Defining “legitimate” rape.
Women’s bodies (mysterious and confusing) have played a big political role this year. This week, our magical ability to recognize that we are being “legitimately” raped and, somehow, protect ourselves from getting pregnant is making headlines.
In case you haven’t heard, when asked how he felt about abortion in cases of rape or incest, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said, “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare [that rape leads to pregnancy]. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”
There are lot and lots of problems with this statement. Let’s start with the continuing confusion about how women’s bodies work. According to this elected official, my vagina (or should I say hoo-hah as not to offend the gentleman from Michigan?) has the ability to know when I am under attack and send off sperm killing vibes that will keep me from getting pregnant.
(Akin doesn’t define what the “ways” are, but I like to imagine that my insides are equipped with those knives that shoot out of the sides of cars in 1950s drag races to cut up the competition, a la Grease, but that’s just me.)
Beyond anatomical stupidity, there’s the greater implications intrinsic in this statement. Let’s say that my “sensors” fail to kick in and I get pregnant. Akin’s claim indicates that I wasn’t raped, legitimately or otherwise. I must have really wanted to have sex — if I hadn’t, I surely would have protected myself, right? This victim-blaming idea isn’t new, unfortunately. Check out Jezebel for a solid primer on the history of morons trying to make rape the woman’s fault.
Then there’s Akin’s assertion that pregnancy after rape is a very rare occurrence. If only there was research … oh wait, there is. According to a 2003 study, pregnancy is twice as likely to occur in cases of rape than in cases of consensual sex.
Akin has apologized and admitted that he is wrong, but that’s not enough. It’s highly disturbing that we live in a world in which an elected official — and as such a person with influence over women’s rights — doesn’t understand how babies are made and blames victims for being raped. First, we need to make sure that everyone has access to sex education. Second, we need to make sure that everyone understands that rape is a violent, criminal act — not a different kind of sex. Third, we need to stop electing people who disagree with those two statements.
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Image: Jeff Roborson/AP