See the original blog post, "PLP Defends Rapists" for the announcement and call to action regarding PLP's defense of admitted rapist Seth Miller.

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Everything in this blog is a frank discussion of sexual violence and rape.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rape and death

Excerpted from Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism by C.E. in Lies: A Journal of Material Feminism Vol. 1.

There is then some truth in the phrase, misattributed to Andrea Dworkin, that “all sex is rape.” Rape and sex are far from foreign to each other, but rather are mutually constitutive elements of a broader structure of exploitation. Rape’s violence and transgression is not aberrant but rather a defining aspect of sexuality. It is the original appropriation driving all subsequent consumption or self ownership, a threat or reality that renders sexuality meaningful. Defining the qualities that make sex an event unlike rape becomes difficult; there is no true absence of force, nothing to “consent” to that isn’t on the terms of male power.

The by now traditional feminist approach to ending rape — recognizing rape as a moral outrage, attempting to isolate its unacceptable features, and remove its cancer from the otherwise healthy body of sexuality — fails from its outset to address this reality. In practice, this often adheres to a colonialist pattern, civil society offering its hand in saving or correcting an aberration. Rape, we are told, is violence, not sex. The rapist is an almost metaphysically different creature than the normal man, either a monster or, for liberals, simply very sick. It’s something Other, a quality of the fallen. Yet the concrete realities of rape flagrantly contradict this. The oft-cited statistic that we are much more likely to be raped by someone we know, rather than some stranger lurking in an alley, confirms the suspicion one gains by painful experience. Rape amounts to a horribly normal exercise of power — men over women, white over brown, straight over gay, jailer over prisoner, and so on. “A rape is not an isolated event or moral transgression or individual interchange gone wrong but an act of terrorism and torture within a systemic context of group subjection, like lynching.”

Throughout the whole of sexuality we can find many of the qualities attributed specifically to rape. It’s not a stretch to say that the affective labor of sexuality, the emotional work of another’s subjectification, is exploitative. Likewise the structural constraints on consent, the subtle and not-so-subtle violence that make “no” unheard or unspeakable, can be experienced as coercion, and the abdication of self-definition and submission to another’s will often required to enter into sex can be felt as violation. It is in such experience that the presence of rape, its inextricability from sex becomes clear, yet to flatly characterize all experience of sexuality as rape would be a denial of difference. Sex and rape are not two points on a spectrum of gendered violence and exploitation, one being simply more painful, but rather rape is distinct aspect of patriarchy and sexuality coexisting with and mutually definitive of “normal” sex, which lives a different life socially. Designations of whose rape is tolerable or encouraged and whose is a moral outrage are themselves a concrete  relation. As much as rape may give sexuality its (gendered) meaning, it is not meted out equally, and weaponized beyond a narrow, binary scope of gender.

Put bluntly: rape is a function of social death. To be raped is not unlike torture in that the raped is placed beyond the bounds of law, norm, or simple caring. To be raped is to be at a point of absolute objectification, boundaries not just violated but uprooted entirely, made meaningless. No help arrives, no language exists to communicate or reconcile one’s pain because one is at the point where normalcy produces, contains, and makes operative excess, silence, and the incommunicable. Yet this is not the constant experience of a monolithic class of “woman”; for many it is possible to be seen as defileable, to have a purity deemed worth protecting from transgression, and so such excess is meted out sparingly and discreetly. It is only sometimes that one’s rape even bears the name or meaning of rape, and where it is nameless it is institutionalized — as in prisons where it is made into a joke, or in the many private hells where one is always “asking for it”. Over and over in historical moments of genocide and  colonization mass rape emerges as an institutional principle, and in a similar though not coterminous movement rape is prescribed in nearly all modern societies as a means of normalizing deviant bodies.  This death haunts the sexuality of civil society. It is the difference that establishes the not-me, not-male, not-subject, not-woman patriarchal desire needs so that it has an object to act upon. Likewise gendered labor and gendered self exist only in relation to this notness, to some degree fragilely living with it, in partial and productive silence, and to some degree shifting such violence elsewhere.

Modifying our first statement — rape is implicated in all forms of  sex, and to perceive rape rightly as a scandal calls into question the foundation of every form of sexuality. Normative, civil sex is only one part of a system that has rape as its basis, as a central operating principle. The imagined integrity of the perfectly consenting subject amounts to little more than a regulatory principle of rape, a purity to be defended against a threatening Other. Which is not to say that assertion of dignity, of the right to not be raped, by those denied it is not a frequently necessary, worthwhile move. Rather, feminism needs to be wary of falling into a cultural conservatism that identifies rape as exogenous to sex and the social, as a disease to be cut away. To challenge rape is to challenge all conceptions of sex and bodies available to us; to undo it would be to uproot thousands of years of society, from what may well be civilization’s beginning.

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