Amanda Seyfried responded to a bizarre TMZ headline alleging that her dog raped some other dog by pointing out TMZ’s stupid, not funny attempt at rape humor. While I didn’t think I’d be using the words “dog” and “rape” in the same post today, I do think this weirdo debacle is a good excuse to talk about the way we casually use the word rape to our great detriment.
To set the scene, Buzzfeed is reporting that TMZ ran the following ill-advised headline:
Without the headline, the accompanying photo of Seyfried’s dog and some labrador getting it on is pretty funny–any dog owner’s witnessed this awkward situation at a dog park. Seyfried responded in a since-deleted tweet:
So for TMZ, this is actually pretty tame. I’m surprised they didn’t cook up a headline that read “Amanda Seyfried uses her dog to rape other dog.” But there’s a big issue with using the word “rape” so casually, and it’s becoming overwhelmingly present in our daily communication.
The casual use of “rape” that I’m talking about shows up when people liken negative events to rape, regardless of any actual commonality. “The wind raped me on my walk home.” “Having my guns taken away is akin to being raped.” “The Lakers raped OKC last night.” Really? Raped? This certainly applies to sexual experience where there isn’t actually any assault taking place–a friend of mine once described a completely consensual and otherwise enjoyable hook up with an overeager kisser as “being mouth-raped by his tongue.”
Using rape to describe actions that are assuredly not rape is patently unacceptable. If we start equating the word rape with minor negativity, it becomes that much harder to have actual instances of rape taken seriously. In a legal system and culture that puts the responsibility onto the victim and essentially puts him or her on trial, we don’t need to take rape any less seriously than we already do.
I think there’s an important difference between rape jokes and casual use of rape to talk about things that are not rape. Rape jokes serve a purpose–they can be a coping tool, they can speak truth about our rape culture in unique ways, and when done right, they’re funny. Rape jokes don’t normalize rape–they should skewer rapists and are sometimes better vehicles for getting difficult points across. Likening a sports team’s epic loss to rape doesn’t do anything except take rape down a couple notches in our cultural vocabulary.
TMZ didn’t rape anybody. They didn’t scream “WE LOVE RAPE” or “RAPE REALLY ISN’T THAT BAD” on their front page. But they did contribute to a larger issue of equating rape with minor life inconveniences, like that extremely uncomfortable moment when your dog gets all up on a stranger’s labrador.