All About “Legitimate Rape”


This week’s Reality Cast is dedicated to the Todd Akin blow up: What it means, what the reaction is all about, and why “rape exceptions” aren’t a thing anyway.

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Chris Matthews calls personhood “radical social engineering”

Todd Akin and “legitimate rape”

Akin asks for forgiveness

Claire McCaskill responds

Obama weighs in

Dana Loesch attacks GOP for trying to drop Akin

Huckabee helps Akin out

Maddow talks rape apology

Once again, the sexy ladies of Fox are pretending they don’t know what this sex thing is

This week’s episode is all about the explosive reaction to Todd Akin’s remarks on abortion rights and rape. I’m dedicating the whole episode to it, because while the topic is exhausting, it did a lot to expose the problems with our national discourse around abortion. Irin Carmon will be on to talk through some issues, as well.

Nice to see Chris Matthews see that Paul Ryan’s proposed personhood for fertilized egg laws are incredibly radical, beyond what even some of the most repressive anti-feminist countries have as laws.

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Michelman went on to point out something I’ve been trying to get across, which is that this law would have serious implications for miscarriage, making doctors afraid to treat it for fear of being accused of “murder”.

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In a sense, it’s upsetting that the main way that serious issues regarding women’s rights and health tend to only get national attention when some candidate slips up and says something unbelievably misogynist. Not just standard issue misogyny, even. As the Wisdom of Wingnuts segment on this show demonstrates, we weekly are told by politicians and pundits that women’s only value is as a sex object, that sperm have more rights than women, and who insinuate that the 99% of women who use birth control are bad people. But once in awhile, someone goes above the call of duty to say something even misogynists have to admit sounds kind of misogynist. So it was with Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for Senate in Missouri.

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I hate the whole trope of journalists sitting around asking politicians when they’ll allow abortions, as if they’re going over the case files for criminals to see which ones will be eligible for pardon. You people realize that office holders don’t actually make direct assessments about when abortion should be allowed, right? This is all based on the strange notion that you can craft a policy that bans most abortions but has meaningful exceptions, but as various Latin American countries with such bans show, it actually doesn’t work out that way.

Anyway, this comment really wins for the density of its fail. There’s the smarmy misogynist tone to the whole thing, the magical thinking that he intends to write into law, and oh yeah, the “legitimate rape” nonsense that implies that he thinks that most rape complaints are women just making it up to cover up for their sluttiness. His supposed apology didn’t do much to fix the situation.

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He prays for rape victims, but you’ll notice he still wants to force them to bear their rapist’s children. You’ll notice that while he had to swallow his magical beliefs, at least for the time being, he didn’t actually apologize for trying to separate “legitimate” rapes from the other rapes that he thinks aren’t actually rapes. Again, you can’t really pry anti-choicers from their hysterical beliefs about female sexuality, so it’s not a surprise that Akin isn’t apologizing for his implicit claim that women make up false rape claims in order to hide their slutty ways. At the heart of the anti-choice movement is this fear that women will have sex and then will “get away” with it, so of course many anti-choicers are paranoid that women are trying to “get away” with sex by lying around rape.

Akin’s hedging just makes things easier on the Democrats, because they can look bold and firm in comparison. His opponent, Claire McCaskill, was all over this, as you can imagine.

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President Obama also took the opportunity to position himself as straightforward and unwilling to hedge on basic questions of sexual consent and autonomy.

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Which is basically the issue. People like Akin who use terms like “legitimate rape” are doing so because they’re working from a belief, which is consistent with anti-choice beliefs, that women’s bodies are not their own. And that therefore there are situations where a woman’s lack of consent to sex should be disregarded. That’s why he and Paul Ryan pushed for a bill to redefine the rape exception in the Hyde Amendment to be only for “forcible rape”. It’s an attempt to eliminate not just statutory rape, but likely any rape where the rapist didn’t beat the victim down. Which actually means most rapes. Rapists prefer to subdue with threats and intimidation, because if you punch someone, that just makes it that much more likely you’ll go to jail.

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insert interview

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Most of the leaders of the Republican party immediately disavowed Todd Akin’s comments about legitimate rape right away. John Boehner told Akin that his party support was being pulled and a number of commentators, including Sean Hannity and yes, even Rush Limbaugh, told Akin to drop out. But for some conservatives, the opportunity to put rape victims in their place and call for mandatory childbirth for all women was simply too great to overlook. First, you had Dana Loesch, whose main guiding principle is to assume that any woman who isn’t her is a whining idiot that needs to be told. This tends to get her into situations where she rushes to defend even the most indefensible levels of sexism.

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No, I imagine that they’re mostly concerned about running a candidate who is on the record implying that most rape victims are liars, because that’s the sort of thing that makes you lose. Not because of Democrats. Swing voters are the ones who tend to get a little uneasy with the nastiness towards the majority of rape victims. Akin is trying to upset an incumbent, so it’s not like Democrats can’t win in Missouri. I imagine that’s what Republicans are thinking, but Loesch’s misogyny towards any women not named “Dana Loesch” has thwarted her ability to see this.

Mike Huckabee immediately swung into action as an avid supporter of Akin’s, though they differ on the issue of whether or not God lets rape victims get pregnant, with Huckabee pushing the other anti-choice view that God is giving women a wonderful gift by having rapists rape sweet little babies into them, and it’s a gift they just can’t say no to. They were able to put these differences aside to address the more important, shared belief that the only rapes that count are when scary strangers jump out of the bushes and beat you down.

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So let’s be clear. He doesn’t seem to be backing off the belief that women who are “forcibly” raped, which appears to be a euphemism for a rape that also involves a beating, don’t get pregnant. But the other rapes, which are just achieved through intimidation or threats, can result in pregnancy? But we don’t need exceptions for them, because the only people who would deserve exceptions are the ones who got a beating, but since they don’t get pregnant, then we don’t need exceptions? That seems to be the idea here. Which means that really, Huckabee and Akin are still supporting the idea that it’s not rape-rape unless it’s a stranger in the bushes who beats you up, too. Maybe part of the reason Republicans want Akin to go is that what he said was so clear cut that any attempt to salvage it just ends up reaffirming these vile beliefs.

The real question here is simple: Is Todd Akin really that far outside of the conservative mainstream? The Republican platform calls for what amounts to a ban on abortion with no exceptions. Plus, these kind of weird theories have been floating around amongst anti-choicers for forever. Rachel Maddow ran down some examples.

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And this:

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And so on and so on. This myth has been around forever. What’s clear here is not just that anti-choicers don’t know much about biology, which is something we’ve known forever. It’s also that a lot of anti-choicers have really vivid fantasies about both violent rape and women they imagine are just making it up to conceal their slutty ways. Vivid fantasies that they easily substitute for reality. It’s not just alarming, but incredibly perverse, and not in a good way.
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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, the okay what do you propose edition? Fox’s Andrea Tantaros no doubt that she was just adorable when she said this:

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Setting aside the way conservatives think they can diagnose your contraception needs and prescribe your pills for you from afar, this is yet another example of how they’re trying to smear a feminist advocate by insinuating she’s a bad woman for using contraception. But of course Tantaros carefully cultivates the image as being an urbane, sophisticated sexy woman living in New York. Is their audience being stupid or naïve when they lap up the insinuation that somehow women like Tantaros get to be who they are and live the lives they do without using contraception?

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte