Republican Rep. Todd Akin taught us a little something about what he called “legitimate rape”—a term we weren’t previously familiar with—on local TV this week, saying women don’t usually get pregnant from rape because “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” Thankfully, he stopped there, but the comment kicked up enough that controversy that it may cost Akin his bid for the Senate.
Unfortunately for women, that shockingly ignorant and offensive statement is just one more entry into the Rape Statement Hall of Shame. The Daily Beast presents seven more crazy ideas about rape that have been propagated by politicians and frat boys over the years.
‘No Means Yes’
This condescending idea has always been a surefire sign of ignorance, but it took an even uglier turn last year when a group of pledges at the Yale chapter of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon chanted it while marching around Old Campus, where most of the school’s freshman women reside. And since the original phrase apparently wasn’t offensive enough, they threw in this charming addendum: “Yes Means Anal.” Then they captured the whole thing on video, which their senior brethren probably catalogued in the fraternity’s library of shameless pledge events and hazing incidents, like when former George W. Bush branded a pledge with an iron...you know, just like they do on the farm.
‘If It’s Inevitable, Just Enjoy It’
Rape, like a rainy day, can be unavoidable...so perhaps some victims would do better to take it in stride. This particularly foul-weather analogy was made in 1990 by Clayton Williams, then Texas’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, in front of cowboys, campaign workers, and reporters during a cattle roundup on a foggy morning at his ranch in West Texas. Later that day he apologized “if anyone’s offended” by his extremely offensive joke before adding that a cattle roundup is “not a Republican women’s club” but “a tough world where you can get kicked in the testicles if you’re not careful.” Instead of worrying about taking a cow hoof to the crotch, perhaps Williams should just “relax and enjoy it.”
Women Who Are Raped ‘Secrete a Certain Secretion’
In light of Akin’s gaffe, this one sounds familiar. Stephen Freind, then a Pennsylvania legislator, came out with a real doozy in 1988 during a radio interview when he said that the odds of a woman getting pregnant from being raped are “one in millions and millions and millions,” simply because the experience causes a woman “to secrete a certain secretion” that generally kills sperm. Freind stood by his claim—even though scientists negated it, with one joking that he’d use the magical “secretion” Freind refers to as a contraceptive if he could “find out what it was.” Freind went on to lose a 1992 Senate race, his last venture into state politics.
There’s Rape, and Then There’s…‘Forcible Rape’
GOP veep candidate Paul Ryan should probably have consulted a dictionary before laying out the conditions for a No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which he cosponsored with Akin himself in 2011. The bill said taxpayer dollars could only go toward aborting pregnancies that resulted from “forcible rape”... apparently it’s important to distinguish between regular old rape and “forcible rape.” The meaning of the term was never clearly defined and ultimately removed from the bill.
Marital Rape Could Be a ‘Legal Weapon’
A memo to all the ring-wearing ladies: your husband, that man with whom you exchanged the most sacred vows of love, can’t force himself upon you when you don’t want to have sex, according to some wingnuts. In 1991, Akin ultimately voted in favor of an anti-marital-rape law, but only after raising the issue of whether or not it would be misused, for example, “in a really messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.”
Just an Excuse for an Abortion?
Earlier this year, moments before Idaho’s state senate passed a mandatory ultrasound bill, Sen. Chuck Winder concluded his supporting arguments with these choice words of wisdom: “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 rape.”
There’s Such a Thing as ‘Gray Rape’
If the term “gray rape” served as an inspiration for E.L. James’s BDSM trilogy, perhaps we haven’t given the author enough credit, given how many times the heroine cries out, “Please, stop!” while being whipped during love-making (i.e., that momentary “gray” area where Anastasia can’t decide how far she wants to go with the beguiling Christian Grey.)
The conceit first made noise in the media following the release of Katie Roiphe’s 1994 book, The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism, in which the author writes that “there is a gray area in which one person’s rape may be another’s bad night.” The topic resurfaced in a 2007 Cosmopolitan article that defined “gray rape” 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 that.”
That gray area may exist in the bedroom, particularly when alcohol is involved, but it’s not acknowledged in court. “Certainly, in the criminal-justice system, there’s no such thing as gray rape,” Linda Fairstein, former chief of the sex-crimes unit at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, told The New York Times in response to the Cosmopolitan piece. “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.”