All rapes aren't equal

Lili Radloff wonders why our discourse for things like pregnancy, miscarriage and rape is so limited, when in fact, the issues are so broad.

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 inclusive.

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.

And rape?

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?

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