I use Facebook quite a lot and recently came across a Facebook group against the use of the word 'Frape' - a portmanteau of 'Facebook' and 'rape' used to describe someone hacking into your account and posting as you.
I joined it.
This was a big moment for me. I'm evangelical and slightly nuts when it comes to free speech. And I believe anything is permissible if it's art (although that begs the larger question of who decides what is or isn't art. . . ). In an online discussion about classic novels recently, more than one person suggested that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita should receive far less critical attention because it's told from the point of view of a paedophile. I think Lolita is a msterpiece, a work of genius and it's one of my favourite books of all time. Yes, it's about a morally reprehensible monster. But it's a good book.
So if Nabokov is allowed to write about Humbert Humbert's desires, why shouldn't a teenage guy in Dublin be allowed to type 'DUDE TOTALLY FRAPED LMAO!!' on his friend's recently-hacked Facebook?
Well, he should be allowed to! Of course. It's a word, and we can't ban words. That's just daft.
But he should also know the implications behind it, and he's not going to know unless the people who find it offensive tell him. And then he can choose whether or not he wants to go on using the word. And I will salute his right to do so, although I won't like him for it and may make nasty gestures at the computer screen when I see it.
Paul wrote an excellent post recently on the challenges of writing about a multi-ethnic society while living in an almost mono-ethnic state. He said that he doesn't want his writing to do an injustice to other cultures. But how can Paul possibly know what every single ethnic group, nationality or tribal group in the world will find offensive?
He can't, of course. None of us can. So being open and non-crazy about what we find offensive is a way of helping everyone to learn more.
This post is my way of helping. No need to thank me guys, honestly, although I am partial to milk chocolate and peach schnapps.
I find the term 'frape' offensive. Here in the West, we live in a society where sexual assaults are not taken seriously by the judicial system, where the conviction rates for rape and sexual assault are criminally low, and where TV shows and movies continue to use rape as a plot device to denote love, or as a source of comedy (especially true of female-on-male rape).
Culturally, we dismiss sexual assault. And here in the West, folks, we have it easy compared to some countries.
If we lived in a society that treated rape as seriously as it should be treated, I don't think I would find the term 'frape' any more offensive than the phrase 'I could have killed her for taking my last pink teabag.' We take murder very seriously, so that phrase is not offensive. It is not an expression of an underlying hostility in our society. It's just another example of hyperbole, and if we took rape seriously, I would likely have no issue with the term 'frape.'
But 'frape' is just another way for us as a society to say 'Guess what? Sexual assault is funny! It's also comporable to someone playing a harmless prank!'
And the people I see using the term on Facebook are probably not bad people, and they're not necessarily people who would condone sexual assault (I'm qualifying those statements solely because I haven't met everyone who uses the term and surely some of them are bad people by the law of averages! But use of the term doesn't make them bad people). Perhaps they just don't see that it offends people.
Well, it does.
If you're going to use a word that people find offensive, make sure it's a conscious decision. I don't have to like that decision and no one has to like the words and ideas I choose to use, either. But if we unthinkingly use words that trivialise something serious, like rape, or if we use derogatory terms about people because they're 'funny', we send out a message that these issues and these people do not matter.
I don't believe that and I don't think most people I encounter on the internet do either.
Language is how we express our thoughts. If we use lazy and offensive terms without thinking, our language is expressing something we don't believe. Frankly, if someone has access to a computer and knows how to use a social network, they're smart enough to make sure that what's in their brain and what's on their Facebook page match.
My fear is that they already do. But that's another blog post and it makes me incredibly, incredibly sad.