Thanks for the Rape Epiphany, Rep. Akin
(by Mir from WouldaShoulda)
Unless you're living under a rock (or without Internet; same thing), you likely know that yesterday Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri) managed to stick his foot pretty far down his own throat. So far, in fact, that he asserted that when a woman is a victim of a "legitimate rape," she can't get pregnant because her body can "shut things down." (If you somehow missed the kerfluffle, you can read about it here.)
This spawned an entire day of alternating political jokes and outrage… blogs, Facebook, and Twitter all lit up with commentary as people of all political persuasions were able to unite behind a single idea, for once. Sure, that idea was pretty much "this Akin guy is a moron," but still. My friends were cracking jokes about their "magical vaginas" and lists of "other things my body can shut down" and such were popping up more quickly than I could neglect my work and read them all. My favorite resultant article was this one on Jezebel, just in case you're interested in figuring out what sort of rape you may be facing.
I have very little patience for this sort of nonsense. I am an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse and it's never going to sit well with me when people try to pontificate about whether or not your trauma is valid. Trauma is trauma, full stop. So much of this particular flavor of conversation happens about abortion; I happen to be pro-choice, myself, but the idea that people who've never been sexually violated get to make a decision about the validity of abortion as a choice for those who have makes me furious. But even when we're not talking about abortion, people are still talking about validity, and that angers me even more.
When someone is stabbed, you don't stand around discussing whether or not they asked for it. You don't ask them if they're sure they were stabbed, or if maybe the knife was just held kind of nearby, or maybe they just cut themselves and then tried to blame someone else…? It's not a conversation rational people have. But rape or other sexual trauma, hooboy. Everyone's entitled to have an opinion about that, seems like, and I can think of no other crime that is simultaneously so violating in its very nature AND so likely to result in victim-shaming.
So yesterday, in the wake of Akin's comments and the uproar that followed, I remembered something. I remembered something as I was discussing with a friend how "men just don't get it." What I remembered was this: My sophomore year of college, a girl in my department—whom, I should probably note, I didn't particularly like—was raped. The news spread like wildfire, of course, though the event occurred on a Friday night and there she was in class on Monday. Accounts varied a little, but most agreed that she'd been out drinking (even though she was underage), had signed two guys into her dormitory after hours (even though she'd just met them), and condoms were found in the trash when she called the cops the next morning (rapists don't use condoms, right?). I'd love to tell you that I set aside my initial impressions of her as vapid and kind of annoying and offered her my unconditional sympathy and understanding, but I can't.
I thought she stupidly got drunk, stupidly brought guys back to her room, probably consented and then felt remorse and cried rape. I'm ashamed to admit that. I, a fellow woman, and someone who should've been doubly sympathetic (given my history), thought she made it up to cover her poor choices. As did most of my fellow students. I certainly didn't say anything to her, but… I didn't say anything to her. I just looked at her as someone who was stupid and either flat-out lied or got what that stupidity deserves.
She dropped out at the end of the semester. I don't know what happened to her after that.
That incident came flooding back to me yesterday, and as I cringed at the memory of my callousness, my readiness to believe that an 18-year-old brought trauma and drama on herself, it all suddenly made sense to me.
I think Todd Akin really believed (until every news outlet and half the free world corrected him) that "legitimate rape" can't result in conception. And I think he believed that because the alternative is to accept that something awful and violating can result in something even MORE awful and violating and that is incompatible with his views on the sanctity of life. I think he believed that because otherwise he would have to look at the statistics and accept that a shocking number of his fellow men are capable of unspeakable violence that not only robs women of their security but also turns "the miracle of life" into an ongoing nightmare for those women. And it would be easy to believe that only powerful white men who've never gone through anything terrible are capable of that sort of creative thinking.
But I also think I believed that girl in my department was stupid and/or lying because of a kind of hubris that can easily be hummed to the tune of "that won't ever happen to me." I didn't go to bars; I never brought strangers to where I lived; hell, I'd already been violated as a kid when I had no situational control, I sure wasn't going to invite trouble to visit again. But her? Oh, the lies we tell ourselves to feel protected: She did it all wrong. That's why it happened (or didn't) to her. I'm safe because I'm smart. Because the alternative was to accept that it could've happened to me or someone I loved just as easily as it happened to her.
Of course Akin was wrong. Of course I was wrong. Of course it's human nature to want to explain away evil in a way that makes us feel less threatened. But we can't just talk about "stupid white men in power" when we have these conversations. I'm guessing it was her fellow coeds that made that victim in my department feel the worst, because we should've been able to empathize, and we didn't. We turned away. Maybe no one said anything so obviously stupid. Someone like Akin is easy to dismiss; what we did was more insidious, and exponentially worse.
I am so, so sorry if I made things worse for that young woman, however ignorantly or inadvertently. I hope she was able to recover and continue on to a fulfilling and happy life. As I watched the world take Todd Akin to task yesterday, I wondered why no one did the same to those of us who whispered and rolled our eyes, all those years ago.
How do we change these conversations? Not just with the loudest and most ignorant, but the "everyday wrongness" that is quieter and more prevalent? What will it take to do away with victim-blaming?
(read more Mir here)