Televising the Language of Sexual Aggression 

Years ago I believed the cotton-candy fiction that it was enough for incest survivors, child abuse victims, and rape victims to just tell someone your story.

After 8 years of practicing this advice on behalf of the victims of intimate crime, I can say it is not enough.

If you tell your story, you will be marginalized, ostracized, judged.

If you tell your story, little or nothing will happen to your abuser.

If you tell your story, you still might not be able to stop the abuse…

…ostensibly because it is more fiscally and emotionally economical to ignore abuse than to intervene.

Which is why the recent statements made by American celebrities Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher (about oral sex and incest respectively) are all the more transgressive.

In making these comments both men display a complete disregard for the position of  sex crime survivors and perpetuate the connection between anger and rape culture. 

Many of us were denied consent in this process. We did not watch either show but were nonetheless exposed without  consent to the barrage of media with explicit descriptions of comments laced with both anger and intent to shock and offend.

Shock is a function of trauma.  Our minds buffer traumatic events with shock. When we cease to be shocked by what is trauma-inducing, we allow these things to become commonplace, accepted.

Yet it is categorically unacceptable for men  of power and privilege to use their position in front of a national audience to transmit language that is verbally abusive and supportive of rape culture.

I understand that both Colbert and Maher disqualified protective language they would have extended to Clinton or Obama (and their daughters) because anger now fuels their discourse on Trump.

However in the process they have exposed a frat-boy, locker room mentality which not only has no place in intelligent dissent, it automatically signals to the already marginalized and disenfranchised victim of sexual crime-“you are not safe here.”

And that is shocking…or it should be.

Occam’s Holster

I am pretty sure oral sex has been a topic of word-slinging for thousands of years.

In order to write this I inventoried some of the times when it seems to have risen to the point of national political upheaval, and some examples emerged fast-

  • The Washington Post editor who chose to nickname the Watergate informant Deep Throat after a disturbingly famous film of the same name.
  • The lopsided “affair” between a young intern and William Jefferson Clinton.
  • Recent, renewed accusations against the mayor of Seattle concerning the sexual abuse of at-risk teenagers who are now fully articulate adult men….

Just to name a few.

Which raises some thorny questions.

Would Colbert have said the victim of the Oval Office hook-up was a holster for a member?  Would he have said the same about Bill’s spouse?  Or other world leaders?

I doubt it.

I admit that I simply won’t google whether the term Mr. Colbert used for oral sex was cobbled together by him or whether it was a lexical entity prior to all of this.

I kinda don’t want to know.

But what I do want to know is whether anyone has discussed all the linguistic implications of what Colbert said.

What we know from context is-

  • He was angry
  • He was not afraid to drag sign language users, primates, and concussion victims into the list of insults
  • Context clues as well as the purely derogatory “only thing good for” component of the reference to oral sex suggests non-consensual sexual contact more than a relationship of mutual affection between consenting adults

“Non-consensual” at least for those of us who had to read it in the morning paper.

Which is why I write.  I don’t have a problem with Colbert expressing his anger toward the President or disagreeing with him.  I have a problem with Colbert’s utter and complete insensitivity to countless sexual assault survivors of all ages and genders who have ever been forced into what Colbert describes…as a joke?

He doesn’t seem to have considered how his obscene and dehumanizing language about a power-uneven and sometimes non-consensual sex act might sound to any rape or sexual abuse survivor.

That, coupled with earlier sexually and racially charged terms for Asian Americans suggests Colbert may share the very same white-man-locker-room entitlement he claims to abhor in the President.

There are clearly many ways to perpetuate a rape-tolerant ethos. I just wish Colbert hadn’t shown us how.