My “Illegitimate” Rape

Bodiam and moat

What your vagina resembles during rape, according to Todd Akin. Bodiam and moat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With all the firestorm in the media this week about Rep. Todd Akin’s comments regarding “legitimate rape,” I’ve come across more than a few people who were legitimately confused by his words.

Not immediately outraged, mind you. Confused. Because there are people who don’t know exactly how pregnancy occurs. There are people who don’t know what rape really means. It’s not malice necessarily. It’s ignorance.

But it’s deadly.

In February, I shared my own story. My rape. What happened to violate my body. I shared it gently, not wanting to frighten people away from reading it. Perhaps people need to be a little bit frightened.

With everything I’ve read this week, I feel that people like Todd Akin have no understanding of what happens to your body, your psyche, and your emotions when you are violated.

Maybe it’s a lack of empathy — they have no ability to put themselves in the shoes of another. Maybe it’s pure ignorance. Maybe it’s callousness. I don’t know. But in a public official, it’s inexcusable.

I didn’t become pregnant when I was raped. But it wasn’t because my body had a way of “shutting that whole thing down.” It was because he used fingers instead of his genitals. That fact made it difficult to verbalise to myself what he had done to me.

For months I could not cope with the feeling of terror that would creep up on me when I remembered those moments. I couldn’t shake the circular confusion that swirled in my mind remembering how many times I said no and how many times I pushed his hands away until he pinned me down.

I couldn’t admit to myself that I had been raped. I felt violated, yes. I felt horror. I knew my boundaries had been shredded, but for weeks and months I made my own rape illegitimate. I had no scars or bruises, no lesions or bleeding.

But oh, was I wounded.

Even once I whispered the words to myself in the quiet of my own mind, it felt wrong. It felt shakingly, tremblingly wrong. It felt wrong because I couldn’t believe it had really happened. I couldn’t believe he’d really done it.

I don’t know if there is a way to describe this feeling to people who haven’t experienced it. The need to rationalise it away, the yearning to find a way out, as if by reliving it over and over and over and over you can figure out a way to go back in time and be stronger, cleverer, less prey.

Being raped makes you feel like prey.

Todd Akin’s comments are birthed of the same mentality from whence sprang the denial of spousal rape. Men (not all men or even most men, but primarily men) have been trying to make rape illegitimate since the dawn of time. In Biblical times, women were forced to marry their rapists. Much more recently (and still in some cultures) women are outright blamed for it — legally. In the United States and most Western cultures, rapists have been at least stigmatised, but that doesn’t change the underlying victim-blaming that occurs.

Rape is the only crime where the victim is asked to explain herself or himself. As if that sheds light onto why the perpetrator made an autonomous decision and violated someone. It doesn’t.

You wouldn’t hear people look at a mugging victim and say, “Oh, well. You were wearing designer jeans. You shouldn’t tempt muggers so. They can’t control their mugging impulses when they see designer clothes.”

Survivors of rape are no more responsible for the acts of their rapists than Ford is responsible for someone stealing a Mustang. Those who perpetrate the act are the ones responsible. I don’t care how drunk or high or scantily clad that damn Mustang is. I don’t care what colour it is. I don’t care if it’s bare-arsed and staggering down the boulevard. You don’t rape it.

Blaming the victim is problematic two-fold (many-fold, but we’ll stick with two). One, it absolves the guilty party. Two, it makes assumptions about the guilty party like the one I mentioned above. Men can’t control themselves? They can. They do it every day. Saying a man can’t help raping a woman he finds alone in an alley (hello, stereotype) is so grossly insulting to men that I don’t even want to deign to respond to such nonsense.

Men are not Neanderthals. As much as people like to parade the ideas about that men are visually stimulated to the point of  “OMG BOOBIES MUST TOUCH,” it’s degrading to suggest that they can’t control their impulses. Women are visually stimulated too. Just look at any romance or erotica book cover if you don’t believe me. The ones that sell the best are not covered in roses and ivy.

Todd Akin’s comments not only damage women’s rights to their own bodies, but they propagate venomous stereotypes about rape. President Obama said it best: rape is rape.

When you have predominantly male politicians trying to categorise rape as “legitimate” or “forcible,” you undermine the credibility and the dignity of every rape survivor to walk this earth. And there’s already enough of that going on without their help.

Every rape is forcible and legitimate by default.

English: Electron microscope image of sperm.

“EGG! I’M HERE!” English: Electron microscope image of sperm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s talk biology.

This is how pregnancy happens.

1. The ovary releases an egg into the Fallopian tubes. Wheeeeee, waterslide!

2. Millions of sperm swim up the vaginal canal, through the cervix, into the uterus, and up the Fallopian tube. And they’re damn good swimmers, because it’s pretty much an obstacle course of death to get up there. Yaaay, natural selection!

3. Sperm find egg and sing the Hallelujah chorus. Then they all try to get in. But most of them aren’t wearing the right shoes, and the bouncer chucks them out.

4. Sperm gets in! ZOMG!!! (Cue “You’re One in a Million”) (See above.)

5. Fertilised egg begins to multiply and subdivide faster than a scene in Prometheus. Okay, maybe not that fast.

6. Fertilised egg is now obliviously floating down the tube to the uterus.

7. Fertilised egg sticks to uterine wall like one of those velcro balls in the 90s. You know, where you’d throw it at a felt paddle and it would stick? Yeah, that.

8. PREGNANT!!!

Notice that absolutely NOTHING above had anything to do with a woman’s pleasure or feelings whatsoever.

Sperm can go swimmy-swimmy even if there’s rapey-rapey. It doesn’t matter if she’s moaning in the throes of ecstasy or screaming bloody murder and leaving her fingernails lodged in her attacker’s face or passed out colder than an penguin egg in Antarctica.

Biology does not care. Biology is concerned with propagating the species, not with being fair. And it doesn’t care what Todd Akin thinks, either. All that is necessary is a sperm meeting an egg and a nice spot of velcro-uterus for pregnancy to occur. Sure, a million things can happen to stop it, and they often do. That’s why women don’t get pregnant every time they have sex.

But you want to know what doesn’t happen? A woman’s body doesn’t go into defcon bazillion rape mode. It doesn’t send boiling pitch cascading through the Fallopian tubes. It doesn’t erect a drawbridge at the cervix over a moat of acidic spermicide. It doesn’t turn the uterine walls to solid steel to make fertilised eggs ricochet off like bouncy balls. It doesn’t heat up the vaginal canal to 4000 degrees so that it incinerates the intruding object.

Though I kind of wish it did.

The reproductive system frankly doesn’t give a damn. It does what it does.

So while Akin’s comments were backward and idiotic in addition to being patently false, they’re also insidious. Because some people just don’t know any better. I met a couple girls in college who believed you couldn’t get pregnant if you jumped up and down after sex. These same people and the rest of their strange fellows might not know the poison inherent in Todd Akin’s breezy assertions.

Who knows? Maybe those assertions stem from an underlying belief that women getting pregnant after getting raped is just too unfair to deal with. Too bad the world doesn’t have a more keen eye for what’s fair.

The bottom line?

Pregnancy is about biology. It happens because sperm got into a vagina, either by penis or other mode of transportation, and swam up to an egg. It happens because that little fertilised egg velcroed itself to the uterine wall and started growing. (Or in scary other cases, stayed on the Fallopian water slide and started growing.)

And rape? Well. Human people have few rights more sacred than the right to bodily autonomy. To violate that right is to pour crude oil into an azure jewel-bright pool. Every person has the right to set boundaries and have those boundaries respected and honoured.

Rape is not made illegitimate by knowing your rapist. It’s not made illegitimate by your gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation. It’s not made illegitimate by whether or not it resulted in pregnancy.

When it happens, it is an unspeakable tragedy, made all the more unbearable for the ignorance that surrounds it.

What were your reactions to Todd Akin’s comments? Were they simply ignorant and misguided or a symptom of a more virulent disease?

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About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on August 22, 2012, in V-Day 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. His comments were totally disgusting and troubling. It’s shocking to see how backwards some people are.

    • Yes.

      Frankly, I long for an America where politics is about policies that are best for people, not a cesspool of mudslinging and breeding ground for ignorance like this. Todd Akin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum — all of these people make politics into a joke for the things that come out of their mouths. If they concentrated more on actually learning policy (including studying what has been successful in other parts of the world) to improve the situation of Americans instead of attacking women and gay people, I think we might actually make some progress. Instead, the extreme side of American politics focuses all its energies on xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynistic views that only succeed in endearing them to people who already agree with them.

      The recent episode of The Newsroom as really interesting — the team did a mock debate in a different format where the moderator was supposed to hound candidates into actually ANSWERING real, important questions that they ought to have real answers for. Toward the end, they cut to real footage from the RNC debates where Michele Bachmann was asked, “Elvis or Johnny Cash?”

      What? How is that even remotely a serious debate question?

      Now I’m just flapping my mouth. But for real, I want to see the Republican party run someone I can take seriously. Mitt Romney had a chance at that. Then he selected Ryan as his running mate. And though they’ve both abjured Akin’s comments in very strong terms and assured people that they wouldn’t ban abortion in rape cases, their voting records and other statements are strongly in the opposite direction. Neither of them seem to realise that they’ve already supported Akin’s views, if not in such idiotically-worded statements. (Paul Ryan has pushed for “forcible” rape wording in legislation [WITH Akin, no less], and that is just as bad if not worse than Akin’s “legitimate” rape comments. Implying that rape is less rapey because it didn’t leave someone bleeding to death is unbelievably repugnant.)

      AAAAAAHHHH, ELECTION 2012, I HATE YOU.

  2. *hugs* I had no idea.

    • I think it would be a wake-up call to the world if every survivor of sexual violence wore a red band on her or his head for a day. After what happened to me, I found out that nearly every woman in my close social circle had been assaulted or raped. THAT was shocking.

  3. Thank you for sharing this and for being so honest. Akin’s sort of malicious lunacy needs to be challenged by everyone who can. Thank you and well done!

  4. Well done, Emmie!
    I’m a man and I totaly share your points of view. You were corageous to tell your own story. Guys like that Akin fellow are a shame for real men

    • Thank you, Pedro! I have to believe that most men share my views and find rape repugnant, and I think the kind of ignorance that runs rampant in the more right-wing corners of American politics about rape is one of the more tragic aspects of this political system. Akin is a current member of the House of Representatives in Missouri and is running for one of the two Senate seats. That he made it to elected office with those views is terrifying. But he, like his fellows, are more concerned with protecting a newly-fertilised egg than the body and life of the woman surrounding it.

  5. You are a treasure, Emmie. Thank you for your honesty and eloquence. I’ll be sharing this post everywhere I can think of. Bravo.

  6. I’m so sorry such a terrible thing happened to you. Politicians making ignorant, no, downright idiotic comments like these demean every woman who has ever been traumatized by sexual assault.

    The masses who are simply confused or ignorant are showing that we are failing educating future generations about basic biology. I know GOP thinks that educating people will make icky sex happen, but avoiding a topic doesn’t make it go away.

    Thank you for your courage and your post.

  7. This is a wonderful post, Emmie. I hope it opens people’s eyes to the insidious misinformation that is often spouted during elections. In this case, the misinformation is not just disingenuous but potentially very harmful, even deadly, to women.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. Thank you, Emmie. I wish more people would speak up against the ignorance and callousness out there. Maybe if education was a top priority things would be different.

  9. I found out about his comments on Twitter. What an ignorant creep, excuse my language.

  10. Emmie – such a powerful commentary, thank you so much for sharing. I also am sharing this post.

  11. Awesome, brilliant post, Emmie. I was floored by Akin’s comment when I heard about it this weekend. The callous ignorance and the misogynistic crap that continues to exist in our world is so heartbreaking and maddening for me that I can’t even put it into coherent words like you have so masterfully done here. I’m so glad and thankful that you wrote this.

  12. Words. They’re ephemeral, a burst of sound, meaningless unless there’s someone there to hear them, impermanent unless someone writes them down. And they’re some of the most dangerous weapons we have. When I saw the quote from Rep. Akin, I had to turn his words around in my head for a while, trying to understand what he could possibly mean by legitimate rape. The first definition for legitimate (Dictionary.com) is “according to law; lawful.” Rape is not. He has coined an oxymoron, which makes no more sense than his idea that women can somehow prevent conception during an essentially violent act.

    And if his comments confused and disturbed me, Emmie, I can only imagine what you felt when you saw them. I’m sorry you had to experience that.

  13. I’m so sorry you were raped, Emmie. It takes a strong woman to endure and then share such an experience, particularly with such eloquence.

    People like Akin either completely dumb, brainwashed, arrogant, ignorant or some combination of the above. I try to see the good in people, but hurtfulness like that… Well, you can guess my view.

    Hugs and love to you. You’re an inspiration.

  14. Thank you for writing this. It happened to me too and even nearly 25 years down the line I’m still experiencing the after-effects. I don’t like to be alone in a room with a man and if I find myself in that situation I always put myself nearest to the door. It’s shameful that a woman of my age should still be reacting to that one selfish, miserable bastard’s actions in this way.

    • People grossly underestimate the continuing trauma rape and sexual violence inflict on survivors.

      It’s hideous how much of an effect it has, and I wish I could offer some kind of commiseration other than that I know how you feel. Being a rape survivor has changed the way I go about my day, from where I park to where I walk to how I look at men when I’m alone.

  15. Outstanding post Emmie. I’m afraid I do have to disagree on one point – I don’t think Akin was ignorant or confused. I think he meant it. The GOP is more and more about legitimized rape – political, economic, cultural – he just took the next logical step to make it personal. And that makes him pretty irremediable as a human being, and intolerable that he be in a position of any power at all.

    • No, I agree with you there, my friend. While his words showed ignorance of biology beyond a doubt, his statement was just the latest in a long line of misogynistic comments made by the Republican candidates meant to undermine women’s autonomy and dignity. :/

      I sincerely wish the GOP would look in the mirror, cower in shame, and then set out to rebuild themselves into a party at least worthy of respect, if not my vote. I’m not a fiscal conservative, but it’s possible to have logically structured arguments in favour of fiscal conservatism. What gets me is their continued adherence to draconian social structure and their blatant disregard for women as much as their disregard for scientific fact.

      Republican obsession with abstinence-only sex “education” has doomed many southern states to sky-rocketing teen pregnancy and STI transmission in the past ten years. Not only does their rhetoric damage women, but it puts adolescents at risk for their refusal to realise that teens are going to have sex no matter how much you tell them not to. Refusal to educate them about the risks as well as how to mitigate those factors (and how to emotionally prepare for transitioning into adulthood and inevitable sexual activity) only leaves them open to harmful and false attitudes about pregnancy, disease, and their own bodies. The facts have shown for years that abstinence-only education doesn’t postpone or preclude sexual activity in teens — it just makes them less likely to make safe decisions when they start.

      If they would actually take steps that protect adolescents and women from unwanted pregnancy, it would make their anti-abortion hardlining somewhat more palatable. But they turn a blind eye to why unwanted pregnancies occur and then want to allow women no choice once it happens regardless of the reason. I cannot respect a platform that first creates a problem and then bars people from solving it. (Not just abortion — by limiting access to contraceptives and education as much as affordable health care.)

  16. Emmie, after reading your original post in February, and now this one, I am reminded of what a strong voice you are for women. Let’s make certain you are heard.

    • Thank you again. You also are someone who is a strong advocate for women’s rights and the legitimacy of our autonomy, both bodily and otherwise. I always appreciate hearing your thoughts and reading your posts, even though I don’t comment as much as I ought to!

  17. Emmie, Thanks so much for telling your story. From the day I was raped when I was seventeen, my entire brain and personality changed. With a hand over my mouth, I fought with everything in me to breathe, let alone scream, blow a whistle, dial 911 or yell at my pelvis to ‘shut all systems off’ because it was real rape. I did struggle with everything in me to get the man off of me but I was just not strong enough. Two men destroyed my life on that night and things got much worse before they got better. And, you’re right. All we can do is tell others that we understand their raw emotions and battle to heal. But we simply can’t give up. I haven’t, even though I survived one suicide and harmed myself for years because of how those attacks felt to me. I wish all women who have been sexually assaulted, the strength to work through the pain and, above all else, blame the perpetrator, not themselves. It can be done. I don’t want to seem like I’m doling out platitudes, because I’m not, but there is life after rape. I found it, thankfully.

  18. I can’t even talk about the idiocy and stupidity of statements like Akin made. I get so angry that we have people who are supposed to be educated, yet use their voices to rile up the masses and then think they only have to say, “That’s not what I meant,” to make everything all right again. I empathize with you and all those who suffer because of the cruelty and evil that tries to destroy and dominate. Your greatest success is speaking out from a place of overcoming. You are a light and beacon, Emmie. Stay strong. Women’s rights, autonomy–hear, hear.

  19. I hope that people would see that people like Akin are idiots. That their words are pitiable and pathetic, and not to be minded any more than one would mind, say, the words of the schizophrenic alcoholic on the street, mumbling about aliens shoving candy up his bum. Sadly, I think there ARE some who might wonder if his words have some truth behind them. This post is wonderful because you share your personal, terrible experience as well as the facts.

    A few years ago, my husband and I tried to get pregnant. We couldn’t for two years before my son came along. It wasn’t because my body was “shutting things down” or actually didn’t want it. That’s stupid and laughable. We (humans) only have a 25% chance of getting pregnant even when trying to conceive. It’s chance. Maybe Akin should take a statistics (and biology) class. Then again, maybe he should just emigrate to the jungles of Africa where he can be eaten by some huge, ten-foot tall spider.

    • *Shudder* Ten foot tall spider.

      I don’t know if I’d wish that fate on anyone.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment — the biggest multiplier of comments like Akin’s is pure ignorance, and the only way to combat that is by being vocal with the truth.

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