College students are prone to comparing difficult exams to the criminal act of physical violation. Now, I’ve had my share of exams. Bad exams. Catastrophically painful exams. The kind of exams where the back of your head throbs for the entirety of the exam in double consciousness, with one half struggling in vain to remain calm and finish the impossible while the other duly contemplates the repercussions the eminent failure will have on already bleak prospects. But exams akin to rape?
A bit melodramatic, really, that analogy. And vastly repulsive.
From what I’ve seen, which I realize is not necessarily reflective of general reality, the use of rape as slang has been met with comparatively little discouragement, at least amongst college students. The use of “gay” in the pejorative sense has been actively discouraged in recent years in light of achievements in gay rights activism. “Fag” has become a big no no for the same reason. “Retarded” has always caused that one Miss Goodie Two-Shoes of the group to pipe in and have us think about how offensive it would be to those who actually suffer from mental retardation. But “rape” has been treated with surprisingly cavalier nonchalance in its use as casual slang. I suppose it must be because it is self evident that rape victims find the frequent comparison of their plight to some biology exam or some other mundane disappointments of daily life a riot.
Language is not literal, especially not slang. I understand that. I understand that when someone calls a traitor a “fucking bastard” in a violent exchange of words, he is not referencing the nightlife of his nemesis nor questioning the legitimacy of his birth. He is simply calling out his nemesis, an extreme in the category of abhorrent existences. I understand that swear words such as shit and crap do not necessarily undermine the biological importance of fecal matter, which as we all know is very important, as the product of crucial digestive functions that exterminate the toxins within. I understand that in much the same manner the way the figurative use of “kill” does not trivialize actual murder. The figurative use of rape should theoretically be similarly innocuous.
Rape, like all verbs, can be organized into one of two categories: active or passive. As in, raping or being raped. I can stomach the passive usage of rape, because it tangentially makes sense. The analogy is, you felt grossly violated and victimized by an event that in your world was as terrible as being raped, be it failing a difficult exam or the accidental blast of Bieber in the ear. And you are using rape to highlight the gravity of your disgust with the situation. I’ve grown largely immune to such dysphemistic use of rape.
But the particular usage of rape that continues to disturb me is the active use, which, without fail, is used positively. Rape, the heinously criminal assault in the literal sense, is used in active slang to express joy, achievement and victory. YouTubers rape the replay button on Adele because they like her music. The home team hopes to rape the visitors at the homecoming game. Cornellians rape that math exam hard after several all nighters. And in the jubilant aftermath, frape a friend’s facebook page as a good joke.
To liken joyful achievement to the perpetration of a highly intimate and graphic crime that continues to victimize too many is simply wrong. And those who use it in such a manner sound crass, insensitive and just plain stupid. And I know I made the completely moronic analogy of the use of “rape” to the use of “kill” simply because others make it to advocate the free use of rape in language. But in reality, it is a terrible analogy. Rape is a verb unlike any other. It is a term charged with a powerful emotion for many, denoting a graphic crime, and so it should retain all its gravity. Free from nonsensical analogies and expressions of bravado tacked on by teens with arrested vocabularies.
I don’t know why language develops the way it does, but it often develops as to reflect the worst vices of society. Fear. Homophobia. Callousness towards the sufferings of others. And when it does, let’s at least take the conscientious initiative to keep in check such unflattering developments. After all, language speaks for who we are, literally.
Patricia Kim is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Better on Paper appears alternate Thursdays this semester.