Friday night I watched Bill Maher and his panel discuss the hullabaloo over Representative Todd Akin’s recent controversial comments, and—having felt upset by them all week—I posted a Maher quote on my Facebook wall: “Here’s the only thing you need to know about Todd Akin and human anatomy: He’s an asshole.” At the time it expressed my likewise feelings, which I hadn’t yet felt fully able to express. Saturday morning, I read a response someone had posted; it made me realize that maybe there are too many people who don’t understand why Akin hit us so hard.
“does this ever get tired? a crazy person said a crazy thing, and it changes nothing in your electoral race, yet out of all the many issues facing your nation, all i read about is nutface and his crazy rape comments…”
Clearly you’ve never been raped, my friend.
This is more than just a crazy person saying a crazy thing. This is a crazy person saying a crazy thing that reached out and slapped us so hard in the face, we cannot abide its implications.
Rape is a stigma that can’t ever be erased. The memory of it sits in the back of your brain like a little time bomb, waiting to go off at any moment—you never really know when. You could be watching a movie when something triggers it, see a color, smell a scent, hear a noise, or be positively glowing with happiness in your lover’s arms and whammo—there’s your attacker’s face in your head. Or something he said echoes in your brain. Or you are suddenly gripped with a feeling of utter helplessness. And that’s it, you’re stuck back in that moment until you can find a way to trigger the brainwash fluid and turn on the wipers full force, so the flood of memories will stop and you can feel the sunshine on your face again. You do everything you can to stamp down the brain dirt back over the hole where the memory escaped; you jump up and down, pack it with the back of a spade to be sure it’s buried. But it will escape again, it always does.
Rape is the crime that (unimaginably) leaves everyone asking, “Did she (I) do something (to provoke it)? Could she (I) have done something (to get away)? Was it her (my) fault?” Rape is the thing where, when you go to report it, you instinctively feel shame. You don’t even know why, but you do. Maybe it’s because in some cases, when you do overcome your fear and your shame to make yourself tell someone what happened, the first question you’re asked is “Are you sure?”
“I’m sorry, what did you just say?”
“Are you sure?”
And what he’s thinking but not saying to your face is: Because there you are and you don’t look to be beaten or injured, no blood is running down your face, you have no ripped clothing, and the person you’re accusing is—you know—an upstanding citizen, or a nice guy. I mean, is this rape even LEGITIMATE?
By definition, rape is penetration without consent. If you drug someone and have sex with her without her consent, that is rape. If someone is asleep, passed out or drunk and you have sex with her without her consent, that is rape. If you intimidate, threaten or otherwise place someone under duress to have sex with her, that is rape. If she says “No,” and you have sex with her, that is rape.
Never mind the lunacy that is Todd Akin’s idea of how pregnancy can or cannot occur, the crux of his offensiveness lies in this idea that there are legitimate—and therefore illegitimate—rapes. The ire women feel is over the inkling that some outsider should qualify her rape. The fear and disgust is because women know that conservative groups around the country are already hard at work to take away control of our own bodies, and Akin’s comments almost take that to another level. Now you’re going to tell me that this man sticking his penis into my vagina without my permission has to be validated? By whom? By what? Is there a machine? Will there be a panel of crusty, middle aged men to tell me if I’ve truly been violated? Will there be a measured insertion point? Must I be beaten to a pulp? When will my rape finally be complete?
While some may write off Akin’s comments as the ravings of “one crazy man,” in light of Mitt Romney’s abortion policy (as opposed to the Republican party’s platform), rape—and its definition—could become a linchpin of women’s rights. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, who will decide on the official meaning of rape? Will Romney appoint a rape legitimization panel, or will conservatives push him to add terminology such as “forcible” to manipulate women into the tiniest corner? Who will these decision making men be? Will they ever have been raped, ever gotten pregnant, ever felt morning sickness, ever carried a child in their bodies for nine months, ever have gone through labor or birthed a child? Can we afford to continue letting politicians impose their religious morality upon what is supposed to be a secular nation?
Paul Ryan has already voted to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and he co-sponsored a bill that would have limited funding abortions to victims of “forcible rape.” He sponsored a personhood bill that would have required a woman to have an ultrasound and view her fetus before being allowed to have an abortion. Romney has stated that he would “Eliminate Title X family planning programs benefiting abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.” Ryan’s budget proposal would overhaul Medicaid, reducing funding by $810 billion over the next ten years and instead giving states fixed federal grants. This would allow state legislators to choose what costs are covered and if Ryan’s home state is any indication, family planning agencies can look forward to shutting down.
It is imperative to pay attention this election cycle, to read between the lines and to understand what the candidates’ goals are. We can’t afford to ignore Akin’s comments, nor the people who furnished the basis of his ideas, and their connection to those on the presidential ticket. Romney has clearly laid out his plan.
“I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine. Roe was a misguided ruling that was a result of a small group of activist federal judges legislating from the bench.
I support the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortions. And as president, I will support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood, which primarily performs abortions or offers abortion-related services. ..”