During my undergraduate career I made a habit of writing snarky final essays. English majors tend to get away with a lot in that regard under the guise of creative freedom. In my favorite essay, I blasted the Republican party for it’s horrific approach to the topic of rape. This was an approach that lead to the loss of many seats in the 2012 election. My paper can be found here.
In my conclusion, I, with Candidian optimism, ventured that the hurtful words that spewed from the mouths of ignorant men in cheap suits would help invigorate young feminists. I also hoped that Republicans would learn from their fallen brethren and change their rape-apologizing ways. Alas, I was mistaken.
A friend clued me into a recent example of the Republican Rape Gaffe TM that I will be analyzing for you all today. Today’s fuckup is brought to you from the great state of Maine! Home of lobsters, weird accents, okay hockey players, and Representative Lawrence Cockman*. You may remember Cockman from his interesting comments on HIV, namely,
“In the overwhelming majority of cases, people are dying because of their addiction to sodomy”,
which he penned a 1987 letter to editor. Lovely. But back to the rape gaffe, Batman. His full 1990 quote is:
“If a woman has (the right to abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? One must note that he starts his sentence with the word if. If is an interesting choice because it is clear under United States law that women do have a right to an abortion. The word if takes the entire comment out of reality, and instead to the land of hypothetical scenarios. Which leads to me to more questions, why not base your comment in the real world? What is there to gain, politically, from distancing yourself from abortions that are actually happening? I would posit that if he were forced to consider actual abortions he would find the entire issue decidedly less black and white. And we wouldn’t want that would we.
Now that he has established the premise of this crazy new world where women are allowed to get abortions, he contrasts this with men’s rights in a fashion that might even make an MRA squirm. This is an egregious example of equivocating like a motherfucker. Abortion and rape by their very nature are two completely different things. And I would like to attempt to bring this back to reality by stating that in the US abortion is a legal medical procedure (of course there are exceptions here, but for the most part we are in the clear) and rape is a felony. Just wanted to make sure we all remember this.
I also find it telling that he uses the phrase “force himself on a woman”. I believe this is an attempt, perhaps a subconscious one, to diminish the seriousness of rape. Forcing oneself does not imply violence or seriousness the way that rape does. I can force myself into a packed room, or a particularly tight pair of jeans. Let’s also not forget that not all rape involves a male rapist and a female victim. While statistically this is the most common, I would not want to diminish the trauma and pain of any survivor of sexual violence, regardless of their gender identity.
Another turn of phrase Rep. Cockman uses is “sexual freedom”. It’s clear from the context of the quote that by sexual freedom he means both abortion and rape. To be honest, I don’t think I have ever heard someone in my age group say sexual freedom, at all. To me, it brings with it an association with the 1960s and free love. Not exactly something toted by a 3rd wave feminist such as myself. But hey, it’s pretty clear Cockman’s views are from generations past, why would his language be any different? But regardless, sexual freedom is not an accurate term for rape. I can see it and respect the idea of using it for abortion (the whole sex free from consequences thing) but for rape? That’s messed up. We know that rape and sexual violence is more about power than sex and I would argue that using that term for rape devalues sex itself. Sex is a beautiful thing and the free love movement, however flawed, was about consensually enjoying sex with other people without the backlash of puritan values. Not about fucking raping people.
And finally, his last gem. To paraphrase: I mean usually people don’t even die from rape, it’s not that bad. Ignoring the obvious, that sometimes people do actually die from rape, either from the physical or psychological trauma, this argument harkens back to the “starving kids in Africa” fallacy. Just because something is worse, does not mean that this isn’t bad. And rape is bad. Very very bad. Sexual violence is a type of trauma that never truly goes away, instead it’s something that survivors learn to live with. And devaluing the pain of rape by saying, well it’s not death, is a slap in the face. Not only that, but when the only worse situation you can come up with is death, wouldn’t that clue you into this being horrible? Just food for thought.
Despite the fact that I was horrified when I came across this statement, I can’t help but find satisfaction in pointing out his flaws. So to all the potential republican rape gaffers out there, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for votes, I can tell you I don’t have political power. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you stop being an idiot now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will make fun of you on the internet.
*Yes, I realize his name isn’t actually Cockman.