GOP Senatorial candidate Todd Akin shocked people across the world with his comments about “legitimate rape” this past Sunday. In a discussion over abortion rights, the Missouri Republican Senate nominee (and member of the House Science, Space and Technology committee) claimed that pregnancy from rape is”really rare” because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
**Blankest stare in the history of blank stares**
Clearly, Akin’s scientific knowledge is straight out of vacation Bible school at Westboro Baptist Church or some other such nonsense completely fabricated by those willing to deny women the right to choose abortion by any means necessary…even if those means include reducing the seriousness of sexual assault. He isn’t the first to suggest that pregnancy from rape is uncommon; an Atlantic article cites a Philadelphia state rep who made the same claims in 1988 and a lawyer who asserted in 1980 that “conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” I guess that slave rape (you know, the thousands of assaults endured by thousands of enslaved African women that populated plantations across the country?) wasn’t “legitimate rape” after all.
Todd Akin is the same man who hesitated to vote in favor of outlawing rape and sexual abuse, stating that “in a real messy divorce,” rape claims could be used as “a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.” Expecting anything but absurdity from this man, particularly as it relates to women’s rights, is as wise as expecting a five-year-old to teach himself how to do trigonometry. However, while few would go so far as to echo his sentiments about magical, spermicidal secretions that come out during a rape, there are countless others have attitudes about when and where a woman can be a victim that are no less disturbing than that of the aspiring Senator.
The concept of “legitimacy” is often bandied about when discussing domestic violence; the recent incident between Chad Johnson and wife Evelyn Lozada, Love and Hip-Hop ATL star K. Michelle’s allegations of abuse at the hands of ex-boyfriend Memphitz and the back-in-the-headlines Chris Brown/Rihanna saga serve as examples of cases where many, many people made it their business to question the viability of the victims. As we speak, there is a nasty Facebook meme going around that features images of Evelyn Lozada fighting on the set of Basketball Wives with the caption “A repeatedly violent woman should not be allowed to be an advocate for domestic violence. #nothankyou” (I think your misguided cousin meant to say “an advocate against domestic violence,” but the flawed point was quite clear nonetheless.)
While the 2009 Grammy night incident led to great speculation about Rihanna’s “feisty temper,” the singer has never once been implicated as a violent party by Brown, nor has she been involved in any documented fights with anyone during the course of her career. Yet, this Sunday’s interview with the singer on Oprah’s Next Chapter reinvigorated the chorus of “See, you know she hit him too!” and “She feels bad because she knows he wasn’t the only guilty party.” The idea that Rihanna was somehow deserving of a beat down or culpable has came from what? The fact that she makes raunchy songs and has red hair? Her wild child persona has been used to delegitimize her right to be a victim.
Evelyn Lozada, on the other hand, has been a violent aggressor a number of times on her hit reality show. Her TV persona is about as likeable as the flu virus and she fights. We’ve seen her do it many times. K. Michelle is a newer face to television audience, but has also been seen displaying violent behavior on camera. But does that make it impossible that these women have been the victims of violence at the hands of men? Absolutely not! And it doesn’t mean that any violence inflicted upon them has come as the result of their own physical acts of aggression. As Sil Lai Abrams wisely pointed out when the Lozada/Johnson incident happened, “even people we don’t like or respect can be victims of assault.”
Our cultures (American and Black) don’t trust women. Efforts like Atkin’s to limit the ability of women to control their bodies speaks to this, as does the constant battle over who can actually be a “legitimate” survivor of rape or abuse. Between his views on rape (the sentiment about divorce may have been even more damning than the one about pregnancy) and the chorus of people dying to defend Brown, Johnson and Memphitz without any significant evidence that these men are the ‘real’ victims, speaks volumes about the lack of respect given to women, even when they have suffered greatly. We must recognize that picking and choosing which women can be victimized is no less absurd than suggesting that biology magically keeps women from becoming pregnant during a sexual assault.