Suffragette City 11


She said he put something in her drink. That she said no. That they were dating, though, so it was her fault. When she told her parents, they shamed her for losing her virginity.

She was walking home from a night class. He followed her, attacked her on campus. She never reported it. It was her fault, you see, because she was a female, walking alone at night.

He said she had a short skirt on, and she was drunk. What was he supposed to do? He never heard her say no. He said she owed him.

Shall I go on? Or do we know enough of these stories by now that we can agree rape is not about sex and no one ever, ever, ever asks for or deserves to be raped.

Apparently, we’re not there yet.

This is the week that America learned about “legitimate rape” from a graduate of high school and college, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology committee. Apparently, according to Rep. Todd Akin, whose “science” is not my science, women have super-powered ladybits that can determine whether she’s being raped and whether to allow herself to get pregnant.

Trying to give the benefit of the doubt, I still can’t find a reasonable version of what he may have meant, either with the “legitimate rape” or the faulty science. Even his party leaders rushed to distance themselves from his remarks.

I think Rep. Akin did not misspeak; I think his remarks are indicative of a culture that likes to explain away the distasteful with with alternate realities. In claiming that women can prevent pregnancy during rape by “shutting down” or failing to “secrete” certain chemicals, he puts more onus on the victim than has already been heaved on her brutalized shoulders:

Not only is it your fault you got raped, but it’s your fault you didn’t prevent a rape pregnancy.

The truly troubling part to me is that there are women in America who believe these convenient and cobbled together theories from the “guidance” of “well-meaning” leaders. When I heard this man’s idiotic statements—call a spade a spade—I wondered how my friends who are rape survivors would respond. Did they hear the implied condemnation in his words? I did.

There are plenty of women who do not think there is a war on women. And that’s fine. Everyone’s entitled to her opinion or ideas. It is hard for me, however, to hear this kind of dialogue and not see that this is one more way the female body is imprisoned by politicians as bargaining chips.

In 1920, American women were granted the right to vote. Our leaders had finally decided we weren’t so soft of brain that we could maybe handle the responsibility of using our own agency to make a decision about whom should lead us. I never wanted to be a one issue voter, and I don’t this I am. I think the war on women is about power, authority, and knowledge. Just like rape isn’t about sex. 

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11 thoughts on “Suffragette City

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    thanks for writing this. i hate that this came up this week, but in a way i’m glad, because i don’t think akin “misspoke” at all. this kind of victim-blaming is always lurking, and he just brought it to light. people who are 100% pro-life/anti-abortion in every circumstance (like the party platform) almost have to diminish the evil and prevalence of rape or else they’re forced to deal with the very personal, practical consequences of what they’re seeking to legislate on the bodies of victims.

    i’ve heard similar talk from men in bible studies–dripping contempt for “rape victims” who they imagine to be so insignificant numerically that their lives and experiences matter not at all.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      I don’t usually write about this kind of thing, but man it lit a fire under me. For all the victims out there. I see the same thing you see you; the diminishment of very painful life experiences to fit into a pretty little box called a platform. Too bad life is messier than that. Also, I am quite honestly shocked to hear your story about men in bible studies. It makes me wonder how they’d reply if they knew a woman who had been raped; and then it makes me afraid for those women. Which is why I think men really need to be part of this conversation.

  • Dana

    Oh Jennifer…so well written. I know that it is absolutely apples to oranges but let me tell you I have had at the very least, 20 people ask me “Did you get breast cancer because (insert any one of a million mistakes I’ve made in my life)?” They were serious…I am disgusted that I have actually had to think about what life will be like for my daughter…are we going backwards? Will she even be allowed to vote? Thanks for writing!

  • Laureen

    Well written & well spoken. I especially paused over the truth of your statement: “explain away the distasteful with alternate realities.” I remember my first therapist telling me that I would lose friends & alienate myself in my church community if I told them that I was the survivor of incest & rape as a child. That this would not fit into their “God box” and they would have to: 1. make it fit; 2. change their view of God & understanding of how this world works; or 3. dismiss me out-of-hand and no longer have contact with me because they would feel uncomfortable, confused, & afraid. I had some who chose the first, a few who chose the second (& have been incredibly supportive & intimate friends), and a shocking number who chose the third. I feel sorry for them: we will all have life experiences that challenge our perspective of God. I was told that there had to be something bad in my family, or bad in me, that allowed this to happen — it would never happen in their family, to their children, to any good, Christian person. (As I write this, I have to laugh. Really? Fear is a powerful force — we protect ourselves from bad things by thinking nothing bad can happen to us. A bit contrary to what Jesus had to say, and certainly disregarding Christians who risk their lives every day for their faith.)
    The amazing reality was that out of the first 12 people I told, 4 were survivors themselves, 2 had never told anyone until they told me, and 1 was a man, a pastor who felt he could never disclose his past trauma. Our honest, authentic, strong testimony gives permission for others to come out into the light and be free. The truth sets us free, always. One in three women & 1 in 5 men have or will experience some form of sexual abuse.
    I can’t imagine the shame this man has brought to already painfully injured souls. I have a voice. I won’t be silent on this. Thanks for your courage & great skill in articulating & creating space for others to speak.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Laureen, thank you so much for sharing this. I’m caught between understanding that even those who aren’t victims need compassion and wanting to shake some people. It is good for me to know your experience, so I think before I speak. You are brave, Laureen.

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    This is like a truth carpet bomb. Power and responsibility… ack. Those with power and the most responsibility use their power to shift the responsibility to the powerless. Same old story, different people.

  • kt_writes

    “I think Rep. Akin did not misspeak; I think his remarks are indicative of a culture that likes to explain away the distasteful with with alternate realities.”

    “…this is one more way the female body is imprisoned by politicians as bargaining chips.”

    PREACH, sister!

    • Jennifer Post author

      You know what fires me up. You know I don’t usually write that kind of thing, but yeah. I’ll keep writing if people keep believing this kind of nonsense.