a sensitive subject
I have discussed rape and sexual assault on this blog before and, while the topic always instigates discussion and debate, the most hotly contested statement I have made is that human practices inflicted on nonhuman animals to force reproduction is rape. Because some rape and sexual assault victims are offended by this comparison, I am told it should not be made. However, while many people are offended that I label the actions of forcing male animals to ejaculate or shoving objects into the vaginas of female nonhuman animals rape, I really can’t imagine calling it anything else.
When I call what we do to thousands of nonhuman animals on a daily basis in the name of food production rape I am not belittling human women, nor advancing the experience of the nonhuman animals simply for the sake of hyperbole. I am just identifying what is happening. I understand that if a person believes humans to be more valuable or have more meaningful experiences than nonhumans, then this would be insulting. I, however, do not think the suffering is unequal and so to me this comparison is far from insulting—it just is.
In saying this I do not intend to diminish the feelings and knowledge that any victim or survivor has about his or her own experience. At the same time that I believe rape is rape, regardless of the species, I also believe that each experience of assault is unique and that no one’s voice should be stifled. While some victims and survivors think my perspective diminishes their experiences, other victims and survivors do not. Though I am not necessarily silent about my own experience of sexual assault I never put it front and center and rarely speak of it in my daily life, but today I want to because of this belief that only victims and survivors can have a voice or an opinion on this matter. I am a survivor, this is my voice and my opinion is strongly informed by my experience of abuse.
I feel that it is in allowing any instance of assault to be normalized that our society reinforces and perpetuates the rape culture and misogyny that has made sexual assault commonplace. Unfortunately, our culture accepts rape
and sexual assault in various ways. We reproduce and glorify it in our advertising and other media, it is an acceptable topic of humor and it remains an unaddressed social problem. And, when it comes to nonhuman animals, we simply ignore it. The act of forcing something into the vagina of a female-bodied individual and impregnating her against her will is NOT something we call rape but it IS something we rely on for the way we choose to produce food. To me this is a problem. And it I this sort of mislabeling that helps to perpetuate rape culture. If as a society we can look at a clear act of rape, but refuse to define it as such, we are allowing rape to be devalued. We are saying that if it is done by those in power to those who are powerless, then it is not rape.
As a culture, we have created a story of a rapist bogyman, a stranger popping out of the dark to attack an unsuspecting woman who dared to walk alone at night. This story, which is only true in a fraction of sexual assault cases, allows us to ignore the very real social problem that sexual assault stems from—the idea that violating the bodies of the women and other minorities is a mechanism of control regularly used in our society. Sexual assault goes under-punished in our society and the dialogue surrounding it is filed with misinformation and a tinge of shame and blame directed toward the victims. This allows rape and sexual assault to remain prevalent. However, if as a society we identified sexual abuse when we saw it and refused to tolerate it on any level, it would cease to be the tool of abuse and control that pathologically invades our culture.
People tell me that that shoving an apparatus into the vagina of an unwilling nonhuman animal is not rape just because that animal is not human. This apparently doesn’t fit the “definition.” But I know that definitions are wrong. What I experienced didn’t fit the definition and so I had no recourse, no way to call for help, no way to say no and for many years no way to heal. No stranger leapt out at unsuspecting me and attacked me. No one ripped off my clothes or forced his penis into my vagina. I never screamed. In fact, what a cow faces on a rape rack is much more similar to the “standard” definition of rape than what I experienced. As a teenager, I took drugs my boyfriend offered me trusting he would not give me too much, though he intentionally did. Once I was incapacitated, he demanded sex. I had very little physical control over my body, so all I could do was say no. My refusals continued and his behavior became more erratic and scary so to protect myself I decided concede to, or at least not to fight, some very unwanted and unenjoyed sexual contact. I felt this was the only way I could avoid vaginal rape or physical harm so I made a decision to be assaulted in one way because I feared being assaulted in another. I know I was assaulted and it was much less cut and dry than what happens to cow on a dairy farm.
Some moments of that night I have worked not to remember. Other things I remember with crisp clarity; it is the things I remember that let me know what happens to anyone who is assaulted or raped (species irrelevant) is important, needs to be named, and must be stopped. For me, the experience of being assaulted does not set me apart from others; it brings me closer. My experience is unique but it is not uncommon. In experiencing what I did I joined an unfortunately large number of women, men and children in this country who have survived sexual violence.
If we lived in a society that refused to allow the bodies of women and minorities to be abused by those in power, I wonder if I would have ever had that experience. When I was told of the intentional overdose that night I tried to throw up the pills, hoping to prevent my total incapacitation. My boyfriend’s friends held me down, refusing to let me throw up, laughing the entire time. If we lived in a world in which our entire food system was not based on rape and violence, would a bunch of teenaged boys have the notion that it was remotely socially acceptable, much less funny, to control my body and physically subdue me?
I know what helplessness is because that night I did not have the capacity to scream for help. I know what fear is because that night I knew if I continued refusing something else unknown and more horrible might happen to me. When I think of the cow or the goat on the dairy farm or the pig on the hog farm I do not think about how much worse what I faced was than what they faced. I do not imagine all the ways my emotional and intellectual life might or might not differ from theirs to make my experience more salient. What I do imagine is how, like me, each one of them must feel scared. I feel empathy through the similarity of our experiences, not supremacy because of the differences.