In the last few days I’ve seen heaps of people on facebook linking to an online petition against corrective rape in South Africa. Every time I see it I get uncomfortable, because I really hate the term corrective rape, and I’m never sure how to explain why it makes me uncomfortable.
I suppose one reason I don’t like it is that it’s an incredibly detached technical term for describing something which is a horrific experience to go through. The horrific experience it’s describing, in case you don’t know, is lesbians being raped in order to cure them of being lesbians. You might think that being raped by a bunch of men does not sound like a very effective cure for lesbianism.
Which is another reason I don’t like the term ‘corrective rape’: there’s no such thing as corrective rape. This is punitive rape. It’s rape as punishment for transgressing gender and sexual norms. It’s rape to remind you of what your place is, what your function in society is. The rapists might try to justify it by calling it corrective rape, but we all know that there’s no such thing as ‘corrective’ rape. This is because lesbianism cannot be corrected, since one can only correct that which is currently incorrect, and lesbianism is not incorrect. This is also because rape cannot correct anything.
Okay, there’s another reason I don’t like the term ‘corrective rape’. It’s a bit like ‘honour killing’. It’s one of those terms that mean ‘a specific type of misogynist homophobic violence that only happens in non-Western societies’. Having special names for kinds of misogynist homophobic violence that only happen in non-Western societies is super handy because it allows us to pretend that the kind of violence that happens There is different from the kind of violence that happens Here. Because That kind of violence is an intrinsic part of Their culture. But violence that happens Here is always an isolated incident committed by individuals. It is something extrinsic to Western culture, which is a culture of respect and equality.
Misogynist and homophobic violence is a problem all over this planet. It needs to be fought all over this planet. The problem is that too many feminists (and folk who aren’t even feminists) in the West, address violence in non-Western societies not as allies who are there to support the liberation struggle of non-Western people, but as saviours riding white horses, there to liberate non-Western people at the point of a Crusader sword. Women’s and queer rights are repeatedly used as a justification for imperialist invasions, racist immigration policies and Western supremacism.
That’s why I always feel a little ambivalent when someone brings up corrective rape, honour killings, female genital mutilation, sharia whippings, bride burning, and other violence against women and queers that is supposedly exclusive to non-Western cultures. Because I want to oppose that violence, but I want to oppose it in a way that doesn’t uphold racism and imperialism, and sometimes I’m not a hundred percent sure how to do that.
Actually there’s another reason I don’t like the term ‘corrective rape’. It’s because I don’t like all these terms people invent for different sub-genres of rape. You know, like ‘date rape’, ‘drug rape’, ‘acquaintance rape’, ‘stranger rape’, ‘marital rape’, ‘institutional rape’, ‘rape-as-a-weapon-of-war rape’, and so on.
Usually the purpose of categorizing rape like that is so you can rank all the different ways a person can horrifically violate another person, and then you can tell someone that the way somebody horrifically violated her wasn’t really that bad, coz it was just ‘date rape’, not ‘rape rape’, and she should really stop exaggerating what happened, because she’s trivializing the experiences of women who’ve ‘actually’ been raped.
I do understand why people put qualifiers like ‘date’ or ‘drug’ in front of the word ‘rape’. Rape is a giant scary word and people are scared to use it because if they do, someone will probably say something like, ‘that’s a really strong word to use, I mean, yeah, what happened to you was really fucked up, but are you sure it was rape?’ and then the rest of the discussion will revolve around whether what happened was ‘technically’ rape, instead of the fact that a human being did something horrible and traumatizing and fucked up to another human being.
I guess rape is a giant scary really strong word because lots of people think of rape as this twisted dark thing that twisted dark pathological people do on CSI:Miami, and not as something that’s actually common as bullshit. Maybe once you realize that your mate who’s a really good guy, and that TV comedian, and the guitarist in that band you really like, have all raped someone before, you’ll start to think of rape as something really common and normal and not that big a deal, coz after all, heaps of women have had it happen it to them.
That’s a problem. Making people aware of how common rape is is not supposed to normalize rape. It’s supposed to make people outraged enough to do something to stop rape happening. There’s got to be a way that we can acknowledge how common rape is, and make space for people to talk about their experiences without having their pain trivialized, while refusing to accept that rape is an inevitable part of life.