You gotta love these heartland Republicans. From a Blue state point of view, the kinds of things that Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, et al. have been saying are so eye-rollingly over the top that they seem designed precisely to keep Comedy Central and MSNBC in business.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Akin started our heads spinning when he mansplained that if a woman gets pregnant, it couldn’t have been legitimate rape—because a woman’s bodies can only wash in those little swimmers if she was hot to trot to begin with. In this week’s installment of repro rights funnies, Mourdock explained on television that he was against abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest because:
I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. ... And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
The choking-on-thin-air sounds started immediately from women all over the country, amplified by Twitter. That man did not just say that God intended for me to be raped!
No, I don’t think he did. Honestly, I think he means that God somehow intended the new life—not the rape—and that the rape, well, that was terrible, but get over it. You know, the way Sharon Angle said that women should make lemons from lemonade, and all that. Love the baby, not the sin. But understanding what he meant is very, very far from excusing his belief that women should just lie back and think of England if they’re colonized by an unexpected invader.
As Irin Carmon writes over at Salon today, “Dear everyone asking what it is about Republican candidates and their clumsy talk about rape: This is a feature, not a bug.” Really. Mourdock, Akin, Walsh, Angle—all of them are simply saying straightforwardly what they and many other people around them believe. They're articulating the conventional wisdom in their echo chambers, without softening it down. It only sounds shocking to us left-of-center types because we're protected in our own echo chambers. They believe that if women are going to spread their legs, they deserve to get pregnant. They believe that most of what you and I would call rape today is just some slut who got angry because the dude didn’t take her out to breakfast the next morning. Here’s a recent quote I found in Jessica Valenti’s incredibly timely commentary on current attitudes toward sexual assault in The Nation, "Ending Rape Illiteracy":
As Tennessee Senator Douglas Henry said in 2008, “Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse.”
In other words, only virgins can be raped—sweetly white-gloved, white-skinned virgins, in case we’re not clear. Any woman who ever wanted sex—yes, that includes married women who unconditionally give permission when they put on that ring—deserves what she gets. Valenti’s piece is a brilliant and absolutely essential manifesto on what still has to change to get from “What about 'no' don’t you understand?” to the more advanced concept that women have a right to enjoy and control our own bodies. Here’s more from her must-read piece, which, if there is no justice in the world, better be anthologized in a thousand women’s studies textbooks and used as a handbook by women’s groups:
What feminists should do in response to bad policy and legislation has been clear cut—and successful. When the GOP tried to pass an anti-abortion measure last year that would redefine rape only as an assault that was “forcible,” feminists groups immediately took action. Thanks to national organizations, online activism and a clever Twitter campaign, the language was taken out of the bill. Feminists also won a campaign to push the FBI to change their outdated definition of rape, language dating from 1929 that said sexual assault was “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”
But how we change the culture is a hurdle we haven’t properly tackled. Feminism’s major cultural successes around rape have occurred on a micro level—taking on individual television shows or products. And, for the most part, our cultural work has been reactionary—we’re constantly on the defensive, whether it’s trying to fight back against victim-blaming headlines or offensive rape jokes.
There’s more, and it’s all worth reading.
But Mourdock’s shocking comment was only partly about rape. It’s also about abortion—i.e. When is abortion legitimate? Maybe it’s time to go back a couple of decades and say: any time a woman wants it. I could just be cranky today, but I’m getting sick of defending the idea that woman are and can be independent actors. We are subjects, not holding vessels. No woman owes anyone else the use of her reproductive equipment—not the entryway, and not the inner chambers. For those first few months, that little blastocyst or embryo has no absolute claim on existenceˆunless the woman actively wants to carry it until it’s an actual person. When there’s a conflict between actual and potential life, I’m on the side of the independently breathing person every time.