They used to call it rape, back in the day. For one brief, shining moment, we thought we knew what rape was, if not how to stop it. Oh, but that will come next, we thought. Now that we have our words, we can use our voices.
It didn’t turn out that way. Yesterday Morwenna Ferrier wrote a piece in the Guardian in which she described how, in Rihanna’s BBHMM video, “the themes of sexualised violence, seemingly gratuitous nudity and non-consensual BDSM sent segments of the world’s media into a state of apoplexy.” Images of spluttering, red-faced Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells instantly sprung to mind. Imagine getting angry over non-consensual BDSM! God, I hate those bigots who spend all their time stigmatising the BDSM community!
So what is non-consensual BDSM? Well, I guess it’s like sexual abuse, but with the focus on the “sex” bit and with greater empathy with abuser, now recast as taboo-breaking participant. It’s a bit like Bill Cosby’s “sex” with the women he drugged, only edgier and way cooler. Don’t panic, though, because in the former scenario it’s just art and the way we use language to describe art has no connection whatsoever to the way we use language to describe real-life interactions (only joking!). Yeah, we used to call these things abuse, we used to call them rape. But what does it matter? Language changes, cisters. Some of the things we called abuse aren’t abuse any more. Get with the programme.
For decades feminists have fought to change perceptions of the “typical” abuser. Well, turns out we were wrong. Turns out it is the stranger in the dark alley, the saddo uncle in his stained jogging bottoms. Cool people don’t rape, they merely frustrate the dynamics of bodily exclusion and penetrative selectivity, ideally in an anti-racist and anti-capitalist context of cultural resistance. No Sex Offenders’ Register for them. Give ‘em 1,000 thinkpieces on the historical complexity of policing the female body and how, if that body belongs to someone who says “no” in an insufficiently postmodern manner, that “no” is the only real act of aggression to be countered (it’s difficult, I know. Hey, maybe you’d feel more comfortable if you left defining whether or not you’ve been abused to the clever, pomo-literate people?).