Politics, Rape, and the Meaning of Words

 This week’s Internet flap comes to us courtesy of Missouri’s Todd Akin, a current US Representative running for a Senate seat in that state.   Mr. Akin made remarks that could charitably be described as unfortunate, when he suggested that “legitimate rape”  might not cause a woman to become pregnant, because her body would shut down the process.

The resulting flap has been astounding, primarily because most of the hue and cry has been focused on the wrong half of the sentence.

Imagine if Mr. Akin had started his statement with “In a case where a rape has actually occurred,” which I surmise is what he meant.  Then the focus might have been on the appalling combination of ignorance and stupidity he displayed in the latter part of the sentence.

Instead, we have a national spate of bile launched at him because of the use of the words “legitimate rape.”  You have to conclude that people can no longer be bothered to spend a few seconds to ponder what words mean, but instead go with their brain-jerk reaction to words and word combinations that seem offensive at first blush.

There is no such think as a legitimate rape. Surely everyone can agree on that. Even Mr. Aiken. Everyone is opposed to rape.  Rape is awful and should never occur.  Now, may we proceed?

Has there ever, in history, been a woman (or man) who claimed a rape had taken place and was not truthful?  Of course. Does this happen often?  Certainly not.  It has to be extremely rare, and the actual percentage would probably be impossible to pin down. Let’s say, for the sake of this little essay, that the number of false rape claims is far less than 1%. All I seek is the tacit acceptance that false rape claims can and do occur.

Some of the many indulging in venomous flights of rhetorical excess toward Mr. Aiken seem to be saying that women NEVER claim a false rape, and that to me is… wait for it… sexist.

If women are to be equal in the eyes of the law and the minds of the population, and clearly we’re not there yet, then we have to accept that women are capable of deceit, lies, crimes, unfair tactics, and all the other ills that men can bring to daily life. If you are a man, you have to deal with the reality that a boy can grow into a Mr. Rogers, or a Hitler, with a lot of gradations in between. You have to calculate where you fall in that range. The same scope has to be accorded to women.  If we cannot do that, then we debase women to a status of aspiring Snow White wannabes that is impossible to maintain and rather boring in the long run.

If Mr. Aiken was referring to cases where a rape in fact occurred, even if that is the case 99.9999% of the time, then we can look at the rest of his statement – and be appalled.

Here’s a person already elected to an important public office that has no conception (pun!) of how conception works.  In addition, he appears to have no idea of how any statement made by any candidate for office will be recorded and passed on my multi-media sources, and a gaffe will rebound all over the world. He has displayed a stunning lack of both education and intelligence, and has to be considered a poor candidate for office, based on the second half of his statement – not the first.

His own party has gone along with the mass hysteria, with everyone with an R after their name fleeing from any connection to him and many calling for the cessation of his campaign and abdication of his current position.  Really?

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if candidate Romney had issued a statement such as this?

“Candidate Aiken has made remarks that are incorrect, ignorant, and offensive, and all of us recoil from them.  I am sure he regrets his statements and wishes to have the words back. 

On the other hand, what candidate for major office has not made statements in the heat of a campaign that he or she regrets?  I know I have, and I think President Obama would admit he has.  Vice-President Biden is rather famous for some of his less than temperate remarks.

Mr. Aiken has certainly been punished for his indiscretions. He has been slammed by media outlets all over the world. He has hurt his own campaign severely, and given tremendous power to those whose political stands differ from his.  Shouldn’t that be enough of a punishment for one statement?

I hope all Americans can look past one sentence and get back to the important issues of the campaign, as I intend to from this minute forward,”

But of course he said nothing of the kind.   To be fair, I’m not sure the  treatment of Mr. Aiken as an undesirable would have been different had it been a different party.

“Rape” is an ugly word. One of the ugliest.  My mother taught me that there are no bad words – just words used at the wrong time with the wrong audience. I noticed this in my teens, where the free flowing language of weekend pick-up hockey games on the rink behind the high school did not transfer to the classroom inside the school during the week.

But surely the use of an ugly word should not be allowed to overwhelm meaning, which is what has happened here. 

Rape is a problem in all societies, and has been for centuries.  It will not go away if nobody ever utters the word.

I’m not sure how to create a world where rape never takes place, but the hysterical denouncing someone who has used the word without considering the meaning cannot be the way forward.

David Preston                                                            Copyright 2012











About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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4 Responses to Politics, Rape, and the Meaning of Words

  1. Ian says:

    If only you had spent a few seconds pondering what Mr. Akin meant, as opposed to dissecting the meaning of the words he used, you may have understood why you stood alone in not being appalled by the first half of his sentence. Putting the word “legitimate” in front of “rape” is to you entirely redundant so you charitably assumed he misspoke or was misunderstood. However given he co-sponsored a bill allowing abortions for “forcible” rape it appears more likely for him the terms “forcible” and “legitimate” are interchangeable. It is not a stretch to imagine Mr. Akin believes rape can only occur when physical force is used. This is the conclusion most people came to and explains the bile that was directed at him.

    As to the second half of his sentence, while ignorance of basic biology is lamentable I would not raise it to the level of appalling (and frankly most men would get a failing grade on a test on the female reproductive system). What is appalling is that his statement was not made in ignorance but in a willful distortion of facts in order to suit his particular world view. For those who believe all abortions are wrong rape presents a moral dilemma, so when one pro-life doctor announces raped women rarely get pregnant
    people like Akin can hide behind “science”. Ignorance is not so appalling as it can easily be corrected through education. Those willing to distort facts to suit their theories are not so easily mended.

    Akin’s was not denounced because he used the word rape. He was denounced because he used pro-life language with the wrong audience (i.e. everyone else) and his meaning was all too clear.

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    • david says:

      Thank you! Your argument is persuasive. Can we agree he is a jerk? David

      • Ian says:

        Absolutely. I think we can measure the extent of his idiocy by the fact that one of the financial contributors to his primary election and a staunch defender of right to proceed with his nomination was….the Democrat party!

        ps. sorry for going on a bit of a rant

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