The dark ignorance and insulting disregard beneath the remarks of Rep. Todd Akin go deeper than I’ve heard commented on so far. Both Akin and those like him should prepare for the backlash against that ignorance and disregard to go deeper as well.
It’s not “just” that Akin and men who think like him believe, however baselessly, that rape allegations are often fabricated, or at least embellished in order to create an excuse to procure an abortion. For enemies of choice, this suspicion- that women stretch the truth in order to seek support for terminating a pregnancy- is a natural outgrowth of the equally baseless male hysteria that birthed the myth that women regularly lie about rape in order to recapture their virtue.
No, it’s far worse in the effluent, boiling camps of thought that produced Todd Akin. Because as that thinking goes, there are really three classes of women who claim to be raped, and only one is worth caring about. In the first group (the smallest by far, in their minds) are the “real” victims- the chaste and blameless- attacked within narrowly defined and traditionally accepted scenarios. The second group (to them the largest) contains the liars and embellishers, either devil-women or shame-shedders who will “cry rape” in order to avoid personal responsibility, or simply out of sheer malevolence.
For many people, however badly misinformed, these two groups in whatever percentages make up the whole population of complainants. But for Akin and his ilk there is a third group as well: Women who may have been violated, but whose immodesty and ungodly behavior led directly to their victimization. These women are, perhaps, “real” victims in the sense that they lack the scheming underhandedness of the red-lipped Jezebels (and yes, a Freudian could and should have a field day with the projection and self-loathing going on here), but they fall short of a full measure of sympathy. There are teachings, after all, that if followed strictly, prevent that kind of unpleasantness. I’ll stress here that I’m not only picking on Akin’s apparent brand of Christianity. The idea that strict obedience to religious commandments will shield an observant woman from sexual assault precedes Christianity by millennia and is practiced by other religions as well. The adherence to religious rules, for those who obtain solace and fulfillment from them, are not bad in and of themselves (the sexist aspects excepted, but that’s a much longer discussion). But as deliverance from the evil of sexual violence, they are worse than ineffective; they are insidiously and falsely reassuring.
For me, Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape,” however botched an attempt at coherent thought, was a glimpse into the workings of a brain that sees a narrow band of true victimization in a spectrum of self-injury or worse. While perhaps driven (in men like Akin) by deep-seated male hysteria and ancient angst, it is also used with precision by predators who rape again and again, gleefully protected by the shame, guilt and fear aimed miserably in the wrong direction.
The irony involved (women viewed as hysterics while men hysterically consume rape-myth nonsense generation after generation) might be comical.
But rape isn’t funny.
And the millions of women victimized (to say nothing- here- of the millions of men also) aren’t laughing. Somewhere on the campaign trail in the great state of Missouri, Rep. Akin is doubtlessly wondering how he managed to kick over such a hornet’s nest. The quick answer, because he spoke ignorantly and insensitively on a topic deeply familiar to far more people than Akin probably suspects, is only a part of the larger explanation.
The rest is answered, in my mind, by a tide of moral certitude and cultural defensiveness meeting an increasing demand for non-traditional recognition of other ways of life and self-determination. The backdrop is the continuing, widespread unease of an oddly stubborn recession, an exhausting war, and the flinty, itching suspicion in more and more minds- on either side of the debate- that everything they love and depend on is slipping away from them.
People are angry. They are frightened. They are clinging more and more obdurately to their respective positions.
It will get worse.