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A Pox on the Patriarchy

Vaguetionary – Words of the Week are ‘Legitimate Rape’ and ‘Misspoke’

Those dedicated followers of…my blog who hail from the UK might recall a similar episode of ‘misspeaking’ in the context of rape by a man one would have hoped knew better.

This memorable incident took place, oh…about a year ago, where the words ‘classic rape‘ issued forth from the disastrous lips of one Ken Clarke, Justice Secretary. And the nation went wild! Finally, here was a sexy definition of rape – after all, we liked ‘classic’ didn’t we? Classic cars, classic films, now…classic rape?

I jest, of course. It was actually quite a big deal; Ken might have been forced to resign – although in the end, he survived to fight another day about rapes of all kinds. Classic Hooray!

Poor old Ken must have hoped he’d heard the last of this kind of rape classi-fication [yeah, sorry about that]; so imagine his horror yesterday to find that he seemed to have inspired a, frankly, impressive case of the student bettering the master. Surely I can’t have been the only one to hear echoes of ‘your classic rape’ in Senate nominee Todd Akin’s designation of which rapes are ‘legitimate‘, can I? Really? Just me then? Oh Ken will be relieved!

And let’s be fair to Ken: beyond the decision to classify rapes into categories, there is really a pretty wide gulf between these two rape experts.

By way of explanation of how I see this gulf, let’s look more closely at Akin’s word choice. The antonym of ‘legitimate’ is ‘illegitimate’. This means that any ‘rape’ that doesn’t fall under Akin’s scientifically-based designation of ‘legitimate’ is therefore ‘Not legitimate, not in accordance with or authorized by law; unauthorized, unwarranted; spurious; irregular, improper.’ (OED: illegitimate adj. and n.). And to be extra-clear, the ‘not in accordance with…law’, doesn’t mean that the rape wasn’t lawful (that would make it ‘legitimate rape’ people, keep up!), it means that the classification of the sexual encounter would not be lawfully considered rape.

To move away from his bizarre choice of phrasing let’s just stop and consider for a second what Todd Akins, Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate lest we forget, means by ‘legitimate rape’. I’m going to use Akin’s own words here, because you really can’t beat them for satire. In answer to a question from his interlocutor about aborting a child that results from rape, Akin, hilariously, said the following:

…from what I understand from doctors, that is really rare. If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.


Akins, on live TV, just spouted Renaissance medical and rape theory, in a 2012 Senate race. Which leads me to believe that the ‘doctors’ Akin consulted are likely to have been consulted during his bi-weekly seance [DISCLAIMER: we have no evidence beyond his holding 500 year old medical beliefs that Akin is into the occult – Ed.]. I wonder whether he chooses live or dead doctors when it comes to his own medical complaints? I’m guessing he goes for the live version, you know, so they actually know what they’re doing, and have moved on from the ‘leeches are a man’s best friend’ theory. But it’s just a hunch – don’t quote me on it.

The implications of Akin’s laughably ignorant comments are wide-ranging. Every woman who not only suffered the trauma of rape, but the horror of finding that the rapist had left his physical mark in the shape of a child, now growing inside her, sharing her body and her food, has now had the validity of her experience questioned. She has suffered yet another indignity, yet another violation of her psychological space by a man.

And who is this woman? Well, if we look at the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 32,101 pregnancies resulting from rape every year. And that’s just in women over 18.

But let’s look further afield. How about, oh I don’t know, Bosnia, where women’s bodies were used as a weapon of war. Where rape camps were set up. Where soldiers, as part of a systematic process of ethnic cleansing raped women in a deliberate attempt to get them pregnant, forcing them to carry to term. Perhaps Akin doesn’t consider these rapes to have been legitimate? He’s in good company there, as it happens.

Or how about the women in Syria who have experienced this? Are their experiences ‘legitimate’? I mean, clearly not, right? Getting pregnant is basically foolproof evidence that you loved it. Let’s not let a little thing like statistics that suggest rape is actually more likely to end in pregnancy than consensual sex get in the way of a good anti-choice line.

But hang on, maybe it’s all OK after all. Because, pace Akin, he ‘misspoke‘. Yes, all rape victims who suffered the double trauma of being raped and then realising that they were carrying the rapist’s DNA inside them can rest easy, because despite Akin’s reeling off of ‘medical evidence’ to support his bizarre theory, this was really a simple slip of the tongue. Could happen to anyone.

And indeed, I often find myself giving extended opinions on things and then realising I’ve totes said the absolute opposite of what I really think. Like just last week, my boyfriend asked me if I agree with the death penalty, and I said ‘Yes, absolutely. There are never any miscarriages of justice, and the death penalty has totally been proven to work as a deterrent. Oh, and we absolutely have the right to carry out a punishment whose consequences we don’t understand’. My boyfriend got really pissed off with me and started off reeling of stats and figures to demonstrate just how wrong I was. And that was when I realised – of course, I misspoke! I don’t agree with capital punishment at all! Silly old me with my tendency to misspeak – hey thanks bf for pointing that out to me.

And this misspeaking seems to be catching. Much as I admire Hilary Clinton in other ways, she really did open a Pandora’s box on this one (typical woman); it seems to be catching. Just this week, The Guardian, another entity I generally admire, engaged in the written form of misspeaking. Or did they?

According to the OED, ‘misspeak’, at least in this relatively recent incarnation means ‘To speak incorrectly, unclearly, or misleadingly’. Let’s look at ‘incorrectly’ first. It’s a term that implies a lack of intention – a ‘mistake’ if you will. And perhaps this was a mistake – but based on The Guardian’s usual practice, it seems hard to interpret this as such considering it would involve their acting in a way they have never before been known to act. So how about ‘unclearly’? Hard to see that one too – their presentation of the man who advocated sorry, expressed that he would be fine with Israel shooting Americans on the Gaza flotilla as a new member of ‘their editorial team’ seems pretty clear to me. But then I’m a stickler for semantics; maybe that’s my problem rather than theirs. And ‘misleadingly’ is also a bit weird: unlike ‘unclear’ and ‘incorrect’ this one implies intent; so what reason could The Guardian have for wanting to ‘mislead’ readers on this? Doesn’t seem to have worked out that well for them anyway.

But really, we know what’s actually happened here, don’t we? The Guardian, just like Todd Akin, have realised that they’ve made an unpopular statement. And as is the way of all the greatest politicians and businesses de nos jour, they think that refusing to accept responsibility and to just lie and weasel their way out the hole of their own creating, still works.

In the words of Helen Lewis, ‘Now, there’s chutzpah.’

4 comments on “Vaguetionary – Words of the Week are ‘Legitimate Rape’ and ‘Misspoke’

  1. Pingback: Can Men Be Feminists? « Week Woman

  2. Pingback: Rounding Up Racism, Misogyny And Craig Murray « Soupy One

  3. Tending Weeds
    August 20, 2012

    Ahhh, but ladies, he also empathizes. He has “the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another”. So…of course he has the expertize to speak of the physical and emotional violation of rape. I don’t remember the exact speech when he recollected his own traumatizing rape experience…oh, there isn’t one?…well…doesn’t that change everything.

  4. TheVicar
    August 20, 2012

    ‘Hot Toddy’ Akins for Patriarch Crush! So what if some of his scientific facts are a little harder to swallow than his beverage namesake?

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on August 20, 2012 by in Features and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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