The problem with “penetration”

I’d like to present a thought experiment. The state requires a mandatory penile exam. Is it rape?

To those who call the mandatory ultrasound bill rape but would not consider the above situation rape, ask yourselves why.

I’m not trying to tell you whether or not the ultrasound bill should be considered rape. But if it is, the above situation should be considered the same.

If we view male and female bodies as equally vulnerable and powerful, then the way we define rape should be inclusive. Despite liberals’ general approval of the revised FBI definition, inclusive it is not.

The government’s definition of rape is basically unwanted penetration. So how can the approximately 1 in 20 men who report having been “forced to penetrate” someone (as reported in the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey) define their experience without sounding as if they played an active role? Why isn’t there a word we can use for when a woman rapes a man?

Because there is no active word for when a woman has sex with a man.

Because we think a function belonging to the supposedly passive hole of the vagina could not possibly be strong enough to cause harm.

Because she is always put in the passive voice. She gets penetrated. He penetrates.

Penetrate (verb) : “succeed in forcing a way into or through (a thing)” – courtesy of my macbook’s dictionary function

If we thought of women as active, our words for sex would be very different. We would have a verb that allows the woman to be the subject of a sentence, not just an object. We would say engulf or envelop and they wouldn’t sound ridiculous.

And that is why I use these words. Because then maybe one day they won’t.


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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