Yesterday, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, Republican Senate nominee and member of the House Science, Space and Technology committee, said pregnancy from rape was "really rare" because "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Akin quickly said that he "misspoke," but he didn't rescind his claims that women have magical sperm-defying ovaries — or that there's a hierarchy when it comes to different "levels" of rape.
If you're unfamiliar with the exciting concept that your uterus can pick and choose between various kinds of rape, don't fret. We have just the guide for you.
For decades, conservatives have claimed that women can't get pregnant from "legitimate" rape thanks to their wise, all-knowing uteri, psychic "juices" and Spidey Sense-like "secretions." (Hmm, if legislators can applaud our vaginas for being so omniscient, how come they can't let us control them?)
In 1988, Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Stephen Freind said the odds that a woman who is raped will get knocked up are "one in millions and millions and millions" because rape causes a woman to "secrete a certain secretion" that kills evil sperm. I don't know about you guys, but my "secretions" are so judicious that they start flowing the second after an Ayn Rand-lover approaches me at a bar, before he can even utter the word "Objectivism." I guess my vag is just highly evolved.
In 1995, North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge told the House Appropriations Committee that "The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever." Plan B: If your secretions can't kill evil sperm, you just "dry up" and brush yourself off after you're done being raped, baby-free. No biggie!
Then, there's this famous 1999 Christian Life Resources piece from John C. Willke, a physician who was once president of the National Right to Life Committee, in which he basically just makes shit up:
Finally, factor in what is is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that's physical trauma. Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman's body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy. So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows, but this factor certainly cuts this last figure by at least 50 percent and probably more.
Got it, ladies? If you're normal, you'll never emotionally recover from your rape because it's the "greatest emotional trauma" you can ever experience. But at least you'll be too fucked up to have a baby! If your body allows basic biology to happen inside of it, your rape wasn't aggressive enough. Try, try again?
In 1990, Texas Republican gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams told ranchers that victims should take rape in stride and try to enjoy it — like when you have picnic plans but then there's a huge thunderstorm so you decide to see a movie instead and it turns out to be a pretty enjoyable afternoon after all! Yes, Williams literally compared rape to the foggy weather that was affecting his ongoing speech by saying, "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.''
Williams isn't the only conservative to claim rape is akin to unfortunate weather; in 1997, Bush appointee Federal Judge James Leon Holmes said in an article that "concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami." Because of the juices! And the secretions! And SCIENCE.
Last night, Politico's Dave Catanese tweeted that it was "impossible" to know what Akin really meant to say when he said "legitimate rape" doesn't lead to pregnancy. "Just maybe," Catanese surmised, Akin "didn't really mean 'legitimate.' Perhaps he meant if 'someone IS really raped' or 'a rape really occurs.'" Catanese then got all huffy when people accused him of being a rape apologist, tweeting, "The left is often 1st to shut down debate as "off limits" when it deems so. Aren't these moments supposed to open up a larger debate?"
Catanese sure has a lot of questions! Here are some others: Why is it wrong to think that Akin meant to say "legitimate" when he literally said "legitimate"? Why should we spend a millisecond of our time analyzing Akin's deep thoughts on the "science" behind the female body's ability to "shut down" if she's being raped? Why does Akin deserve the benefit of the doubt at all? Why is a Politico reporter more concerned with all of the mythological crazy ladies out there claiming fake rape than with the fact that a state representative who sits on the House Science committee doesn't understand how pregnancy works?
Last year, Ye Grand Protector of All Womenfolk Rep. Akin joined forces with GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan to co-sponsor the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act", which introduced the awesome new term "forcible rape" into our vernacular. Federal funds can only be used to pay for abortion in cases when a woman is raped; the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" sought to chip away at that exception by clarifying that only pregnancies resulting from "forcible rape" would qualify for federally funded abortions. The true meaning of "forcible rape" was never clearly defined, and the term was eventually removed from the bill.
Yesterday, the Romney-Ryan campaign said the men disagreed with Akin's statement and that "a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape." Funny, since Ryan was one of the original co-sponsors of the "forcible rape" bill and has said that abortion should be illegal in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger.
Earlier this year, Idaho Senator Chuck Winder made good use of his time on the Senate floor when he warned everyone about those wily, dangerous housewives who didn't get the memo that putting a ring on it = no rapes forever and ever. "I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape," he said.
Fear of the "Wife who cried rape" is nothing new; as a state legislator, Akin once only voted for an anti-marital-rape law after wondering whether it might be used "in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband."
Remember when Whoopi Goldberg said Roman Polanksi didn't, like, "rape-rape" a teenage girl? "I know it wasn't rape-rape," she said on The View. "It was something else but I don't believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like 'You know what this guy's going to give me a hundred years in jail I'm not staying, so that's why he left.'" That "something else" that isn't "rape rape" is a lot like....
Young readers might think that "gray rape" has something to do with a certain popular BDSM bestseller, but it's a term that's officially been around since the '90s. Most people think that Cosmopolitan invented the term "gray rape" in 2007, when Laura Session Stepp defined it as "sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what." But Katie Roiphe infamously claimed "There is a gray area in which one person's rape may be another's bad night" in her 1994 book The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism.
When the Cosmo article prompted a panel on the dangers of "grey rape," Linda Fairstein, the former chief of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan district attorney's office, told the New York Times that the concept had been around long before Cosmo decided it was trendy. "Certainly, in the criminal justice system there's no such thing as gray rape," she said. "Gray rape is not a new term and not a new experience. For journalists, it may be, but for those of us who had worked in advocacy or law enforcement, this description of something being in a gray area has been around all the time. It's always been my job in law enforcement to separate out the facts."
"Date" rape is the opposite of "stranger" rape, which is everyone's favorite kind of rape, because if the attacker is a crazy inhuman savage jumping out of the bushes and never to be seen again (unless shot to death by a nearby princely fellow carrying a gun specifically for cut-and-dry situations such as these), there's no need to acknowledge rape culture or try and educate people about complicated issues of consent.
The term entered the national consciousness in 1985, when Ms. Magazine published a three-year federally-funded study by psychologist Mary P. Koss on date rape on college campuses. The study found that one in four college women were victims of rape or attempted rape, and that only one in four women had experienced sexual assault that met the legal definition of rape at the time. In the piece, Koss encouraged women to reconsider their past experiences and ask themselves if they had actually consented, even if the person in question was a friend.
When we attach "date" as a modifier to rape, the term becomes quainter and less violent; it implies the attacker and the victim were friendly, making the situation more convoluted. Which it very well may be. But "date rape" is much more common than "stranger rape." According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim, 73 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger, and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.
Why do we feel the need to get so specific when a rape is "date" rape if that's the unfortunate norm?
RAINN defines rape as "forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object." To clarify: "Rape victims may be forced through threats or physical means. In about 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of rape: women, men or children, straight or gay."
(And here's some additional info for Scientist Akin: according to a 1996 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, "among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year." According to Planned Parenthood, more than five percent of all rapes result in pregnancy.)
Let's stop differentiating between different types of rape as if they were different flavors at an ice cream shop. Politicians need to get over the pervasive fear that adopting a zero-tolerance attitude towards rape means that people will be able to disingenuously "cry rape" if they're having a bad day. That's not going to happen. You know what's way more dangerous? Allowing legislators like Akin to make declarative statements that are unarguably false. If you don't know how basic biology works, you shouldn't be able to hold a government position that gives you real power over the bodies of millions of women.
Sure, it would be a hell of a lot easier if uteri were able to define rape for us. But they can't, and it's insane to pretend otherwise.