Rape Play (Part Two)

Some fantastic comments on one of my last posts have led me to think about the topic of fantasy rape for a lot longer than I’d originally intended, and specifically about the issue of terminology.

To summarize my last post: the term “rape play” has always troubled me, mostly because of what I perceive as an internal contradiction in the phrase. That is, rape is inherently nonconsensual, and BDSM play is inherenly consensual; even if rape play might look like rape to an uninformed observer, the very fact that the scene is consensual means that it actually has nothing to do with real rape, and using the word “rape” to describe it is just inaccurate. The problem that I saw in the term “play rape” was that when we wrap something in qualifiers instead of calling it something different entirely, we make the error of inherently associating what we do with that other activity—and we don’t want to associate consensual sex with rape, because that gives fuel to the idea that women who are raped actually want it, etc.

But Dev made a great point in her comment on my last post: “The truth is that we do things, consensually and in love or play, that are negative in other contexts [and] that humans have done to each other abusively. [….] But that is just endemic to the things we do, and it’s part of their power. Rape play doesn’t just happen to resemble rape – it feeds off of our ideas of rape all the way.”

That is: it isn’t an error to associate rape play with real rape, even if we would never want to actually rape or be raped. They’re not the same, which is why we do need a qualifier, but they are certainly related—and calling it something other than what it is is simply an attempt to shield ourselves from the negativity and fear generated by the idea of actual rape. As Ranat said in her comment: “The abstraction [can] go on and on, divorcing me more and more from the ‘bad word.’ For me, with the abstraction comes an unspoken apology that I’m still trying to convince myself I don’t need to make.”

I think one of the big problems I’ve had with this (and with the concept of BDSM “play” in general) comes from the dilemma of how to argue with anti-BDSM folks without resorting to “but it’s *nothing like* real rape/abuse/etc.” It’s an easy comeback—but it’s just not true. If it were true, if all we were doing was dress-up and play-pretend games, it wouldn’t be all that erotic…

1 comment so far

  1. ranat on

    In his earlier books, Derrick Jensen defined “rape” as a “parody of sex,” schools as a parody of learning, suburbs a parody of community, etc. Then in a later book, he said that he realized he was wrong to call it a parody– parodies are made in fun. The term he used instead was “toxic mimic.” Rape is a toxic mimic of sex, schools are a toxic mimic of learning, abuse is a toxic mimic of love.

    Dev’s comment made me realize though, that the word parody is very appropriate here by those definitions. Rape play is a parody of rape, which is a toxic mimic of sex. Power exchange is a parody of oppression, interrogation scenes are a parody of psychological and physical torture. Erotic parodies. Rape and oppression and abuse are often toxic mimics of things that are integral and healthy to the human life.

    I think BDSM is one way for people to in turn parody the toxic mimics which have been forced down our throats from birth (certainly it is for me, anyway). Violence and abuse and rape have been eroticized for as long as civilization has existed. For myself, even if I disagree with the eroticization of violence intellectually, it is a part of me sexually. The toxic mimics are unhealthy, and I don’t want to be a part of them. The parodies though, the parodies can be fun and healthy and incredibly satisfying. Rape play might reflect rape, but it fundamentally isn’t rape.


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