"There are few attacks more viscerally terrifying than rape," writes Tiger Beatdown's Sady Doyle in the Guardian's Comment is Free. Sadly, that means that conservative pundits tend to relish using the term to describe any act they disagree with.
Witness – just for example – Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh, who have recently come under fire for their use of the R-word. Here, according to Media Matters, are a few of the people or things they have recently compared to rapists: healthcare reform; the government of the state of New York; the Democratic party; the media; Nancy Pelosi; President Obama (frequently); and "the homosexual mafia".
Here is a partial list of the people or things these entities are said to be raping: America; American values; the American war in Iraq; the American private sector; Americans in general; the American residents of New York state specifically; and "children's minds". One assumes they are American children. Also, yes, since you asked, the "children's minds" are in fact what is being targeted for rape by the "homosexual mafia", at least according to Michael Savage, because there's really no point, apparently, in defending the age-old stereotype of gay men as child molesters – that might get you in trouble, seeing as how it is blatantly hateful and untrue, when you can just slip it in subliminally with a quick metaphor. (This isn't exactly new ground for Savage: in 2004 he quipped: "When you hear 'human rights,' think gays. When you hear 'human rights,' think only one thing: someone who wants to rape your son.")
Charming. Doyle explains that while Savage, Beck, and Limbaugh generally are not motivated to discuss the prevalence of violence against women, overuse of the rape metaphor ensures that their target audience continues to feed on fear and feel constantly under attack. However, Doyle warns against writing off the commentator's understanding of the seriousness of using rape to describe events outside of a sexually violent context:
It's customary to say that people who misuse "rape" as a metaphor for general unpleasantness don't take rape seriously. But I think Limbaugh, Beck, and Savage take it very seriously. They may not have educated themselves on how rape actually happens; they may not engage in anti-rape activism, and they may not make a point of raising audience members' awareness of actual rapes in the world; they may have less than no time to spare for discussing actual sexual assaults, in their catalogue of imaginary figurative rapes. Still, they trade on the public's terror of rape, and apparently respect the word's power to shock and horrify, if nothing else. Which is why these three leaders of men are working, as hard as possible, to create a mental link between that kind of gut-level fear and any or all progressive initiatives and figures.
In essence - they are very, very aware about how their words can be used to incite fear and revulsion by using a rape metaphor.
Thankfully, these pundits are starting to come under fire for their overuse of the term. Media Matters' video compilation from late last month was damningly to the point, illustrating how rape metaphors are trotted out for their verbal impact. Note all the carefully considered pauses and word stresses:
And, as Doyle points out, they've figured out a loophole:
It only becomes ineffective, really, if you use the word "rape" so often that it loses all meaning or power to shock. Which should be easy for Limbaugh, Beck, and Savage to avoid, given that they rarely speak with as much fervour about actual rapes that happen every day.
Trading On Our Fear Of Rape [The Guardian]