Monday, October 08, 2012

Illegitimate Jape

This is an open memo to Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell, two liberal MSNBC personalities, and many of their colleagues:

You love to talk about Todd Akin and the crazy thing he said a while ago -- and yes, it was very crazy.   The Congressman, who is running for the United States Senate from Missouri, claimed in a television interview that if a woman is raped her body can prevent itself from conceiving a child. This evening, O'Donnell was still talking about it. 

This is of course nonsense, and it is very old nonsense.  In medieval times, there was a belief that a woman can only conceive a child if she experiences orgasm -- and, therefore, if she gets pregnant after a supposed rape she must have actually enjoyed herself.  In the 21st century, some of us haven't gotten much more sophisticated than that.  There is a belief among many in the anti-abortion movement that if anti-abortion laws make allowances for rape, women would simply claim falsely that they were raped in order to rely on abortions as a means of birth control.  Incredible and nutty, and yet there it is.

Congressman Akin sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.  If you are disturbed that a legislator could sit on the committee despite the likelihood that he would flunk a ninth grade reproductive science exam, I strongly suggest you don't click this link to read about many of the other scientifically illiterate Congressmen on that committee.

It is therefore with some justification that news commentators like Maddow and O'Donnell et al make fun of what Akin said, and point out the fact that we are electing people to Congress who sit on important policy-making committees who appear to be badly educated.

Here's the thing, though.  You love to use that phrase "legitimate rape."  You repeat it a lot.  And I've noticed that you are contextualizing the phrase falsely.  You consistently imply that Akin was making the case that some rapes are justified.  You know and I know that that isn't what he meant.  What he actually meant was horrible enough, so I don't know why you would misrepresent it.  But it is dishonest and you need to be called on it.  So, we here at this little blog are going to do it.  Here's what Akin said in that interview he wishes he could take back.

The question he was asked was: “If an abortion can be considered in the case of, say, tubal pregnancy or something like that, what about in the case of rape? Should it be legal or not?””

Akin's reply was:

It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

In context, what he's saying is, "If a woman has actually been raped..."  He was not suggesting that some rapes are justified, which is what Maddow and O'Donnell and many other editorialists keep implying.

And the kicker is, what he IS saying is pretty offensive on its own face.  Akin appears to be suggesting, as if it were quite obvious and natural, that women might fake a rape just to get an abortion.  That's pretty ugly, especially when associated with that 14th century understanding of female biology (if you got pregnant, you must have enjoyed it).  It seems that the truth would give you plenty to talk about.

Maybe that wasn't incriminating enough?  I don't know.  But I'm getting awfully sick of the sly little cracks about Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, suggesting he thinks some women have it coming.  What he said was different and your insinuations otherwise are dishonest, beneath the stature of serious commentators, and an insult to the intelligence of your viewers.

So cut it out.  You have plenty of material to work with just by telling the truth. 

[Image:  Rep. Todd Akin from his House website.]


quid said...

I didn't interpret the coverage to mean they were taking shots at him saying rape is justified.

I took it to mean that he decided to sound in on the false assumption that our bodies work in such a way that we can prevent pregnancies from rape by our bodily response to it. A widely held view in some circles, I'm told. Most of those circles do not include women. And he labeled his definition of how we mostly prevent those pregnancies, as legitimate rape, to point out that so many of us claim rape when it never happened (e.g. illegitimate rape??). Thus, two insults and false premises in one ignorant comment.

But then, he probably wouldn't think I'm much of a "lady".

Algernon said...

It's a very subtle distinction that deserves better explanation than Maddow and O'Donnell and certain writers on are giving it. Even repeating that single two-word phrase without context, over and over again, helps distort the meaning, and the ghastly implications, of what Akin actually said.

Eve Ensler wrote an excellent response to Akin while she was in the Congo. Here is a brief excerpt from her open letter:

"You used the expression 'legitimate' rape as if to imply there were such a thing as 'illegitimate' rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape. The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority. It delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced. It makes them feel as alone and powerless as they did at the moment of rape."

That seems to be the important point, and it is difficult to convey that reality in a snarky remark (especially coming from a male commentator, have to say).

It is very easy to construe some of the commentary as suggesting Akin was making a distinction between justified rape and non, when in fact what he was talking about -- just as Eve Ensler says -- is the parsing of "real rape" and fabricated rape.

Algernon said...

Updates. On October 24, Rachel Maddow summarized Akin's "legitimate rape" comment accurately on her show. Earlier in the week, however, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood was interviewed on NPR presenting the "legitimate rape" comment as justifying some rapes. Sigh.