Sustaining Rape

Her: I appreciate you’re being friendly, but please don’t touch me.

Him: Huh? It’s just your elbow.

Her: I know; but it makes me uncomfortable.

Him: But its. Just. Your. Elbow. And I am not coming on to you.

Her: Yes, I know that. But I still don’t like it, so could you please stop.

Him: But it’s just your elbow. Jesus.


Him: “I was told by a female colleague that she would be offended if I tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. That really threw me, because I don’t understand how this could ever be interpreted as either a sexual or threatening gesture…especially when I did it lightly and said ‘excuse me’’’.


Him: You want to break up with me? You want to break up. With me?

Her: Yes.

Him: I’m going to tell you parents we had sex.

Her: Please, no…please!

Him: Ok. Then kiss my shoes. Both of them.


Him: NOW.


Him: “You know, right, that I could divorce you for not having sex with me.”




Shame and disgust and rage and fear and disgust and disgust and disgust and disgust and horror. Another thrust and more grunts and again and again.

And again, and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.


Him: “Cushion your feminism with softened and blunted language and highlight the perpetrators without using the word ‘men’ because that hurts my feelings and you need me on your side and don’t push it too far because that would make me uncomfortable with a world that is changing in ways that may not suit me and when I say I didn’t see sexism/inappropriacy/inequity take my word for it and don’t suggest at all that I might not be able to see it as well as you, even when it’s implicit or subtle or hidden in the banality of everyday exchanges and let me believe that misandry is as powerful and damaging to men as misogyny is for women, and that all sexism is created equal and judge my actions and words by the intent I say I had rather than how you saw it, because my intent is more valid than your perception.”


The word rape is very confronting.

So very confronting that only recently has rapeseed been re-introduced into mainstream vocabulary.

So very confronting that Greer (who seems to have thrown women under the bus for one last claw at notoriety) is completely thrown by it. So thrown, she feels all non-consensual sex should be defined by the same rule: all not rape. And also suggests that rather than educate the public, and therefore juries, we should dumb down rape sentences for more successful convictions.

So very confronting that I have heard women stop mid-narrative, and ask in hushed, disbelieving voices, “That wasn’t…rape…right?” and “That couldn’t have been rape- I had slept with him before” and “But he’s my husband; he can’t rape me” and “I guess I should’ve known” ad nauseum. And yes: I do know the difference between protective denial and genuine confusion. But the dissonance in this disbelief is from the fact of rape juxtaposed with the belief that it’s too heightened an accusation. Too confronting even to make in the privacy of a psychologist’s office. I recognize the confusion and dissonance because I have asked myself the same question, with the same inflection.

So very confronting that the word makes people react immediately and viscerally, makes men and women want to put it away from themselves. This putting-away happens because the word describes an act which feels extreme; it feels like the actions of ‘The Other.’ The thing the outliers do, not those safely under the bell-curve.

No, not all men are raping all the people, all the time.

But the global culture is one that sustains rape; and therefore, the term ‘rape culture’. The populations of entire cultures are not constantly raping people; I do know that. But the culture of implicit and explicit misogyny sustains rape by constantly dehumanizing, minimizing, marginalizing women. The less women are seen as human the easier they are to violate. These violations build, stacking into a pyramid that sits heavily on the world, tipped by the act of rape itself. A pyramid which is the greatest human rights travesty just in sheer numbers- because it is being done to half the planet.

The bricks that make it up? At the base of the monolith, probably the casual everyday sexism: ‘boys will be boys’, using ‘you fight/hit/swing/throw/run like a girl’ as a slur, ‘pretty’ girl vs ‘strong’ boy. Automatically using male pronouns when the gender of the doctor, lawyer, engineer is unknown. Automatically reverting to female pronouns when referring to teachers, nurses. Laughing at gender stereotyping jokes.

Just as an aside- I struggle with what I consider worse: this casual, ignorant racism or the ‘woke-but-not-quite-all-the-way-because-that-would-involve-uncomfortable-stuff’ brand of Instagram-feminism. Avowing feminism, but safe contained feminism which includes #notallmen-ing or even ‘what-about-ing’. The ignorant type is dangerous because, well, in this day and age, claiming ignorance, and then sitting comfortably with it, is an active choice to not change. And ‘woke-but-only-this-much’ is just lies.

Another brick? Needing to see the woman as property or subject to you, to make her appear human and relatable: your wife, daughter, sister, mother.

Other bricks in this vast pyramid of rape sustainability? Not teaching boys and girls about consent. Not teaching children ownership of their bodies, and the boundaries around their bodies, and that saying ‘no’ is ok.

Being vaguely unsettled by feminism: a cognitive dissonance about recognizing that it is relevant but also that it might create uncomfortable change — to translate in to Twitter-speak #whenisitenough or even “that’s getting too PC.”

Another brick is the constant refrain “But we’re not as bad as some countries”. Why is this a brick? Because a) acknowledging that equal rights of half the human race exists on a spectrum and is not an absolute and by b) implying that gratitude should be had for being on the less human-rights-denying side of it.

Other bricks: that menstrual products are taxed as a luxury, that menstrual products are associated with shame, that menstrual products are so sanitized that they are only advertised as absorbing blue liquid.

Another; a razor and body hair can’t be shown in juxtaposition when it comes to women.

Another brick- that in an era when cars can get sent in to space, countries still exist where woman aren’t allowed to drive one? And that the word ‘allowed’ is used at all for adult free choice.

Another is the belief that consent once means consent always. And the saddest thing is women think that too.

Another is excusing discriminatory or inappropriate behaviour under the guise of ‘mateship’ — “Nah, he’s a good bloke.”

A big brick; unequal pay based on gender.

Another is that Australia’s powerful defamation laws, ostensibly for the protection of its citizens, are being used to protect perpetrators of sexual abuse and assault.

Another, Victoria’s passing a gag law, while we were all distracted by COVID-19.

Other, bigger bricks: that it took until 2018 to change legislation around abortion in what is defined as a ‘Developed’ country. That it took so much convincing to make that change; in fact, that anyone needed convincing to not control the bodies of others. That a country can get called ‘Developed’ or even ‘First World’ if there are any restrictive-to-choice laws around abortion? Oh, and an updated and recent brick that has wedged itself in this monolithic pyramid of rape sustainability: Alabama’s abortion laws.

Other bricks, stacking higher: women raped, beaten, assaulted, abused, paraded naked, acid-burned, used for barter, used as a symbol of honour, used as a punching bag, as a sperm receptacle, as an object to look at and touch, as an ornament, as a toy. That 45 women have died, most at the hands of men they knew and trusted, in Australia since January 2020, as of the 16th of November.

Imagine if we reversed the genders in that sentence- 45 men have died, most at the hands of women they knew and trusted, in Australia since January 2020, as of the 16th of November.

Or imagine if it was sharks, or ‘gangs’ doing the killing-how quickly would the wheels of justice spin then?

Maybe it’s become clearer as to how the world is living in a rape sustaining culture.

But more important than that clarity is the need to not cringe and put the word ‘rape’ and its implications away from ourselves. And more important that that, even, is to see that downplaying and othering the word is protective of the possible offenders and leaves the vulnerable wide open.

Most important is to see that there no ‘The Others’. It’s just us.



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Ishma Alvi

Ishma Alvi

Woman, feminist, brown, queer, mother, ex-Muslim, psychologist, new to writing. In that order. And the order changes.