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.)