By Jill Filipovic, Guardian UK
Todd Akin’s gaffes over ‘legitimate rape’ and ‘ladylike’ are not accidental: they encapsulate Republican attitudes to women
Todd Akin has issues with women. And so does his Republican party.
Akin, of “legitimate rape” fame, is now complaining that his Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, had the nerve to actually campaign against him. McCaskill’s decision to run a standard political campaign was apparently not properly “ladylike”, and Akin is offended at her aggressiveness. No, really; here’s the quote:
“I think we have a very clear path to victory, and apparently Claire McCaskill thinks we do, too, because she was very aggressive at the debate, which was quite different than it was when she ran against Jim Talent. She had a confidence and was much more ladylike [in 2006], but in the debate on Friday she came out swinging, and I think that’s because she feels threatened.”
Personally, I think it’s a good thing for women to come out swinging, whether they’re facing down a “legitimate rapist” who thinks he has the right to violate women’s bodies, or a misogynist political opponent who thinks he has the right to control women’s bodies. And it’s some pretty sweet irony to hear the man who says women can’t become pregnant from “legitimate rape” also suggesting that women shouldn’t fight back when they feel threatened because aggressive self-defense is unladylike.
Ladies, apparently, should lie back and take it.
Akin’s problems aren’t limited to his own backwards views on women, or even the repeated slip-ups that reveal the depth of those views. A look at his past comments and at his voting record shows that Akin fundamentally doesn’t trust women, and he definitely doesn’t trust rape victims. Akin doesn’t just have a far-right anti-abortion voting record; he praises rightwing militias with ties to radical anti-abortion action. He opposed the creation of a sex offender registry. (Tracking rapists is too aggressive and unladylike, perhaps?) When voting for legislation that would have finally made it possible to prosecute husbands for raping their wives, Akin supported the bill but worried that the legislation might be used “in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband”. He co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which changed the definition of rape by specifying that government-sponsored healthcare dollars would only pay for abortion if a pregnancy was caused by “forcible” rape, instead of just regular old rape.
Akin repeatedly uses terms like “legitimate rape” as synonyms for “forcible rape”. That means, simply, that Akin will accept that you were “legitimately” raped if a stranger jumps out of the bushes and assaults you. If you’re assaulted by your partner, or an acquaintance, or a sports coach, or a guy at a frat party? Not “legitimate”.
It’s easy to write all of this off as a problem with Akin himself. The man clearly does have some misogyny issues. But Akin’s antiquated views on rape, abortion and women’s rights aren’t his alone; they’re standard GOP fare.
Even as some members of the Republican party tried to cast Akin’s “legitimate rape” and abortion comments as personal and fringe, the GOP amended its platform to be stricter on abortion, calling for a constitutional amendment that would outlaw abortion in all cases, including when the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. A plain reading of the party plank is also clear that the Republican abortion ideal wouldn’t include exceptions even if the pregnant woman was going to die from the pregnancy. Unborn children have a right to life; adult women do not.
The attempt to restrict abortion access to women who were “forcibly” raped, and not just “regularly” raped, was also a GOP-wide phenomenon and not a solo Akin move; more than 160 members of Congress (almost all Republicans) co-sponsored that bill before widespread outrage obliged the withdrawal of the word “forcible”. And it wasn’t Todd Akin who blocked the Violence Against Women Act from passing; it was other well-placed members of the GOP who opposed the legislation because it offered protection from violence to immigrant women and LGBT people.
All of this – the belief that some rape victims are more legitimate than others, the hostility toward women who are “aggressive” and “unladylike”, the refusal to protect women from violence if those women are immigrants or lesbians – reflects the GOP’s fundamental view that women are not equal citizens. The entire Republican social platform is structured around the idea of the “traditional family”, where men are in the public sphere as breadwinners and heads of households, and women stay in private, taking care of children and serving as helpmeets to their husbands. The conservative worldview sees men as naturally in charge, and women as naturally nurturing and supportive of male authority.
Unfortunately, for the GOP, it turns out that when you give women a little bit of freedom, they take it – and women, too, want to be in charge of their own lives. Since that doesn’t fit into the social conservative ideal, the GOP is left trying to hamstring women’s freedom through sexist legislation.
A woman having the right to determine for herself the number and spacing of her children, through access to contraception, sex education and abortion? That doesn’t fit the ideal. A woman saying that her body is hers, and that she has the right not to be physically violated through sexual violence or forced pregnancy? That doesn’t fit the ideal. A woman running for public office against a man, and not pulling any punches? That doesn’t fit the ideal.
These aren’t a few wayward comments from an unhinged candidate who doesn’t know when to shut up. This is the Republican party platform.
And despite being initially criticized by his party for voicing a position on abortion and rape that gels almost perfectly with the party’s official stance, Akin appears to be back in the GOP’s good graces. He’s officially on the ballot as the Republican candidate, and enjoys the practical and financial support of the national Republican senatorial committee. He’s been endorsed by Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Jim DeMint. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is campaigning with him. The Missouri Republican party issued a statement saying it “stands behind” Akin.
With GOP support, Akin is faring surprisingly well in the polls. McCaskill is now tasked with showing voters that Akin’s views are far outside of the mainstream – an unladylike endeavor at which I hope she succeeds. It would be awfully nice to see a lady take on an intensely sexist, rightwing Republican and shut that whole thing down.