On Sunday, Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri, announced that "legitimate rape" only rarely results in pregnancy, because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down" — and therefore people who are worried about making sure rape victims have access to abortions are worrying about a non-issue. If you get pregnant, you obviously weren't really raped.
The levels on which this is flabbergasting are innumerable. In order to not get distracted counting them all up, let's just stick with the fact that this is a grown man — a man with an immense level of power to make laws that will affect you — who does not know how the human body works. And he's not ashamed of not knowing. Instead, he just spouts off about how women's bodies just magically prevent pregnancy when we're raped.
Sure, Romney is running as fast as he can away from Akin. But the Republicans love and have been in love with this idea that there is some kind of real rape rape, and then there's a kind of fair-game rape. We all should be appalled by this "legitimate" rape, in other words, but a woman who is the victim of a fair-game rape is not really worth our bother.
At The Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta goes into the long history of Republicans pushing this idea and the legislative impact it's had:
The most prominent example of the peculiar effort to downplay rape in order to decrease access to abortion cropped up in the U.S. Congress earlier this year. Sponsored by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," would have rewritten the rape exception in federal abortion-funding bans from the language in the Hyde Amendment. Henceforth, according to the bill, there would be exemptions only for something called "forcible rape." (Presumably, this is the same thing Willke called "assault rape" and Akin called "legitimate rape," as opposed to what Willke called "consensual" "statutory" rape.)
The list of Tennessee Representatives that believe that there's rape rape and then something we don't have to give a shit about? Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Scott DesJarlais, John Duncan, Stephen Fincher, Chuck Fleishmann and Phil Roe, judging by their co-sponsorship of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."
But it's not like Democrats don't also fall back on this canard from time to time. You can see it in all the discussion of Julian Assange, who can have sex with sleeping women or with women who said they didn't want to and somehow that's just bitches being unreasonable. And look at all the Hollywood folks who believe that drugging a 13-year-old and having sex with her isn't really something we should have to feel disgusted by, if the rapist can just avoid justice for long enough. Even Whoopi Goldberg said that what Roman Polanski did wasn't "rape rape."
And who can forget our own Doug Henry who said, "Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was"?
It's enough to make a person want to hide under her bed until the world has come to its senses.
There's a kernel in this idea of a distinction between real rape and fair-game rape that rapes are can be categorized into something terrible — something like North Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli's idea of someone who is "brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated." — and misunderstandings where the rapist thought the victim wanted to go forward and she did not. And a lot of people, apparently, are reluctant to hold rapists responsible for "misunderstandings."
The thing is that rapists totally get this. And they use it to their advantage so that they can continue to have the kind of sex they like — where they force someone to do something against his or her will — without being held responsible for this. How do we know this? Because they say so.
On Reddit a few weeks ago, they had a thread in which they invited rapists to talk about why they rape. As you can imagine, it ended up being a huge controversy. People felt like they were giving these jackasses legitimacy and sympathy when they don't deserve it.
But the thing is that, under the cloak of anonymity, they were willing to be frank about why they do what they do. (Jezebel has a whole post about all the different things they said.) Let's focus on this guy.
There are two things I want to highlight:
The girls usually didn't know how to respond. Some of them were into it, and those nights were usually consensual and boring sex, sometimes followed up by a few more nightly visits before getting the boot. However, the great nights were the ones who squirmed, ones who didn't want to give in.
Please note that he is clearly saying that consensual sex for him is boring. The great nights are when he gets to rape someone. He's not misunderstanding what these women want. He wants to fuck them when they don't want to have sex with him. That's the kind of sex he likes.
I never worried too much about being caught. Everyone knew me, and I worked with the police a lot, with administrators, and campus officials. I was on first name basis with the Chancellor and the President of Student Affairs, so if anything came down to a he/she-said I figured I'd be in the clear. Having her come over to my place also made it seem less predatory, as she came into my domain, and "could leave at any time."
He knows that he rapes women in ways that most people are willing to overlook. That's why he picks those ways. He's not misunderstanding. He's using people's willingness to believe in a kind of fair-game rape to provide cover for himself.
And we, as a society, can be told, straight-up, by these guys that what they're doing is rape — that they know it's rape, either because they waited until she was drunk or until the pills kicked in or until she was asleep — and we'll still also believe them when they say it wasn't "rape rape."
So, yes, it's a little heartening to see Romney running from this, but I don't see Marsha Blackburn sweating it out this morning, do you? Scott DesJarlais didn't wake up wondering how he's going to address the fact that his legislative record indicates that he believes some rapists aren't so bad.
The Republican presidential campaign might not be able to say that they think a guy like the one in the Reddit thread should get to knock up whoever he rapes and be assured she'll stay pregnant. But the Republican party has held that position over and over again. And there are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who agree.