little victories

November 16, 2010

Sometimes boys- it’s always boys- use the word “rape” when they mean, well, not rape. My friend Simon used to do this all the time.

“Dude, that test totally raped me.”

“Oh my god, my team got raped.”

All itchy and strangly yet? Yeah, me too. This is one of my big little things. Sure, language and actions aren’t the same, and hey, I guess I could just- how did you put it?- lighten up, and you know what, you’re right, there are in fact starving children in Africa, thanks for reminding me.

There are many, many worse things in the world than teenage boys misappropriating language.

Even so. Words are crucial. Ask Dumbledore: fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself. In the same vein, meaningless overuse of a word signals association of meaninglessness and insignificance with the thing it describes. This is all rape culture 101- rape is a joke, rape doesn’t need to be taken seriously, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So it’s a battle I fight. It’s a tiny, tiny battle, but I get very loud about it. Sometimes people roll their eyes or tell me it doesn’t matter, and then I turn incoherent with fury. Sometimes they listen, and sometimes they don’t. Simon listened; he never says rape when he doesn’t mean rape anymore.

But never isn’t the right word, as it turns out. Leela, his girlfriend, told me he still says it all the time. He just doesn’t say it around me. I’m not sure what to make of that. He respects me enough to watch his mouth when we’re hanging out, I suppose, but it’s not really respect, it’s a desire to avoid the inconvenience of me snapping at him.

Calling that respect is like calling obedience to the Bible ¬†morality. It doesn’t count as morality if you’re only doing it out of fear of hell. Fear is self-interest. Morality is interest in and concern for others.

I still appreciate his not talking like that around me. But I wish he’d put together that I’m not the only person he knows who might be upset or offended by his misuse of language- I’m just the loudest.

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