I feel like I've heard the word rape more in the last five years than ever in my life. Maybe in part that's because five years ago I was 20 and busy thinking about Harry Potter. But I think mostly it's because sexual violence is being discussed more, by politicians, people in television, comedians, and society in general. I wonder if that means as a society battling an endless rape culture, we're starting to pull out... or that it's getting worse.
On Wednesday New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown introduced House Bill 206, that would make getting an abortion after sexual assault a criminal offense because it would be tampering with the evidence. You may be thinking, "Cathrynn... that is a woman's name... weird." Well, reader, good job remembering literally the only thing I remember from Wuthering Heights, and yes, you're correct.
This is one of the craziest things I've ever heard, and I'm a comedian who likes jokes about cryptozoological creatures and aliens. Brown's language that she used to describe it makes it seem like she has no idea that she sounds like she's punishing the victims. She sounds like she's not thinking of the victims at all. NM Rep Gail Chasey commented, "As an attorney I started looking at it and thought that's not how we gather evidence in a rape anyway, so it doesn't even make sense logically."
How would using a fetus as evidence even work? The baby comes out, it hunts down its father and confronts them on Jerry Springer and then 20 years later, boom, we got him!? Also, what about victims that don't get pregnant? That opens up the Todd Akin "legitimate" argument that if women don't get pregnant, maybe they weren't really assaulted... Which just basically proves that Todd Akin and people akin to him lack a legitimate soul.
I think this kind of rhetoric is what shames a lot of victims into not reporting it, or subliminally encourages men into thinking that forcing, manipulating, or taking advantage of women is okay. (It's not okay. Ever. Being a good person is okay. Try that.) It seems like we're talking about it more, which I think is good because it's bringing it into the spotlight, calling attention to the problem, hopefully inspiring to take action towards a solution. I wonder if maybe this style of conversation has been historically consistent, but now finally people, men and women, are speaking out against the rhetoric.
It's good that we're getting so mad about the comments politicians and comedians are making. But it doesn't seem like the politicians are getting any better at it. The Todd Akins and Cathrynn Browns and Daniel Tosh's (Yes I know he isn't a comedian, thank goodness) do not seem like they are learning, developing empathy or social graces. What if we talked about sexual violence like it was a bad thing? Oh, no I'm ruining comedy again. I'm not saying politicians and comedians shouldn't talk about horrible crimes; I'm just saying maybe talk about it in a way that makes the rapist, not the victim the villain.
I honestly think Cathrynn Brown made a mistake in her wording and did not mean to villainize the victims. But lately it seems the excuse of "I misspoke" is a broken record, and that our record of talking about sexual violence in a way that doesn't terrify women on a primal fight or flight level is also broken.
The way we talk about rape in the media often illustrates the crime as a violent crime that occurs in dark alleys (which it is) but this neglects the idea it can happen at a party, or a date, or at a friend's house. Our words affect how people perceive issues. The media, news and otherwise, has a lot of influence on our culture's behavior. Even if politicians or comedians aren't saying, "Rape is okay," they're often not saying "rape is wrong" either. I think it's good we're talking about it more. Let's make sure we're talking about it in a beneficial way. The way people are talking about it in the news is affecting how your kids are talking about it in gym class and how your boyfriends are talking about it in their stupid boyfriend treehouse club. (Do boyfriends have treehouse clubs? I don't know.) Words have a lot of power. Don't use them for evil.
I think the best way to deal with a problem like this is to put more thought into how to talk about sexual violence in a way that makes it clear that it is a horrible thing. I guess I'm not really saying anything too outlandish there. I think after the Cathrynn Brown incident, it's important to remember that a lot of us are good people, and we shouldn't just be silent and wait until someone makes us angry to show that.