By now we should all be aware that myths that surround rape are merely that: myths.
Sadly many cultures still have these myths. These include those areas where a raped woman is presumed to have brought it upon herself and is considered entirely to blame for what has happened. In these cultures it is sometimes demanded of the woman that she kill herself “in order to get her honour back”.
Which is kind of like driving your car off a cliff in order to fix a chip in the paint.
But these myths are obviously patriarchal bullshit, and thus they are of little interest to me.
What I want to talk about is something closer to home.
Because it seems to me that the idea that a woman who is raped is inevitably scarred for life is basically just patriarchy, disempowering women.
I shall hasten to add (although I really shouldn’t have to) that I’m not saying rape isn’t traumatic.
You need to be a member of the Republican Party to say something that stupid.
What I’m objecting to is the idea that women who are raped can never get past it. This idea is repeated constantly in TV shows, talk shows, movies, blogs, and the list goes on and on.
The narrative is that rape is such a massive violation of a person that the trauma it provokes can never be overcome; that the rape survivor will always be afraid, will always be traumatised, will always experience sexual dysfunction and strained relationships.
Friends, this is bullshit.
I’ve given therapy to many survivors of abuse and rape, and I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that most of them were doing ok, and were getting better. Their experiences were in direct contradiction to the dominant Western narrative around rape and they forced me to rethink my understanding of trauma and abuse.
When a therapy client said to me “the third rape wasn’t that bad, because by then I was used to dealing with it” (translated from Afrikaans) it was a series of serious shocks.
The first and most obvious shock came from the realisation that my client lived in a community, here in South Africa, where one could be raped multiple times without it being considered unusual.
So if you think you know how bad rape is in some parts of the world I’m sorry to say you probably don’t.
But the second shock was the realisation that this young woman had been through all this shit, and was still getting better and carrying on with her life.
She hadn’t just survived her rapes, she had overcome them (or was getting pretty close).
Some of you may have assumed that my client was lying, and that she hadn’t actually ever been raped at all.
You people are assholes.
Anyway, my clients’ experiences fly in the face of the dominant Western narrative of rape which seems to be that it permanently scars someone and messes them up for life.
But if this aspect of rape discourse isn’t true, then where does it come from?
To answer that question let me contrast this Western narrative with the narrative from the more “primitive” (sorry cultural relativists, but that’s what they are) cultures mentioned above.
1. “A woman who is raped is a ‘fallen woman’. She is ruined for life and is no good to any man. She’s just a burden and is better off killing herself.”
2. “A woman who is raped is scarred for life and will have great difficulty having sexual relationships. She will be unstable and emotionally taxing on those around her. If she kills herself some people will say ‘it was probably the best thing for her’.”
I’m not even going to talk about how both narratives assume that a woman needs to be having sex in order to be “normal”.
My point has been made I think: they are exactly the fucking same.
In both narratives we have the idea that a woman who is raped is “ruined for life” that she can never recover and that she is better off committing suicide.
If this viewpoint is accurate then it suggests that by perpetuating the new, Western narrative around rape we are basically pushing the old-world “fallen woman” idea of rape, just in a hidden form.
By telling women who’ve been raped that there is just no way they will ever get past it we are subjugating them under the weight of patriarchy.
Well fuck that shit.
There was a case a few years ago in which a young woman was raped. When she was interviewed about it she said that the worst part of the experience was the rape (obviously) but that the second worst part was all the people who kept on telling her that she was going to be screwed up for the rest of her life.
Of course, they pretended that they were being sympathetic, but what they were actually doing was trying to brainwash her into buying into the myth that her rape was not survivable, and that her life was basically over.
Luckily, this remarkable young woman said no, she was determined to put it behind her and carry on with her life. And that’s exactly what she did.
And the fact that this bullshit is basically just patriarchy at work can be readily seen when we look at male rape survivors. Are they subjected to the same social pressure to just give up and be fucked forever?
Maybe, but to a much lesser degree.
When we look at the research on resiliency what we find is entirely expected: the likelihood that someone will recover from a trauma depends on several factors. These primarily include the intensity, length and frequency of the trauma as well as how much emotional support the person has access to.
Or to put it another way: if we tried harder to help rape survivors get past their trauma then a lot more of them would be able to do so.
Some rape survivors are traumatised for life, and will battle against the effects of being raped for years to come.
But many others will find the strength, and the support, to move forward in their lives, to find joy and not be broken down by what has been done to them.
As a final point I’ve gotta say that I always get annoyed when people say “rape is worse than murder”.
It’s not. No one ever recovers from being murdered.
But plenty of people, through hard work and the love of those around them, can recover after being raped.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]