Rape and Speech


*Originally published in The Daily Times.

Rape.  A word whose four letters fail in doing justice to the gravity and intensity of the monstrosity that violates the physical, psychological, emotional, mental and sexual being of an individual for a lifetime.

However, in recent years, the appropriation of the word ‘rape’ as an adjective has taken on the form of commonality with widespread usage being quick to follow on both the internet and everyday conversations.

In line with the inevitable, the transformation of something into a commonality often renders the need to halt and understand its meaning, significance and implications nugatory; because they have been so easily accommodated into the linguistic or social culture that their true recognition escapes from our mental sight.

Similar has been the case with rape which is seen to be inserted in conversations to ‘lighten’ them up or convey the unfavourable intensity of a happening, especially by the youth of both sexes.

However, using rape as an adjective in supposed humour is nothing less than an acceptance and approval for rape itself; for what is being thrown into process by this practice is the effective normalization of the inhumanity of rape through its trivialization.

Using rape to describe the humiliating defeat of a sports team; to convey the extent of an exam paper gone bad have been heard or seen once by most, if not often.

By reducing an act as vicious, as cruel, as fiendish as rape to a source or adjective of amusement; its true nature and character is consigned to trivialization. It then appears to be an occurrence minor enough to be employed as a comical instrument.

Nadir Hasan, in his article titled ‘Rape and Rhetoric’ published in the Express Tribune on 23RD December 2010, wrote:

‘Whether through moral blindness, callowness or unfamiliarity with the issue, by treating rape as a provocation rather than an act of aggression we allow this attitude to diffuse throughout society. Think of how many times you have used rape as a punchline to a joke that nobody should laugh at, but too many do….One such joke may seem harmless but collectively they contribute to make rape seem like something less than a violent crime.’

With an Indonesian judge remarking that women may actually enjoy rape and a Microsoft employee making a rape joke at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), it is understood that this problem does not limit itself to Pakistan. However, this linguistic trivialization of rape is part of the wider rape culture and culture of violence terribly prevalent in places like Pakistan. It is an element of the rape culture that, as Nadir Hasan stated and asks to be reiterated, ‘treats rape as a provocation rather than an act of aggression’; that seeks to place the blame of the crime upon the victim instead of the perpetrator; that seeks not to stop rape but stop people from being raped; that seeks possible causes for the barbarity in order to explain it as an act that was reactive or unavoidable; in order to refuse its whole-hearted acknowledgement as a barbarity.

Rebecca Edwards, a rape survivor herself, wrote in her piece titled ‘The Funny Thing About Rape Jokes’:

[Upon hearing a rape joke or rape being used to describe something] ‘I am reminded of how my rapist laughed when he was finished with me.’

So the next time you think of or hear someone throwing around rape as an adjective and in petty humor, think of and remind them of 5-year old Sumbul who was brutally raped several times last year in Lahore and India’s Jyoti Singh, who succumbed to the savagery.

Think of the 10,703 raped in the past five years in Pakistan.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

3 comments on “Rape and Speech

  1. Hamza says:

    Hello Hafsa. Interesting blog.

    I don’t agree with the criticism over the word’s usage in humor though. Men and even women, often use the word ‘rape’ to use in humour when describing a particularly helpless and bad situation.

    For example, “Yar us gadhay ne English language ka rape kardiya” – frowning at such usage of words is in my opinion an over complication of morality. Other words, associated with heinous crimes are often used to express similar humorous situations, to name a few: murdered, mutilated, molested, beating, point-blank robbery.

    • Hamza,

      While one can agree with you based on the logic that all scheduled criminal offences should be placed at the same pedestal, we simply can’t justify ignoring the gravity of such callous behavior only because there’s enough precedent to support that it has been around in some form or the other for a long, long time.

      I believe its about time that people stopped being overly dramatic in situations that they believe warrant the use of such terms, be it rape or beating. People who use it in passing can’t possibly fathom the pain of survivors living with those scars for the rest of their lives.

      • Hamza says:

        How does the usage of these terms in humour damage society? Be it in humour, or be it a non-usage policy in humor of these terms, the people who have not gone through it can never fathom the pain of the people who have suffered. So I don’t think we can term it as callousness.

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