Some years ago Tal Nitzan, a sociology student at Hebrew University and an ardent anti-Zionist, used her Master’s thesis to explore how Israel’s “racist” soldiers use rape as a weapon of terror and intimidation. There was only one problem. Once she began her research, she could not find a single documented case of rape by an Israel Defence Forces soldier of a Palestinian woman.
Undeterred, Nitzan simply turned her original thesis upside down and came to the exact same conclusion: the soldiers were still racist and still bent on humiliating Palestinian women — by refusing to rape them. Nitzan wrote: “The lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences — just as organized military rape would have done.”
It sounds silly, I know, but her thesis won a departmental prize. And I could not help but think of Nitzan’s non-rape-as-rape theory when I read Ashley Csanady’s indictment of American vice-president Mike Pence as a representative of “rape culture.”
I suppose by the same token, members of Alcoholics Anonymous are representative of “booze culture” when they avoid places and situations where they might suffer a relapse. Perhaps, if they weren’t primitive bigots, they’d just exercise some self-control and stop after the first drink.
Words have meaning. A term like rape culture — a concept I have criticized, in its common application in North America — also has a clear, generally understood meaning. Torturing definitions to suit a flimsy thesis deprives words and descriptive terms of not just their power but that very meaning. If “rape culture” can mean literally the exact opposite of non-consensual sex, or extreme fidelity to one’s spouse, then it means nothing. Not exactly what a real rape victim wants to read.