A lot has been said lately about Todd Akin’s horribly ignorant statements regarding rape. People are up in arms over the whole thing, and rightfully so, demanding that he drop out of the Senate race, and politics all together. It’s refreshing to see politicians on both sides of the aisle denouncing his statements. But..
But the biggest thing that scares me about all of this isn’t the fact that a political leader believes this kind of crap. It’s the fact that he’s not alone. No matter what kind of backlash we’re seeing via various media outlets, you know there are plenty of people sitting in their living rooms saying, “Well, I don’t see what’s wrong with that. Lots of women claim rape because they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions.” or “He said he talked to doctors. I bet he’s totally right about lady parts shutting down when REAL rape happens.”
There was an opinion piece on CNN written by a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape. The comments on the piece were nauseating and absolutely terrifying. While there were a lot of supportive people, there were several who questioned her story, to put it kindly.
Here’s the thing. I want to hate Todd Akin. I want to hate every right wing nut job who believes that rape is something that happens when a stranger follows a woman who’s hanging around where she shouldn’t be. I want to hate them with every fiber of my being. But I can’t. I can’t because I can see why they are hiding behind their ignorance. It’s not simply because reality doesn’t fit with their agenda. It’s because reality disrupts their entire ethos. They live in a bubble, cushioned against anything that might threaten their black and white views of the world. If they admit that rape happens, that it happens often and knows no socioeconomic or racial boundaries, then they have to admit that it could happen to their own wives and daughters.
A few years ago I was chased through a parking garage in broad daylight by a stranger. I had just left a job interview. I vaguely noticed that a young man was walking behind me, but wrote it off as being my own paranoia. That’s what women are taught, you know. We’re taught to feel guilty for being afraid because there aren’t REALLY monsters lurking around every corner, are there?
Anyway, I decided to take the stairs when I got into the garage because there was such a long line at the elevator. After a couple of flights I noticed that the young man was still behind me. I quickened my pace, and so did he. I began to run, and so did he. Not wanting to be trapped in a stairwell, I ran out the first door I came to, only to realize that I couldn’t remember where my car was parked and the level I’d come out on was completely deserted.
He kept pace, several feet behind me as I continued to give him “What the Hell are you doing?” looks over my shoulder. Finally, an older couple in a mini van came around the corner. I reached out and hit their window, begging them to stop. When they did, the man dodged between a couple of cars, trying to look like he was getting into one.
“I think that guy is following me. Can you take me to my car?” I said as loud as I could. As soon as he heard me say that, he ran.
That incident has stayed with me for the last five years. I still can’t walk through a parking garage without calling my husband and keeping him on the phone.
I wasn’t even assaulted and the entire fabric of my reality changed that day. My fear was no longer unfounded. The idea that I watched too many crime shows, or didn’t trust people enough, held no weight anymore. I learned that a woman, dressed in slacks and a nice sweater, heading home to her five month old baby at 2:00 in the afternoon, could be a target. ANY woman could be a target.
We trivialize rape and scapegoat the victims because admitting that it could happen to anyone hits too close to home. Rapists are going to rape. They aren’t good people who were led on and just couldn’t stop. They are monsters who choose to put their own sexual desires above their humanity. Whether it’s a stranger stalking a woman in the dead of night, a college kid who thinks he deserves a little something for buying dinner, a husband who believes he’s entitled, or a family member who preys on trust, they are monsters all the same.
Unless and until the conversation changes from “how to avoid being a victim,” to “women are people, not sex toys or reproductive tools,” no woman is safe. The long running narrative that teaches men and women that male sexual desire is somehow beyond their control needs to stop.
I have two daughters and a son. My daughters will grow up knowing that they are more than the sum of their parts. So will my son. It is unfortunate that I can’t control what the rest of society is teaching their children.
Hiding behind rhetoric and denial gives rapists more power. It gives them space to continue to victimize women because no one is going to believe them anyway. This isn’t a political issue, it’s a human issue and we are all responsible for making it stop.