At school we were taught that there are no degrees of comparison for
certain states. Death was one of them. Pregnancy was another.
While I completely agree that being dead is rather final, I’m
guessing that whoever decided that pregnancy doesn’t have degrees of
being pregnant (i.e. glowing, swallowed a melon, ready to burst) must
have been an idiot or a man. And no, I don't think the two are mutually
Recently someone really close to me had a miscarriage. She was
still at the barely pregnant stage – just five weeks. And yet she and
her husband were very sad and deeply disappointed. But when we talked
about it she surprised me with her stoicism.
"It was only 5 weeks. It was not the death of a baby. It was
the death of expectation. To call it a miscarriage is unfair to other
women who've given birth to still born babies. Or who lost a fetus at
4, 5 or 6 months."
We started talking about the lack of names for different
concepts. Miscarriage is a tough one. And unfortunately there aren’t
other helpful terms for it. I mean "losing a baby” is even worse. Not
only does it open up the whole “when is it a baby?" debate, but it
suggests some sort of negligence or error on the mother's side. Blame
it on Oscar Wilde if you will.
The point is, something so complex, with so many grades can simply not be described by one umbrella term.
Rape is another one of those words. Because despite what certain
people will tell you, all rapes are not equal. In the fight to get
proper legislation for crimes against women – which included husbands
raping their wives, date rape, and the "corrective" rape
committed by some despicable conservative extremists – we sacrificed
the nuances and grades of the crime in order to be heard.
Last week Sam Wilson wrote a column
on how words can be both dangerous and powerful. We think in language
and language shapes us. That's why it's so important that we need to
distinguish between certain grades and not throw everything in the same
basket. Because limiting ourselves to one word for such an important,
broad concept actually dis-empowers us. It turns rape into an abstract
concept when rape and all the different forms of it is in fact a very
visceral crime. So now I’m wondering, why, in the fashion world, are
there 16 different words from fuchsia to salmon for "pink" and yet, we
have only one word in use for rape?
There's a difference between a husband harassing an
unconvinced wife who has a headache and being violently raped and
choked with a gun to your head. Surely going home with someone out of
your own accord, engaging in foreplay and then being bullied into
non-consensual sex is different than being violently gang raped by a
group of strangers?
I'm not saying for one moment that it should be any less
illegal to force a woman to have sex if she doesn't want to, I'm just
wondering: are we not making the crime more acceptable and less
punishable by judging everything as having the same weight?
At the moment dangerous sexual predators roam free, preying on our sisters and daughters
while we all sigh and shake our heads at the frightening stats of rape
in South Africa. I'm worried that by playing the "my pain is just as
important as your pain" we are in cutting off our own hands.
As women, surely we should be able to discuss this issue with
all the various nuances and shading it deserves? Words are our
intellectual infrastructure, why are we so limited when it comes to the
issues that are truly important to us? Got something to say? Share it with us in the box below.