Right, so, The NYT has an article on how DNA analysis is helping African-Americans learn about their family history. The author’s grasp on the English language seems to slip away from them at one point (originally two), though. Exhibit A:
Buried in DNA, the researchers found the marks of slavery’s cruelties, including further evidence that white slave owners routinely fathered children with women held as slaves.
MmmmmmOK. This one was changed in an update! Because it sucked before:
The researchers observed that the X chromosome of African-Americans has a greater African ancestry than other chromosomes. Dr. Gravel and his colleagues believe this variation is explained by European men and African women producing children — in other words, slave owners raping the women they held captive.
Thanks for explaining what happens when a rape victim and her rapist “produce children”! Because rape is totally the exact actual word we should use when someone coerces someone else into having sex with him against her will. That might be mebbe by, like, standing right over the person with an axe handle, or else could be something more like keeping your own children enslaved in America so that she couldn’t escape you in France (coughJeffersoncough).
Now, I do understand that people have a general unwillingness to say things like, “noted statesman and confirmed serial rapist Thomas Jefferson exercised extraordinary taste in designing his home.” It just…it just sounds real, real bad. But when talking about slaveowners generally, what is with the “fathered children” thing? Or, let’s grant that people are reluctant even to say that about such a huge number of white citizens often thought to be morally adequate in some vague way as a class (I’m not really seeing it, but, eh.). Nonetheless, even when it comes to the most universally loathed men in the world, like Josef Fritzl, I have noticed a strong inclination for writers to say that someone “fathered children with” their rape victim. At the time of the case, particularly, I found it disturbing to read these words so many times: “fathered children.”
John’s hypothesis was that, to some degree, the rapine part of slavery is baked into the enslavement, with the result that further rape doesn’t seem like the most salient thing? (He was not looking for weird justifications for this abuse of language, just speculating.) About abductors…mmm…same, sort of? Like, the kidnapping is the part where volition goes out the window, and then all further activities are assumed to be unwilling and there’s therefore no need to specifically say raped many times afterward? But I don’t hear it that way. Quite the opposite. Rather, it seems as if people think you can only be raped so many times before…something other than rape is taking place? Or, perhaps, the “was she kicking and screaming” element that is meant to pick out rape rape infects the way people discuss rapes that don’t involve physical violence every single time?
I can easily imagine a lived complexity in which Sally Hemings had some power in her relationship with Thomas Jefferson, emotional power or even sexual power of a kind. But this is something for a novelist to talk about—a journalist or historian needs to say “raped” again even for the 200th instance of forced sexual relations. And “fathered” is just weird and messed-up sounding, redolent of horse-breeding. I do feel things have improved in the last five years. I notice it particularly in reading sites like the (nominally?) feminist Jezebel—commenters will always correct quoted articles of this kind to include the word rape, and I do feel people notice.
“Buried in DNA, the researchers found concrete evidence of slavery’s cruelties, including the fact that enslaved women often became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by their white masters.” Is that even any harder to say, or is it just more unpleasant to read? Thoughts?