Cynical Soapbox: That “Rape” Thing

I’m a little hazy on this whole “legitimate/not legitimate rape” discussion.

I know this current dialogue has been going on for weeks and folks are probably a little tired of it by now.  But I’ve been turning this over and over in my head and I can’t stop thinking about it.  This is serious, folks, and ought not be forgotten about in the onslaught of the 24-hour news and social media cycle.

You see, just because Rep. Todd Akin, who famously said that women’s bodies have the means to shut down their baby-making potential when in the throes of a “legitimate” rape, is no longer in the forefront of the news doesn’t mean he has ceased to exist.  And public backlash may have caused Akin to claim he made a “misstatement“, but that doesn’t mean he thinks he misspoke at all.  It only means he’s sorry he said what he actually believes, out loud.

Let me take a moment to clarify. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I say you were 8?  What was I thinking?  I know you’re 9,” is a misstatement.  “I meant to say she went to Woodbridge High School, not Wood Ridge High School,” is a missatement.  “He had an appendectomy, not apoplexy, my mistake!” is a misstatement.  But “That sex you were forced to have was not legitimately rape,” is not a knee-slapping, aw-shucks misstatement.  It is a vile denigration of personhood and a reduction of the victim to a passive fuckhole who has no right to decide what is OK to do with her own body.  In the interests of full consideration, Akin and co. aren’t actively discussing male rape, since there’s no threat of pregnancy that can come about from that.  My guess is that he can’t even wrap his caveman brain around that question and can barely accept it as a real problem.  But as he hasn’t uttered a peep about male rape and the conversation has circled around rape and abortion, I’m going to focus on violence against women.

So much of the history of this sort of revolting attitude, I think, lies in the firmly entrenched notion in American society that women–and it pains me to say it this way–are indeed beholden to the decisions of men.  For those of you who don’t recognize the prevalence of male privilege, ask yourself: when was the last time the fear of sexual violation dictated where you walked?  Where you went at night?  What clothes you wore?  We don’t expect our rights to be bestowed upon us intact and by virtue of our existence; we ask for them, fight for them, and watch as they get bandied about like pawns in a chess game.  Yes, I know it’s worse in other places, but so?  That doesn’t make negating my rights OK.  And we’re inured to the idea that this is the way it is.  One of the saddest bits of commentary–and one of the ones that really got me thinking–was on a friend’s Facebook wall, in response to an article posted about Akin’s “legitmate rape” comment.  The commenter said, “I’m not even sure if I know what they mean when they say “rape“.  Apparently, everything that happened to me in junior high was rape.”

Apparently…yes it was, if that’s what you conclude thanks to the meaning imbued in the word.  Welcome to the heart of the problem.

So this woman, a fully adult woman, has been sexually taken advantage of since she was…what, 12, 13 years old?  And considers it normal.  “She was wearing revealing clothing, she was asking for it” is all too shamefully often a normalized and acceptable defense.  And Akin’s views are informed by an argument based off of old Nazi experimentation and he gets elected to office.  I am mortified.  Now the question of rape has been tied to the incidence of conception, which winkingly implies that if there IS a pregnancy that comes about as a result of rape, then it wasn’t really rape; she secretly wanted it.

Former Saturday Night Live comedienne turned professional twit Victoria Jackson recently attended the Republican National Convention and defended Akin and his stance, saying, “How many times do people get pregnant from rape? It’s point zero zero one percent…If I got raped, I would have the baby. And if I didn’t want to keep it because I had these [mocking tone] horrible nightmares, I would adopt it out. But I think that God can turn a bad thing into a good thing. And that, if I got raped and a beautiful baby who was innocent was born out of it, that would be a blessing.”

So. It’s a blessing. I suppose that’s one way of looking at it, once you got beyond the trauma and agony and fear of STDs and humiliation of filling out a police report.  Paul Ryan, Vice Presidential candidate, when asked about a woman’s right to an abortion as the result of rape, said “I’m very proud of my pro-life record; the means of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.”  Uh, OK. So yes, it’s a means of conception for sure (though an infrequent one, according to the likes of Rep. Akin and Victoria Jackson) and also the most debased means possible.  It would sort of be like saying patricide is just a means to accessing your inheritance.  Which, let’s face it, is also true, especially if the system is designed to think, “Well, Dad did have all that money, so he was sort of asking for it.”

For real, I totally could have gotten the Menendez brothers exonerated with that argument.

And really, conception by rape is not all that infrequent.  Studies show there are roughly 32,000 rape-induced pregnancies per year.  That’s pretty significant, especially when you consider that there are something like 19,000 incidences of salmonella each year.  Rape?  Salmonella?  How does that compare?

Everybody is aware and concerned about the public health concerns that surround salmonella, to the point where people are nearly ready to don hazmat suits before cutting into a piece of raw chicken.  Everybody knows about the 714 illnesses that resulted from tainted peanut butter in 2008 (make that 715; I had a bout with it as well, but once I realized what was going on I was already on the mend and so didn’t go to the doctor).  Everybody is aware that when there’s a food recall, they should take it seriously, and that’s true.  But I don’t see any official documents about pregnancy and rape coming down from the CDC.  I don’t see a rape-alert app.  I don’t see any Johnson & Johnson ad campaigns advocating against rape.  I don’t see any Lysol 30-second TV spots selling me a product by which I can wipe down my counters to prevent rape.  What I do see are the political forces that impact my life, and the lives of my 157,000,000 American sisters, determined to make me feel bad for having a body that can make a baby, and expecting me to resign said body to the forces that be.

Did you ever see the movie Pleasantville?  (If you haven’t, then what are you waiting for?)  Towards the end of the movie, David (Tobey Maguire) and Bill (Jeff Daniels) are in court because they painted a mural in non-acceptable colors.  Bill, the mild-mannered soda shop owner who just wants to please everyone, says:

Maybe if I painted something different.  Or maybe I could use less colors or something.  Or, you know, certain colors.  Or maybe I could–you could pick out the colors beforehand and then they wouldn’t bother anybody.

Pretend he’s a woman.  Pretend he says, “Maybe if I wore something different.  Or maybe I wore less makeup, or, you know, only neutrals.  Or maybe I could–you could pick out my clothes beforehand and then I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.”

That’s what it’s like.  That’s what we’re expected to adhere to.  And we can’t let this mentality perpetuate.  Women, you know what rape is, and you don’t need a political party to define it.  Don’t accept it.  We can’t stand by and let our bodies and rights be further commodified for political chicanery.  This current public dialogue is tantamount to the medieval test for witchcraft: Tie her up and throw her in the lake; if she drowns, she was raped and if she’s pregnant, she lied.  There’s no amount of WTFery that can explain this logic.  Paul Ryan can’t even tolerate protesters violating the space at one of his town hall meetings; he had them thrown out, even arrested, for their interference.  One can only wonder what he’d feel like if those people–who came unbidden into his space–shoved their way into his babyhole.  Figuratively speaking, of course.

Men: do yourselves a tremendous favor and fight like hell against “She was asking for it/wearing provocative clothing/dancing suggestively/running naked through the yard” as a tacit excuse for rape.  It makes you all sound like you’re, at your most elemental level, rapists, and can only barely control your impulses.  You’re better than that.  I know you are.

I’m not concluding because this is far from over, but for the time being, I will leave you with some Samantha Bee.

(One of these days I’ll learn simple html and figure out how to embed video like this.  For now, just click on the link and go to the website, for Samantha Bee is awesome.)

13 responses to Cynical Soapbox: That “Rape” Thing

  1. Notes From The Backseat

    I don’t like what Akin said, just as any woman with a pulse would. However, I have been raped, I have been in the situation where a pregnancy test was needed afterwards. Honestly, I would have kept MY child, I would have fought hard for MY child. The hardest part of this discussion is that most see the pregnancy as the “child of a rapist”. That baby is also a “child of a victim” and a victim itself. I’m firmly pro-life, but I accept that rape/incest is a case where each woman needs to decide what’s best for her stability. She’s no good to her child if she’s become broken. She’s no good to herself if she becomes broken. She needs to do what’s best for herself and her life. If that means giving the child up for adoption, raising it herself, or aborting the pregnancy, I don’t judge her for it. It takes a strong woman to go through a procedure like that and an even stronger one after a rape. My heart goes out to all the hurting women out there. It’s not a good place to be.


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      I’m so sorry to learn you’ve been through that, and profoundly admire your objective consideration. I do see the point that the child would also belong to the victim, but as you say, the option to take care of yourself as you best see fit should be preserved, not bargained off. I would argue equally as strongly if someone were to tell you you HAD TO abort. It breaks my heart to see how much interest is expressed in what happens in a woman’s uterus and so little concern is expressed over things like her general health, well-being, education, protection from domestic abuse, need for child care, etc. We need to become more people-oriented as a whole, since like it or not we’re all in this together. Best wishes to you and thank you for your comment.


  2. I hate when ‘Men,’ think they can talk for women!! I too have been raped, did not want to be raped or asked to be raped. I did not even want to have children, especially a child that was not created out of Love. Rape is NOT love! Rape is about control and to keep the woman in fear. I was given the morning after pill twice and still ended up pregnant. I was not emotionally stable to be a mother or to even take care of myself at that time. I did have the child and did give it to a loving family who could not have children. I do not regret that decision at all. Did I want to bring this child into the world knowing how it was created? NO! I did because it was too late to have an abortion, by time I realized I was pregnant. I was not sexually active….I was an obese woman in my 30’s trying to put my life together after reliving Childhood abuse and incest.
    I agree with “Notes From The Backseat”–” I accept that rape/incest is a case where each woman needs to decide what’s best for her stability. She’s no good to her child if she’s become broken. She’s no good to herself if she becomes broken. She needs to do what’s best for herself and her life.” Don’t Judge her! Support her decisions! Thank you for your post. I think this needed to be brought up to be discussed. I will continue to follow 🙂


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Let me first commend you for being willing to talk openly about your experiences. I’m so sorry to hear it, and I read some of your blog…your experiences must have been terrible. And because of experiences like yours, and Notes from the Backseat, and 90,000 other women who report about rape annually (nevermind the countless others who don’t), I think it’s so important to keep this conversation open and relevant. Women need to support each other and expect–demand–the rights we are supposed to be afforded, without consideration of gender, or choice of clothing, or any other variable. Thank you for your comment, and I do want to hear more from you.


  3. Thank you and Notes from the Backseat and Danajoward for speaking up about this. I know there are many more reading this, selecting not to comment. Rather than read, nod my head in agreement and silently say, “You tell em, sister!” I selected to add my 2 cents.
    IMHO it is a fallacy to equate rape solely with sex. That is the minor player in the motivation. Domination, power, ego, “put someone in their place”, denigration, destruction is the stronger motivator. It is standard operating procedure in war exactly because it embodies surrender and disgrace to a conquered group of people. Even in a loving marriage, it is about dominance. Not sex. And certainly not love.


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not about sex, it’s about control. Or power. Or rage. Or powerlessness. Or virility. But it’s not because you want to bump uglies with someone who’s just not that into you, though that may be a trigger event. It’s so frustrating that EVERY DAY as a woman you have to take into consideration where you go, who you trust, how you behave, and so on, partly to ward against sexual attack. Even without the threat of war and conquer, it informs so many decisions women make on a daily basis, and that dynamic is often, profoundly, not recognized at all.


  4. jp

    **slow, steady, applause** And thanks to the survivors for telling your stories. Your courage and compassion breaks my heart.


  5. jp

    Well, at least one of Akin’s Buddies in Ignorance has his back:

    **Rep. Steve King, one of the most staunchly conservative members of the House, was one of the few Republicans who did not strongly condemn Rep. Todd Akin Monday for his remarks regarding pregnancy and rape. King also signaled why — he might agree with parts of Akin’s assertion.

    King told an Iowa reporter he’s never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.

    “Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”**

    That’s [in this case male] privilege personified: I’ve never heard of it, it hasn’t affected me, so it must not exist!

    (Goes away to bang head on desk for awhile)


  6. Amber

    Well said, Sis. The patricide argument was brilliant. Last I heard from my rape advocate friend, only about 30% of rapes are reported to authorities. This attempt to “qualify” rape is appalling. Do these people not have mothers? Sisters? Daughters? Female friends? The lack of compassion and empathy is unbelievable.


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      I’m constantly astonished by the lack of empathy. Like, what? They know this is violent and deplorable behavior; why are they trying to gild the turd? I understand protecting your turf but when your turf is a cesspool, you have to let it go and move on.


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