If you’ve been reading the internet at all in the past 24 hours, you’ve heard that Rep Todd Akin, Republican candidate for Missouri’s Senate seat (running against Tea & Strumpets favorite, Claire McCaskill) spent his Sunday morning saying terrible and offensive things on TV. In case you missed it, he told an interviewer:
First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
There are so many terrible things in these two sentences that it’s not surprising that the internet exploded in response. First, there’s the complete ignorance about basic biology, said with total confidence. And this is an individual who wants to pass actual laws based on this ignorance. Oh, did I mention that he is a member of the House Science Committee?
Then there is the idea that ‘legitimate’ would ever be paired with ‘rape,’ implying that there are all these times when a woman cries rape, but she’s actually just bored of watching sheep all day. Of course, in there is the suggestion that if a woman does get pregnant from rape, she must have somehow wanted it. Even typing that makes me uncomfortable.
It’s worth noting, that what Akin called “legitimate rape” has also been called “forcible rape,” by none other than Republican darling, Paul Ryan. In fact, here’s a rage-inducing list of all the times male politicians have tried to make distinctions about rape. At the heart of Akin’s comment is a very tired idea about what kind of women get raped. Amanda Marcotte, of Salon, speaks eloquently of this prevalent idea, which she calls the “lying slut narrative”:
The illogic of the lying slut narrative hasn’t done much at all to prevent it from becoming a major and often dominant narrative around pretty much every rape case that makes national news: Julian Assange, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Roman Polanski, any athlete accused of rape. Outside of Jerry Sandusky, who made the mistake of targeting young boys, the accuser in a rape case is swiftly accused of consenting to the encounter and then, instead of just pretending it never happened, calling the police to sign up for a chance to have her reputation dragged through the mud.
This is important. Akin is not dangerous because he’s some radical outlier. His danger is not even limited to the fact that his ideas are indicative of how the Republican party treats women’s rights. He is dangerous because he’s voicing, if inelegantly, something that pervades how we, as a culture, address women’s bodies, sexuality, and notions of consent. The victim, in this lying slut paradigm, is always suspect.
Akin’s views are awful, and I’m pleased that he’s getting this much attention. Obama delivered a particularly succinct statement today:
The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape…What I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making decisions on behalf of women.
It warms my feminist heart to hear the President of the United States making statements that would be welcome in a women’s studies classroom. I’m pleased the Democrats seem to have realized that American women actually vote and that we care about our rights. I’m not naive enough to think that this is because they woke up on the morally-just side of the bed. Somewhere along the way they realized that there’s a strategic advantage to be had here, and whatever number crunching may have lead to that realization, I’m happy with the results: Democrats are (finally) standing up to the anti-abortion insanity.
For their part, Republicans can’t run fast enough or shout loud enough to get away from any Akin-association, condemning his remarks and calling for his resignation. Call me cynical, but I don’t know that this is motivated by a genuine surprise and anger over Akin’s offensive ignorance and misogyny; the multiple ties between Ryan and Akin might have something to do with the panic. The swift condemnation, from both sides of the aisle, tells us something important, though. Americans are really angry about this, and politicians are responding to–and are afraid of–that outrage.
Outrage is good, and I’m definitely angry. But let’s not set up Akin as a uniquely awful problem, because then we run the risk of failing to address the deeper problems that allow someone like Akin (and his supporters and apologists) to sit so comfortably in positions of power. Let’s not run Akin out of town, pat ourselves on the back for a job well-done, and resume routine slut-shaming and victim blaming. Let’s get really angry at rape culture, run Akin out of town, and stay angry about rape culture.