[Content Note: rape culture]
Ah, rape culture – alive and thriving. Not only is Julian Assange encouraged to continue his charade of “Who’s the bigger victim? Me (white, cis, het, popular dude who has been fighting being questioned in evil Sweden about the sexual assault and rape I might have committed for almost two years now, and who has been able to gain political asylum from a free-media-despising state after having lived in their embassy for two months to circumvent my impending extradition) or the CIA-honeytrap b*tches? See, that’s me waving from their balcony yesterday! Just ask millions of loyal followers who agree that this was just a dirty trick against my penis’ integrity, and even if it wasn’t, my penis is still more important than those honeytraps’ sensitivities, because it is attached to a white man, and I’ve done other things in the past and, therefore, could never commit a crime. Also, I’m amazing, like, whoa…”
Now people have to listen to U.S. Senate (Tea Party) candidate, Todd Akin from Missouri, and his very peculiar theories on rape, abortions and biology:
Yes, it is: Tea Party biology for comic relief. Except that it’s not funny, because people like Akin are not only granted a public forum to spew out their theories of misogynistic absurdity, but actually have a shot at gaining a seat in a legislative body that, with Roe v. Wade under ever increasing threat, can and will try short of everything to make access to abortion, birth control, women’s health care and support structures for rape survivors virtually impossible; thanks to this kind of reasoning.
Whereas people with a minimal understanding of human biology and basic common decency would agree that forced pregnancies and forced birth are anathema to women’s* human and civil rights, and that (further) legislating women’s* bodies to a point where every sense of bodily autonomy and integrity has vanished is a mere testimony to underlying currents of misogynistic impulses to (re)gain control over a specific part of the population, even the most hardcore right-winger usually backs down on forcing women* to give birth in the cases of rape, incest, or an immediate danger to a woman’s* life. Akin, however, represents a truly disturbing fraction of forced-birthers (…”pro life” – my ass) – that includes Sarah Palin, by the way – who think that a blastocyst trumps a woman’s life, bodily integrity, physical and emotional health, and right to be acknowledged as a full human being. Incidentally, this way of thinking goes hand in hand with a hate for everything of importance for women’s* health and an obsession with finding ways to talk yourself out of biological processes by simultaneously loading banalities of nature and aspects of developing life with existential meaning and aggressively ignoring others.
Akin takes the cake, however, by stating that, in the most dire circumstances (as doctors have allegedly told him), women’s bodies had the ability to “shut down” pregnancies. How exactly women* stop fertilization or nidation or meiosis, be it through chaste willpower or evil slut magic or by sucking your stomach in really hard, Akin does not explain. And how could he? It is biology for misogynistic assholes, who believe that women* are actually so dangerous and mysterious in terms of reproductive rights, at least, that no matter what you throw at them, they will still find a way to manipulate (…dammit). Here it works to everyone’s advantage, though, because if a rape survivor becomes pregnant after the sexual assault, it is actually her own fault. Not only has she already proven that her will power to fight off rape like a true lady (i.e., “legitimate rape”, as Akin calls it – more on that in a second) was just not high enough, she has now also failed to initiate the “pregnancy shut down” processes of true rape survivors, and must, therefore, have called her fate upon herself; and, in any case, does not deserve anything that right-wing assholes like him define as abortion (yes, that includes the morning-after-pill).
That Akin “misspoke” here and actually talked about “legitimate” (as in: righteous, justified) rape, speaks volumes. What he meant to say, apparently, was what right-wingers like him call “genuine” or “forcible” rape, thereby implying that there are kinds of rape (e.g., coercion, date rape, raping a person while that person cannot consent) that do not truly count. It is another piece of the mosaic of rape culture, and it fits well with anti-abortion stances and other forms of victim blaming: only rape that is accompanied with other physical assaults and that a rape survivor (unsuccessfully, but vigorously) tried to physically fend off is “true” rape; hence, we can continue to ignore that the vast majority of rapists are serial rapists who are very aware of the fact that they do not have consent and yet, consciously employ a variety of tactics to victimize people and do so repeatedly; and that it is never, ever, ever the responsibility of a victimized person, but of the rapist to, you know, not rape people. [Update: another recent article at High on Clichés is here].
In Akin’s world, however, where sex is something that is to be practised only in heterosexual marriages and women* seem to be short of men’s* property, only certain women* (and I bet you they are white) can be raped at all, and only by certain men*, and only in certain (“legitimate”) ways – everything else is fair game, apparently – or, as men’s rights activist [sic] Warren Farell once wrote in “The Myth of Male Power”: “We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting.” It is no coincidence that this is very reminiscent of what Assange’s defenders falsely state (and thus ridicule) to be his crimes, namely the myth of being prosecuted for a torn condom or downgrading potential rape to “sleepy sex.”
When, according to Akin’s standard, an actually “legitimate” rape of a chaste woman has occurred in a dark ally she could not avoid walking into after having been forced to be outside by herself in the dark without a male protector and despite wearing her full virgin-body-armor, he regretfully admits that there should be “some punishment” – but the punishment should be for the rapist (yay, he got that right). Interestingly, instead of asking himself what that might be, he immediately falls back on focusing his activism on the rape survivor and shaming her into sacrificing her body and health and trauma for his version of The Greater Good. Not only does he contradict himself here (since we had just learned that a uterus is capable of recognizing forcibly fertilized ovums and, subsequently, goes on strike, but now women* do get pregnant somehow anyway and should be forced to carry to term), it is the height of hypocrisy and a celebration of rape culture.
Instead of asking what both politicians and society at large might have to do to end rape culture, to fully recognize women* as actual human beings with actual human rights, to find adequate ways of preventing rape, to provide women with adequate health care, and to develop a support system for rape survivors, Akin shifts all the attention to a fertilized egg, and all the blame to the woman* hosting it. His version of biology might seem amusing, but it is actually in line with every element of rape culture one can think of, and he is speaking for a large proportion of not only the US, but the world’s general population, when he puts the responsibility of negotiating consent, unwanted pregnancies, forced births, transgressions and violations solely on the backs of women*, and rape survivors in particular. Only now it is not simply your own fault if you get raped, it is also your own fault if you get pregnant from being raped, and if you get pregnant, it is your duty to hold the existence of a fetus dearer than your own life and dignity.
This way of thinking, combined with the Republicans’ attack on access to contraceptives, the morning-after pill, women’s health care services and factual and accurate information on pregnancies, risks and rights, shows that it seems to be far from an exaggeration to talk about a war on women* in the US. And that war on women* has disproportionately negative effects on women* who are subjected to other structures of marginalization. Even if Akin is an extreme example of Tea Partiers, and if Tea Partiers are an extreme example of US Republicans, and if US Republicans are an extreme example of conservatives within a given society, their success lies in the calculated transgression of hard-won, formerly established boundaries of where the direct control and forced subordination of particular members of a society cannot be practiced without resistance, and in the sneaking make-belief that this attempt at (re-)restricting civil rights has actually always been that way (and people’s memories are short: the late 1970s, they were different in terms of abortion rights).
Both political and legislative actions and these numerous attempts at establishing hegemonic conversations about gender, race, class and other social structures do not only result in the direct, increasing number of restrictive legislation, but create a political climate where basic civil liberties are now presented as unattainable, and the smallest concessions staged as historic victories. Actually, this is a whole lot of history repeating. And while Akin needs to pick up a biology book, many others should have a quick look through the past 100 years. Civil rights backlash, it’s a thing. Despite the fact that those civil rights were never even achieved for all.
[Update]: In related news: Romney and Ryan’s distancing dance from Atkin’s statements is (…no surprises here…) complete BS, given that Ryan is one of the people whom some give praise for officially introducing the term “forcible rape” in regard to health care for women* and abortions, as Think Progress and Shakesville have pointed out. Moreover, the disgusting claim that “legitimate rape” will not lead to pregnancy wasn’t orginially Akin’s idea, but has been around in the GOP for quite some time, see here.
[Update 2]: The Renegade Raging Grannies, as an example of some of the awesome musical responses to Akin’s scary ridiculousness: