously lost on the “rape” analogy peddlers. Anyway, stating that the winning side has “raped” the losing side glamorizes rape by casting the act – nay, the crime – of rape in binaries of victory and loss. Since, the case here is of sports where superior athletic ability is paramount, and indeed, prerequisite to victory on the field, the idea of victory in the “rape” analogy necessarily comes to encapsulate the natural association of adrenaline and testosterone with sports. Thus, the analogy portrays the rapists (the victors) as supremely complete in their masculinity, and the act of rape as a demonstration of enviable power. At the same time, the analogy serves to belittle the rape-victims (the losers).
I am wont to raise such questions as: do the “rape” analogy peddlers realize that they are implicitly suggesting that rape equals victory, or, alternately, that rapists are in some way "victorious”? To say that the losing side must essentially have been "raped”, do they mean all rape victims are the "losing side” in an oddball, even battle between the attacker and the attacked? And further, since the losing side lost because it was the poorer – and the say it was "raped” – what does this mean for their view of rape victims? Does being raped demonstrate some form of weakness – a weakness that should and can be made fun of? Are the victims, then, pathetic, “losing” the "rape battle” because they couldn’t "win” over the attacker? Are rapists superior and powerful? If the answer to either of these is “no,” then how can they employ the use of the word “rape” with such appalling facetiousness?
Such (mis)use of the word “rape” belittles the crime itself – particularly when “rape” analogy peddlers incorporate it in such slapdash comments as: “That waiter totally raped my sandwich when he brought it to me!” or “the wind has raped my hair!” (there used to be a Facebook page titled “Thanks wind, you have totally raped my hair” with well over a million likes!). The application of the incredibly trivial to something so serious is belittling it: rape itself is very serious. As Sandy Brindley, national co-ordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland, says: "Rape is so particularly traumatic and so meaningful in so many ways, that there’s something about using the word in other contexts that diminishes the reality of it, and the impact it has on women’s lives. Rape is a powerful word, and it’s powerful for a reason, because of that devastating impact.” I ask my conscientious readers: is the sandwich-ruining or hair-ruining, or, as in our case, then really the same as actually getting raped?
Also, we must not forget that in the peddlers’ drawing of “rape” analogies, there is the assumption that the person who is being spoken to or might be reading relevant comments or posts or any other manner of comprehendible suggestion to the effect, would not have experienced rape – or, at least, that even if they have, either they themselves might have completely disassociated with the memories of it, or, even more ominously, that the peddlers simply do not care about the memories or anxiety they may trigger.
The “rape” analogy peddling is not restricted to Pakistan or to Pakistanis – it has somewhat global standing. I should mention at the outset, that the intention behind mentioning this is that there is a rather euphemistic term “Facebook Rape” meant to describe a third party gaining access to someone’s Facebook account and altering its settings, display picture, covers, et al. Renowned American comedian, once infamously remarked, much to the chagrin of the conscientious: "I’ve done it once and I’m really ashamed of it. It was Christmas – I’d had a couple of drinks and I took the car out. But I learned my lesson. I nearly killed an old lady. In the end I didn’t kill her. In the end, I just raped her.”
Similarly, conservative American radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh told his listeners “get ready to get gang-raped again” in 2009 in one of his many critiques of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms. Similarly, a year later, British heavyweight boxer David Haye caused outrage by boasting that his upcoming match would be as "one-sided as a gang rape”. Indian lawmakers’ – a whole host of them, not just a couple! – bumbling goofs on the subject of rape are all too well known (and too many) to necessitate reproduction here. On another level, convicted rapists like former Mike Tyson continue to be cast in popular Hollywood cinema. Speaking of Hollywood cinema, the Dustim Hoffman and Susan George starring 1971, “Straw Dogs” has an infamous scene in which George’s character is purportedly raped, and she is shown to be, first, acquiescing and then even enjoying the rape! The (mis)use of “rape” has even found expression in history: the swift Nazi march into Czechoslovakia during the Second World War has been termed “the rape of Prague” and the Japanese capture of Nanjing in China has been called “the rape of Nanjing”, at various points in time.
Trivialized references to rape are ubiquitous and pervasive, on the one hand, and normalized and deeply rooted, on the other, in not only Pakistani society, but also around the world. Events such as the FIFA World Cup simply make these instances more visible. The purpose of delineating similar instances from around the globe was not to confound the debate, but to extend it and to offer perspective. The West and many other regions in the world have active feminist movements which are struggling to put such (mis)uses in check, and to put their employment in recession. They have made considerable headway on several issues of similar import. It is, thus, necessary that we visualize this issue as an issue not of Pakistanis doing something other-worldly, but as insensitive (perhaps desensitized?), unfeeling and under-educated (perhaps purposely oblivious?) humans expressing deeply held patriarchal, misogynistic and sexist values and beliefs. Such visualization would allow us room to learn from the discourse on the subject in other regions in the world, perhaps even twin our own discourse with theirs, and see how people in other parts of the globe are bringing such flippant use of language into check.
At the end, as one commentator writes “women continue to be mentally and physically brutalized around the world. When that brutality isn’t taken seriously – and what’s more, when it is talked about flippantly and without regard – it speaks of a deep inhumanity. Language is a powerful weapon. Defuse the power of the word "rape”, take away its value to shock and terrify, and, for women at least, all is lost.”
NOTE: This article is dedicated to Ahmed Anwaar-ul-Haq and Michelle Young.