Thanks to my eldest niece, Oeuf 1, I have become familiar with the writings of Rupi Kaur. A Canadian feminist poet, writer, and spoken word artist (according to good old Wiki) she is an "Instapoet" due to her brilliant use of Instagram as the primary platform on which to showcase her writing.
Her first book was published in 2015. A book of poetry and prose, 'Milk and Honey' deals with the themes of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.
I love Rupi Kaur and think Milk and Honey is full of insight, truth, pain and empowerment. I relate to her even though she is twenty years my junior, and I respect her all the more for that. Oeuf 1 is also a big fan, in fact her current FB cover pic is a Rupi verse "How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you". Considering how much we all love Oeuf 1, I really hope this is true.
So let's say that, in general, Rupi and I are pretty much always on the same page, but then I came across this:
Sex takes the consent of two
If one person is lying there not doing anything
Cause they are not ready
Or not in the mood
Or simply don't want to
Yet the other is having sex
With their body it's not love
It is rape.
Now I hear you sighing and wearily asking "Really Bouche, do you have NOTHING better to do? Do you teach English literature and are therefore required to analyse everything within an inch of its life?" The answer to both questions is of course – no.
The thing is though, that this particular nugget of Rupi insight worried me. See my problem with it, is that I don't know if not being in the mood or 'simply' (not violently or definitely) not wanting to, really is rape. Now, you can go ahead and shoot me, but hear me out first.
This is an entirely subjective view but I don't think there is a woman alive, married or even in a long term relationship who has at some point (or perhaps at many) just agreed to sex because it was more convenient than refusing it would be. And I am pretty sure that none of us would call that rape.
Who hasn't just 'gone along' with sex because that was easier than arguing about it? Or because we felt sorry for the person involved? Or because we didn't want to be disobliging and it wasn't our partners' 'fault' that we weren't into it? Or because we love them and would 'normally' be into it so what does it matter if we just play along?
Will we tell our friends we were raped? Don't be absurd! We may say that it's crazy how our sexual clocks so rarely synchronize but anything more than that? No.
And what about the times when we have said we aren't in the mood only to be met with "Give me ten minutes to change your mind"? Fifteen minutes later we still don't want to, but hey, you don't want to completely de-motivate your partner do you? Because what good will that do when you ARE (eventually/finally) in the mood?
And if we call all those times rape are we saying that we are the same as those women who are dragged screaming down dark alley ways, brutalized by their partners or drugged and abused with no memory of who hurt them?
Now, let me be clear. I don't think that women should ever have to agree to sex that they don't want, under any circumstances. A woman should always, always be free to refuse and have her refusal respectfully treated. No moods, no grumpiness, no consequences, and certainly no violence and revenge.
BUT in the day to day of lying there and 'thinking of England' (or more likely how we must remind the gardener about repotting that fern or how on earth are we going to meet that wretched deadline at work or how are we going to manage getting the kids to two different birthday parties across the town from each other), are we being raped?
Now I know you are thinking, "We never said that Bouche! Rupi Kaur said that". But my question is – do you agree with her?
I suppose my reaction to the Rupa Kaur verse was exacerbated by this Ted talk https://www.ted.com/talks/thordis_elva_tom_stranger_our_story_of_rape_and_reconciliation If you haven't watched this then please do. I don't know how you felt or will feel, but I just wanted to throw up. That was my absolute visceral reaction – nausea and disbelief.
Many people are lauding this couple for what they have achieved. Forgiveness, reconciliation, closure, all neatly tied up with a co presented ted talk and a co authored book.
And yes, it is extraordinary. Something I wouldn't have thought possible. The problem is I can't make myself think that it represents a step forward.
I understand that the only way forward sometimes is through forgiveness. If we don't forgive then we don't move on. We can't move on. And move on we must or see our lives stunted forever. And yet, aren't there some things that can never be forgiven?
The worst thing to me is that the only reason Thordis and Tom have been able to reach this level is because Tom responded the way he did, and admitted that he had raped her. I don't know enough to offer a percentage but I am guessing that most rapists wouldn't do this. I am willing to bet in fact that if taxed years later about it, most will resort to something along the lines of "You crazy b*tch you loved it" ie She was moving around so she was into it. She didn't fight me so she was into it. She asked me to use a condom so she was into it.
Yeah, haven't we heard all that before?
So Tom in the end deserves praise, for being one of the few out there who had what it took to admit what he did. So we must congratulate a rapist, someone who violated his 16 year old, drunk girl friend, who thought of him as her 'first love'. We must view this man as unique.
Thanks to Thordis and Tom forgiveness seems to be the order of the day. What's the point of punishing already broken people, let's forgive them instead, that will rehabilitate them and it will heal all of us. Forgive your rapist. That's the only way to your salvation, and his.
I don't want my nieces to see that Ted talk. I don't want them to have the idea that if a man violates them, they should have forgiveness as their ultimate goal. The thought makes me want to smash things.
Thordis and Tom are careful to say that this solution has worked for them and that they are not suggesting that it is the universal answer. Yet the impact they have had is undeniable.
I send the link to their Ted talk to the main men in my life.
Trou (my son) texted back "Watched this with Musical Girl. She said that she thinks Thordis is brave and that she would like to think she could do what Thordis did. I said if I ever did what Tom did I hope she will find a gun and shoot me"
Foie Gras (ex husband) responded with typical cynicism "Ted talk and a book deal? Glad they found a way to make money from all that".
The Man (well, it should be obvious who he is) was equally brief "I find it difficult to accept that rape is forgivable. Maybe for them. Never for me".
Somewhere in that talk Tom said he felt entitled to Thordis' body. When did love come to equal entitlement? But then again, isn't that what always happens the moment a relationship becomes long term or serious or committed? We feel entitled to things. Sex is certainly one of them.
Which brings me back full circle to what Rupi Kaur wrote.
So, here I am with my questions – what defines rape? Should there be limits on forgiveness? And are the answers to these questions so subjective that we will never all be able to agree? And if we can't agree, without a baseline on which to operate, how can we ever hope to progress?