With all the firestorm in the media this week about Rep. Todd Akin’s comments regarding “legitimate rape,” I’ve come across more than a few people who were legitimately confused by his words.
Not immediately outraged, mind you. Confused. Because there are people who don’t know exactly how pregnancy occurs. There are people who don’t know what rape really means. It’s not malice necessarily. It’s ignorance.
But it’s deadly.
In February, I shared my own story. My rape. What happened to violate my body. I shared it gently, not wanting to frighten people away from reading it. Perhaps people need to be a little bit frightened.
With everything I’ve read this week, I feel that people like Todd Akin have no understanding of what happens to your body, your psyche, and your emotions when you are violated.
Maybe it’s a lack of empathy — they have no ability to put themselves in the shoes of another. Maybe it’s pure ignorance. Maybe it’s callousness. I don’t know. But in a public official, it’s inexcusable.
I didn’t become pregnant when I was raped. But it wasn’t because my body had a way of “shutting that whole thing down.” It was because he used fingers instead of his genitals. That fact made it difficult to verbalise to myself what he had done to me.
For months I could not cope with the feeling of terror that would creep up on me when I remembered those moments. I couldn’t shake the circular confusion that swirled in my mind remembering how many times I said no and how many times I pushed his hands away until he pinned me down.
I couldn’t admit to myself that I had been raped. I felt violated, yes. I felt horror. I knew my boundaries had been shredded, but for weeks and months I made my own rape illegitimate. I had no scars or bruises, no lesions or bleeding.
But oh, was I wounded.
Even once I whispered the words to myself in the quiet of my own mind, it felt wrong. It felt shakingly, tremblingly wrong. It felt wrong because I couldn’t believe it had really happened. I couldn’t believe he’d really done it.
I don’t know if there is a way to describe this feeling to people who haven’t experienced it. The need to rationalise it away, the yearning to find a way out, as if by reliving it over and over and over and over you can figure out a way to go back in time and be stronger, cleverer, less prey.
Being raped makes you feel like prey.
Todd Akin’s comments are birthed of the same mentality from whence sprang the denial of spousal rape. Men (not all men or even most men, but primarily men) have been trying to make rape illegitimate since the dawn of time. In Biblical times, women were forced to marry their rapists. Much more recently (and still in some cultures) women are outright blamed for it — legally. In the United States and most Western cultures, rapists have been at least stigmatised, but that doesn’t change the underlying victim-blaming that occurs.
Rape is the only crime where the victim is asked to explain herself or himself. As if that sheds light onto why the perpetrator made an autonomous decision and violated someone. It doesn’t.
You wouldn’t hear people look at a mugging victim and say, “Oh, well. You were wearing designer jeans. You shouldn’t tempt muggers so. They can’t control their mugging impulses when they see designer clothes.”
Survivors of rape are no more responsible for the acts of their rapists than Ford is responsible for someone stealing a Mustang. Those who perpetrate the act are the ones responsible. I don’t care how drunk or high or scantily clad that damn Mustang is. I don’t care what colour it is. I don’t care if it’s bare-arsed and staggering down the boulevard. You don’t rape it.
Blaming the victim is problematic two-fold (many-fold, but we’ll stick with two). One, it absolves the guilty party. Two, it makes assumptions about the guilty party like the one I mentioned above. Men can’t control themselves? They can. They do it every day. Saying a man can’t help raping a woman he finds alone in an alley (hello, stereotype) is so grossly insulting to men that I don’t even want to deign to respond to such nonsense.
Men are not Neanderthals. As much as people like to parade the ideas about that men are visually stimulated to the point of “OMG BOOBIES MUST TOUCH,” it’s degrading to suggest that they can’t control their impulses. Women are visually stimulated too. Just look at any romance or erotica book cover if you don’t believe me. The ones that sell the best are not covered in roses and ivy.
Todd Akin’s comments not only damage women’s rights to their own bodies, but they propagate venomous stereotypes about rape. President Obama said it best: rape is rape.
When you have predominantly male politicians trying to categorise rape as “legitimate” or “forcible,” you undermine the credibility and the dignity of every rape survivor to walk this earth. And there’s already enough of that going on without their help.
Every rape is forcible and legitimate by default.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s talk biology.
This is how pregnancy happens.
1. The ovary releases an egg into the Fallopian tubes. Wheeeeee, waterslide!
2. Millions of sperm swim up the vaginal canal, through the cervix, into the uterus, and up the Fallopian tube. And they’re damn good swimmers, because it’s pretty much an obstacle course of death to get up there. Yaaay, natural selection!
3. Sperm find egg and sing the Hallelujah chorus. Then they all try to get in. But most of them aren’t wearing the right shoes, and the bouncer chucks them out.
4. Sperm gets in! ZOMG!!! (Cue “You’re One in a Million”) (See above.)
5. Fertilised egg begins to multiply and subdivide faster than a scene in Prometheus. Okay, maybe not that fast.
6. Fertilised egg is now obliviously floating down the tube to the uterus.
7. Fertilised egg sticks to uterine wall like one of those velcro balls in the 90s. You know, where you’d throw it at a felt paddle and it would stick? Yeah, that.
Notice that absolutely NOTHING above had anything to do with a woman’s pleasure or feelings whatsoever.
Sperm can go swimmy-swimmy even if there’s rapey-rapey. It doesn’t matter if she’s moaning in the throes of ecstasy or screaming bloody murder and leaving her fingernails lodged in her attacker’s face or passed out colder than an penguin egg in Antarctica.
Biology does not care. Biology is concerned with propagating the species, not with being fair. And it doesn’t care what Todd Akin thinks, either. All that is necessary is a sperm meeting an egg and a nice spot of velcro-uterus for pregnancy to occur. Sure, a million things can happen to stop it, and they often do. That’s why women don’t get pregnant every time they have sex.
But you want to know what doesn’t happen? A woman’s body doesn’t go into defcon bazillion rape mode. It doesn’t send boiling pitch cascading through the Fallopian tubes. It doesn’t erect a drawbridge at the cervix over a moat of acidic spermicide. It doesn’t turn the uterine walls to solid steel to make fertilised eggs ricochet off like bouncy balls. It doesn’t heat up the vaginal canal to 4000 degrees so that it incinerates the intruding object.
Though I kind of wish it did.
The reproductive system frankly doesn’t give a damn. It does what it does.
So while Akin’s comments were backward and idiotic in addition to being patently false, they’re also insidious. Because some people just don’t know any better. I met a couple girls in college who believed you couldn’t get pregnant if you jumped up and down after sex. These same people and the rest of their strange fellows might not know the poison inherent in Todd Akin’s breezy assertions.
Who knows? Maybe those assertions stem from an underlying belief that women getting pregnant after getting raped is just too unfair to deal with. Too bad the world doesn’t have a more keen eye for what’s fair.
The bottom line?
Pregnancy is about biology. It happens because sperm got into a vagina, either by penis or other mode of transportation, and swam up to an egg. It happens because that little fertilised egg velcroed itself to the uterine wall and started growing. (Or in scary other cases, stayed on the Fallopian water slide and started growing.)
And rape? Well. Human people have few rights more sacred than the right to bodily autonomy. To violate that right is to pour crude oil into an azure jewel-bright pool. Every person has the right to set boundaries and have those boundaries respected and honoured.
Rape is not made illegitimate by knowing your rapist. It’s not made illegitimate by your gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation. It’s not made illegitimate by whether or not it resulted in pregnancy.
When it happens, it is an unspeakable tragedy, made all the more unbearable for the ignorance that surrounds it.
What were your reactions to Todd Akin’s comments? Were they simply ignorant and misguided or a symptom of a more virulent disease?
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