Shock. Horror. Outrage. A recent “news” report by the Sydney Morning Herald identified a “pro-rape” Facebook group created by the male students at the University of Sydney College St Paul’s. However when it was later identified that this group was no more than a supporter group to facilitate meetings for a football team, the journalists at the Herald remained steadfast in their criticisms of the elitist, boys’ club culture at St Paul’s. They argued that the creation of a sports team based on the ideals of “raping” the opposition signalled disrespect for victims of rape and downplayed the horrendous nature of the experience. While this seems like a logical conclusion on the surface, I still find myself asking the good people at the Sydney Morning Herald one very important question – do you EVER understand young people?
Here is a very real world example that any young person these days would be well familiar with:
Thursday Midday, somewhere outside Eastern Avenue Auditorium at the University of Sydney
Student: Man how do you think you went in that exam?
Friend: Let’s go see the counsellor; I think that exam just raped me.
Rape has become synonymous with any act of complete and comprehensive destruction or defeat; in fact the second definition on UrbanDictionary.com for “rape” is “To utterly defeat another person in any form of competitive activies [sic]”. Rape has adapted beyond its original definition to take on new meaning in a new context – and it is this that people have the most trouble with understanding.
An ACTUAL conversation that a friend of mine had with their classmate regarding a psychology exam was “you know how in Pulp Fiction they get kidnapped and then there is the scene where the gimp is raping the black guy in the ass? Well the exam was the gimp and I was the black guy.”
When the college students at St Paul’s formed a football team named “Define Statutory”, a team that sought to “rape” its opposition, it was not downplaying or devaluing the act of sexual assault, it was simply implementing language and attitudes coherent within the current scope of Generation Y vocabulary.
“OK” you say, “Sure. They were just following the crowd. But isn’t this indicative of a whole culture that devalues the torment of rape?”. Allow me to answer this self-proposed question K-Rudd style, and offer: NO! Youth culture is full of examples where words have been warped beyond comprehension. In more recent times, there has been an adaptation of the word “gay” to mean “unpleasant” or “distasteful”, for example:
‘Boy: Dude the video store didn’t have Superbad so I had to get Titanic.
This is a very common idiom which seems endemic to modern society – you truly don’t realise how often people say it until you start to pay attention. In this same vein, “faggot” and “homo” have developed into standardised insults used for everyone, rather than derogatory slurs against the homosexual population. While this is still a touchy issue for some, the fact remains that culture is changing and context IS shifting.
As we look back further we realise that this is not simply a cultural trait of OUR generation. Remember when it was cool to say “cool”? I assure you that the 1950s was not simply another ice age, this word adapted beyond the mundane to take on a whole new aesthetic. What about you Rugrats fans? Does anyone think that “neat” was a desirable characteristic simply because Tommy had OCD?
So what then of rape? Well currently the NSW court system has effectively banned the use of the word “rape”, and all incidences are now referred to a “sexual assault”. I must ask, if the justice system- the very entity that seeks to identify and define rape in all situations does not even use the word, then does “rape” even exist in the context of its original meaning? If the leading authority is removing the word from its vocabulary, then surely the only definition remaining is one of common usage.
And it is that common usage which has caused all the problems. The Facebook group “Define Statutory” was not an attack on women, a defence of rapists or an exclusive boys’ club mentality. It was a football team based on an idea supported by pop culture and contemporary common usage of language. The metaphor of raping an opponent has become no more violent or destructive than the idea of “killing” your foes in sport – a common ideal perpetuated by multi-million dollar sports teams all over the world. It is simply that rape is OUR word which makes sense in OUR context. The furore regarding this group was no more than a storm in a tea cup, and if the “investigative” journalists at the Sydney Morning Herald stopped to consider context rather than worrying about poking sensibilities in an attempt to sell more papers, it would have never become the shitstorm that momentarily grabbed the attention of Sydney students, before we rolled our eyes and turned back to Facebook.