Please, PLEASE Stop Using the Word “Rape” Unless You’re Talking About Actual Rape

03Jun10

I’ve talked before both about Twilight and its detrimental effects on the younger generation and about the use of rape as an analogy (in that case, as a political analogy).  Now both have come together to form a bouillabaisse of fucked-upness.

What you don’t see are the cameras shoved in my face and the bizarre intrusive questions being asked, or the people falling over themselves, screaming and taunting to get a reaction. The photos are so… I feel like I’m looking at someone being raped. A lot of the time I can’t handle it. It’s fucked. I never expected that this would be my life.

(HuffPost edited “fucked.”  I unedited, because little asterisks that are somehow supposed to make us realize that isn’t actually a curse word irritate the hell out of me.)

I don’t doubt that media attention can be very harsh and very intrusive.  I am certain that lines are crossed that should not be.  I am also certain that looking at paparazzi photos of yourself is not the same as looking at a person being raped.

A lot of times, I do use this as a Feminism 101 space.  At the beginning, it was because I was working through Feminism 101 myself, but now it’s largely because I know how necessary Feminism 101 is to getting people to realize why certain things are important.  But today, this is not a Feminism 101 space.  If you don’t know why comparing media attention (even excessive media attention) to rape is fucked up, then the burden is on you to educate yourself.

What I would like to discuss is how these two parts play together – the influence of stars like Kristen Stewart on the younger generation, and how that relates to her recent comment in particular.

It’s no secret that the term “rape” is thrown around carelessly all the time.  It’s become shorthand for far too much in a great deal of people’s vocabulary.  And an obvious issue I have with Kristen Stewart’s use of the term in that manner is the fact that it will reinforce this behavior.  And that’s bad enough.  But when you also factor in the other behaviors Kristen Stewart enforces (through her role in the Twilight series), it becomes an issue of more than verbal injury.

Stewart’s role in Twilight is one fraught with subservience and abuse.  Bella Swan has an abusive boyfriend (later an abusive husband) who controls her actions, limits her freedoms, ignores her wishes, and tells her it’s because he loves and is trying to protect her – something which Bella also says many times.  She is completely dependent on this boyfriend, to the point of slipping into a state of catatonic non-functioning without him.  Let’s just cut it short and say it’s not a healthy relationship.  It’s not the relationship model we should be promoting to pre-teens and teenagers (or anyone else, really, but that’s the major fanbase, and also incidentally the age group that is most involved in figuring out dating and relationships for the first time).  On top of this let’s throw the main star’s nonchalant use of the word “rape.”  Now let’s think about what kind of influence this has on kids.

  1. The female will think that her role is to be subservient to her romantic interests – possibly to all males in her acquaintance.  She will not trust her own judgment, and believe that these male figures know what’s best for her better than she does.
  2. The male will think that, in order to attract the opposite sex, he must be domineering and abusive.  He must ignore what she says, and do what he wants anyway.
  3. Neither will think of rape or sexual assault as serious issues.  Neither will have a clear hold on appropriate boundaries and how to enforce them/respect them.

I’m worried for these kids – worried about the ways their views and relationships will develop, worried about what this will do even to the kids who escape that influence.  It’s difficult enough to break free from the influence of the patriarchy without something as huge and pervasive as Twilight encouraging it.

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