At a speech before the Center for Reproductive Rights last Wednesday, actress Tina Fey said what many women have been thinking: "If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I'm gonna lose my mind. I watch these guys and I'm like: what is happening? Am I a secretary on Mad Men?"
For many women who have been sexually assaulted or raped -- including me -- listening to these gray-faced men is stomach-turning. But what's worse is realizing that there may well be those who believe Republican Rep. Todd Akin when he talked so authoritatively and ignorantly about how the body of a women subjected to "legitimate rape" would automatically prevent pregnancy. Or Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock who argued that since he believes life begins at conception, "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair John Cornyn released a statement defending Mourdock: "Richard and I, along with millions of Americans -- including even [Mourdock's opponent] Joe Donnelly -- believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous."
On ABC's "This Week" this Sunday morning, President Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter noted that Mitt Romney has not taken down his ad supporting Mourdock. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich responded by doubling down:
My response is, if you listen to what Mourdock actually said, he said what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes, life begins at conception ... He also immediately issued a clarification saying he was referring to the act of conception, and he condemned rape. Romney has condemned -- I mean, one part of this is nonsense. Every candidate I know, every decent American I know condemns rape. Okay, so why can't people like Stephanie Cutter get over it? We all condemn rape.
What these patronizing gray-faced men don't know or apparently care about is that many of us still can't "get over it" and these casual cavalier comments about rape can serve as a trigger, like the backfiring of a car can trigger PTSD for a war veteran. That's why some prominent women such as Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore and MSNBC host and professor Melissa Harris-Perry are starting to come out about their experiences being raped or sexually assaulted. Moore told MSNBC's Chris Matthews:
Rape causes post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal attempts, visceral reactions. I can tell you that as a rape survivor, every time one of these buffoons opens their mouths, Chris, it really -- I really recoil, physically recoil with how disgusting this is. And it brings up terrible memories.
Melissa Harris-Perry, or MHP as she is known to her fans, wrote a public letter to Mourdock:
Richard Mourdock is the Republican nominee for Senate in the great state of Indiana -- and as Mitt Romney has said, if he wins, he could be one of the 51 votes needed to overturn "Obamacare." But this week, Richard Mourdock found a way to stand out from the pack, so much so, that I thought I'd send him a note.
Dear Mr. Mourdock,
Sometimes I still flinch when I'm touched a certain way, even if it's the loving embrace of my husband. I can't stand to watch TV shows where rape is the central plot line. Even some seasons of the year are harder for me. Those of us who are sexual assault survivors call these triggers. We spend our lives -- the lives we lead after the attack -- avoiding and managing these triggers.....
Rape and sexual assault are complicated experiences for survivors. Some of us fight, kick, scream, and resist at every moment. Some of us eventually give in to save our own lives or to manage the horror. Some of us know that what is happening is rape, others of us just know it is wrong, but don't have the words to describe why. Some of us push the memories down and try to forget, others of us battle openly with the nightmares and scars every day. There is no one right way to survive. There is no one right way to feel.
As we heal, we learn not to judge ourselves or to judge our fellow survivors, because we learn that judgment can wound as deeply as assault. If a woman finds herself pregnant after a rape, we do not judge the choices she makes.
Some of us just shut down sexually. Your world changes after you've experienced the penis as a weapon. Oh, we'll go through the motions if we can stand it and love the other person trying to make love to us. But the pain and shame still silently shiver inside -- a secret we dare not share for fear of being silly, weak or tainted. As bright as we are, we still often wonder if somehow the rape was our fault -- buying the old ploy that we "asked for it," especially if the assault was during a planned date. And many of us still get twisted wondering if we could have done more to fend off our attackers, or if somehow we "deserved it" -- though we're not clear why. And no matter how strong and powerful we might become, when we feel these triggers -- all the pain and shame and self-doubt flash back and we're covering our faces, wishing everything would just go away.
We've heard these political platitudes before about how "we all condemn rape." If that is so -- why is there still a silent epidemic of rape in this country and why does the U.S. military, for all its mighty emphasis on following orders and good military discipline, still have a serious rape and sexual assault problem? See The Invisible War if you have questions about this.
And those concerned about male rape in prison -- something to which government officials turn a blind eye but allow to be used as a deterrent on TV shows such as Beyond Scared Straight -- that issue will never be seriously addressed until those gray faces who make public policy understand rape as more than a two-cent word to be tossed around so casually.
And surely, someone will draw a through-line from the gray faces' attitudes towards rape and their attitudes toward women and equal pay for equal work. The Bible says women should submit to their husbands. Freud said women were born for better things than wisdom. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said all his affairs while married to Maria Shriver were merely "mistakes."
Whether they are gray faces of religious men or men of science or just cads, men still think women are less-than and irrelevant, other than for reproduction -- which is why these gray faces want to control our bodies. Interestingly, as modern feminists discovered, one of those who linked women's rights to the economy was Fredrick Engels who wrote in his treatise on the family, private property and the state in 1884 that women were the first slaves because of our reproductive capacity.
128 years later we're still having the same argument about a woman's right to control her own body -- including that rape matters.
In 1971, 343 famous French women signed a manifesto saying they'd had an abortion, which was against the law there as it was in the United States at the time. Nonetheless, women such as actresses Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, film director Agnes Varda, and writers such as Francoise Sagan, bisexual philosopher Simon de Beauvoir and lesbian Monique Wittig all signed -- risking criminal prosecution. Two years later, 331 doctors declared their support in their own manifesto, saying "We want freedom of abortion." By the beginning of 1975, abortion was finally legal in France.
America went another route -- through the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, enabling women like me to get an abortion -- though my neighbor in New York City died from a botched abortion on a kitchen table. The same gray faces who talk so indifferently about rape also want to overturn Roe v. Wade -- which Mitt Romney says he wants to do, if elected on Nov. 6.
I can't help but wonder what might happen if -- instead of creating a manifesto -- women, bisexual women and lesbians of America came out about being raped or sexually assaulted or having had an abortion. Just like coming out about sexual orientation or gender identity, it takes courage to tell family, or friends or to post on Facebook or Twitter: "I've been raped and I won't be silent anymore!!" But maybe, just maybe if those gray faces see that someone they love -- their mothers, daughters, grandkids, friends or co-workers -- have had to deal with this terrible situation, they might become more compassionate human beings and not impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us. And maybe, just maybe, more of us will feel empowered and challenge them for public office so we can start writing public policy that makes sense to more than half the country's population!