There are so many ways to describe something unpleasant happening that don’t involve alluding to sexual assault that one might think politicians, in their ongoing effort to ingratiate themselves to the voting public, would just leave the word “rape” out of their vocabulary when they’re not, you know, talking about actual rape. Nope! Dammit, elected officials have to stir the people up, and the best way to do that is by using the most viscerally figurative language possible.
That’s how the backlash against Todd Akin’s batshit ideas about pregnancy being little more than an act of sheer uterine willpower isn’t just a (justified) backlash — it’s a “gang-rape.” Or how a Tennessee congressman/hog farmer comes to characterize the Humane Society’s efforts to investigate animal abuse in terms of human trafficking, or “tape and rape.” Such hyperbolic language is meant to illustrate an instance of gross victimization, which is probably why some politicians resort to it — in one fell stroke, they hope to make an audience not just understand but feel that a heinous disenfranchisement has taken place.
According to the News-Record, North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller resorted to such language when he addressed a room full of people at, of all places, the Democratic Women of Guilford County’s spring banquet Thursday. Voller, in his effort to explain how harmful the GOP’s legislative agenda has been to the state, reportedly said that the GOP has been “raping” North Carolina. He later clarified his comments, saying he intended “raping” in the sense of plundering or abusing the land (the way Huns might plunder) and didn’t intend any harm. The quote, too, is a little muddled, and the News-Record only seems to have an approximation: “They [the Republicans] don’t know where they’re going, but they’re raping us along the way.”
Women in attendance didn’t seem to mind Voller’s comment, and though Myra Slone, the Democratic Women of Guilford County’s new president, said she heard it, she also said that it didn’t seem to faze anyone:
He said something about the legislature, and rape was in the sentence, but I can’t remember exactly.
That word has several different meanings so it doesn’t always have to be about women. I’d prefer that he not use that word, but I really wasn’t upset by it at all.
In the News-Record’s follow-up with Voller, he said that, like the rest of his speech, the comment about rape was made “off the cuff” and he wouldn’t comment on whether or not it was appropriate. He did, however, offer a bizarre justification when the News-Record mentioned that, “given crime statistics and the likelihood that many rapes go unreported,” there might very well have been a woman in attendance at Voller’s speech who’d been sexually assaulted. Instead of simply saying, “Gee, hadn’t considered that. I AM SORRY,” he ventured into MRA territory:
I don’t know that. Women and men are both victims of abusive power and violence. I personally could have been raped.
Men and women certainly can both be victims of abusive power and violence, but why does Voller have to wade into hypotheticals here at all? Trying to diffuse a controversial word choice by suggesting that he “could have been raped” is bullshit, and it’s a guaranteed way to attract way more negative criticism to what may have, in truth, been a moment of rhetorical carelessness.