In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge 2017) Susan Kavaler-Adler writes: It is not just the act of date rape we need to attend to. The male rapist defined his female victim before he raped her. She would have surrendered willingly, but then she would have been the “other,” not defined by him. Sherry had to be the Galatea to his Pygmalion before he entered her through persecutory assault. Sherry has to lose her own identity, in his eyes, before he would take her over physically. The man has to possess her mind and image before he possessed (rather than encountered) her body. After the act, tossing her away as a piece of garbage, he defines her further: “You won’t forget me! … I’m your first. But it will be so easy for me to forget you!” Of course he can forget her, because she didn’t exist as a “you.” He dressed her and defined her to make her a reflection of his narcissistic image of an Arab sex slave. Contriving her image is an intimate part of his impulse and act of rape.
How does this kind of male “take over” relate to the female reproductive freedom? The man not only legislates to control the female’s jurisdiction over her own body, but he must define her as well. The malignancy begins with the male definition of the female body. She is treated as Adam’s rib, not as an autonomous female “other,” as this is predominantly threatening to many men.
After the Rape: He Defines Her Again
Again Sherry’s rapist defines her, when after the rape he encounters Sherry at the same nightclub where they had originally met. He speaks loudly to his friends of his possession of her. She is to listen, as he raises his volume. He defines her in his malicious gossip — right in front of her — as “easy.” He spells out the tale of his “easy” virginal lay, exclaiming loudly so she can be sure to hear it: “That one’s easy! You should take her home. She’ll go with anyone!” Even as he speaks, his contemptuous voice is cold and rapacious, just as his phallus was brutal and cold. Both are trenchantly destructive (and “envious”) of Sherry’s sense of her own being. He creates a negative mirror, to reflect back at her, derisively defining her. After the vicious act, which culminates in forced anal intercourse, Sherry is forced to take off his contrived Arab girl outfit and to leave his apartment, shunned and humiliated. The man again defines her before she leaves. He defines her as the excluded and foreign “other,” in contrasting her to his girlfriend who is about to come home. This is a girlfriend from his own culture, who has also been defined by him. Sherry has no right to her own space in his space, his apartment, his mind. By contrast, the girlfriend is said to have a right there. For her this alien place is called home, even though she has just been betrayed there, and defined by her exclusion too. The girlfriend, who wears the Arab clothing full time, defined by all the men of his culture, can occupy a space in his space, in his apartment. Sherry must shed her contrived garb, which the man invited her into during the rape. Sherry is the “whore”, the “easy” lay, not the girlfriend. The rapist continues to define Sherry as he speaks to his male friends in the nightclub, weeks after the rape. He speaks in his own contrived “image self” outfit. He speaks in a male tone of manic grandiosity and triumph. All the men then gather to define the women. The woman’s greatest downfall is to be cast into the non-personhood role of a victim. This definition of her as the “other” and “victim” is then communally sanctioned by the male peer group.
Sherry continues to pursue her goal of becoming a writer, which to Sherry is the avenue to defining herself for herself; by giving vivid emotive voice to her experience in symbolic words. But even when words are supposedly the message, as in the writing group, other things can be going on in the tone and nuance, attitude, and arrogance of interpreting the other, when a group member or an analyst is intending to analyze and relate. The gross physical rape becomes a subtle verbal rape. The verbal behavior impacts through symbolic words, and the voice and the body are behind the words.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.