August 27, 2012

Legitimately Yours: Understanding Akin (and rape).

I want to take a few moments this week to thank Missouri Congressman Todd Akin.

If you don’t know who this poor fellow is, I point you in the direction of one of the hairy-legged, liberal, commie news organizations like CNN. They will tell you that he made a potentially career-killing remark last week when he said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing (pregnancy) down.

In what is perhaps his most eloquent moment in a very long political career, Akin revealed more than just his prehistoric knowledge of basic biology. A consummate wordsmith (shut that whole thing down), the congressman was using what only looked like misogynist language. If we examine it closely, we can clearly see that this man was telling us, in the only way he knew how, that he’s a victim, too.

Not a victim of the liberal media. Not a victim of what I assume is his 22 year-old speechwriter, either. I suspect the young buck was too busy re-writing Rage Against the Machine lyrics for Paul Ryan‘s early morning workouts to assist Akin that day.

By questioning what qualifies as “legitimate rape,” Ryan was communicating what so many victims experience—doubt.

Maybe I shouldn’t have worn that skirt. Maybe I shouldn’t have been drinking. Maybe I should have said no with a bullhorn or a tire iron. I’m too nice. Maybe he was just confused. My eyes said yes but my mouth said no. Maybe this was all just a misunderstanding. Maybe this wasn’t, legitimately, rape.

Having been the victim of an attack many years ago, I confess that I, like Akin, questioned the legitimacy of my own rape thousands of times. The female body may not reject an unwanted pregnancy, but the female mind will often reject the brutal reality of being entered forcibly.

None of us are prepared for it. Though rape appears throughout the Bible and all recorded human history, we women are told that we will be loved and adored and showered with diamonds. We are brought up believing that men will save us from everything—especially from ourselves. Call a woman a bitch, and she’ll rear up and call you one back. Call her a spinster, and she’ll paint the fence with your ass. Women are told, in every conceivable way, that it’s better to be chained up in a man’s backyard, than be alone with a yard of your own.    

For many women, having men’s approval and attention is a matter of survival.

When the word spinster is the ultimate epithet, we will do any number of expensive, bizarre, sad and painfully beautiful things to survive it. We believe that someday a man will come along to save us from a desolate existence.

I grew up a feminist, but I’m hardly immune to these ideas. I wish there was a shot for it. I’d gladly inoculate little girls at birth.

This is why rape is more than an attack on our physical bodies. We women have been fed male goodness and rightness our entire lives. If being alone makes us vulnerable, then the very presence of a man should make us feel safe.

Rape finishes any idea of safety or chivalry or male kindness. After you have seen a man’s face while he’s over you—attacking you—your faith transmogrifies into fear. The entire culture is telling you that you should do whatever you can—cook, clean, Botox, Brazilian, starvation—to get a man. To make a man want you so bad he’ll do almost anything to have you for his own.

Rape causes an abruptly brutal shift in the way that women understand men. Everything we knew before is called into question.

Growing up, I hoped deep down in that very new heart of mine to find my own Rhett Butler. I was raised southern. Gone With the Wind’s brash bigotry was something I was told I had to overlook. The girl that I was believed in Rhett—that charming rascal with the Madam best friend who would buy me a hat and kiss me often. Some girls dream of princes. I dreamed of the scoundrel from Charleston. I went over a decade without seeing the film, and then one day in college the professor announced that the class would be viewing a classic that day. A classic, he added, that might offend some students. I remember thinking that the overt racism might bother some people. I prepared myself for a lengthy discussion.

Surprisingly, very few people mentioned the racial stereotypes or the idolatry of the Confederacy. What they did mention was the rape scene. When the first student got angry, I mentally labeled her one of my angrier sister feminists. She probably considered all heterosexual procreation an act of violence. But she wasn’t the only one. The entire class was outraged over the attack, an attack I had watched with my own eyes at least 30 times in my youth. Why hadn’t I ever noticed it?

I never noticed it because Rhett raping Scarlet was as inconceivable a thought as a man raping me. He was a representation of what I believed was the best of manhood. In order to maintain that belief my brain did some gold-medal level gymnastics. Luckily, the film coached me through a round of graceful back handsprings. Post-rape, Scarlet was the happiest cherub-cheeked victim you ever did see.

She was begging for it.

My brain was primed and ready for my own experience.

When it happened—in the precise moment it occurred—my brain obeyed all that rigorous training. I denied the rape, even while it was happening. I didn’t speak. I didn’t fight, at least outwardly. The inward struggle was all I had strength for. This isn’t happening this is happening what if somebody sees I hope somebody sees and saves me maybe I can reason with him and if this isn’t happening then what is this?

In that moment my mind adopted a campaign of denial that left me defenseless—barely conscious. Where was I in that moment? Why didn’t I end him with a kick in the balls and a police report? It’s taken years of meditation and mindfulness to find the answer to that question. My brain responded to trauma by playing hide and seek, but I’m a competitive seeker. I’m eternally lucky that I was on a comfortable pillow at an ashram in one of the most gorgeous places on earth when I found my answer.

Yoga is responsible for so much of my healing.

My mind was a country under attack—my body laid low in the trenches with a cocked pistol. Yoga extended a hand and a bulletproof vest and got me the hell out of there. I’d been robbed of familiarity with my own body. I’d been breathless and silent and full of a regret that I couldn’t put language to. The mat reintroduced me to my thighs, my strong arms, my vagina. Chanting transformed my silence into song. I don’t presume to think that yoga works this way for everyone. I do know, though, that victims must reclaim their bodies and voices and sense of empowerment. Eventually, you must face yourself.

Denial was a lifeboat that took from the sea to my home on the shore. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time questioning the legitimacy of the attack, but I could only face the truth when I found a safe zone. I have surrendered my denial to those politicians who may need it when they attend the Republican Convention next week. It kept me silent for many years. Dear Congressman Akin, may it do the same for you. I bestow upon you the gift of sweet silence and a copy of Jodi Foster’s film, The Accused. Maybe you just caught too many showings of Gone With the Wind on TCM.

Or, I suspect, your statement was an unscheduled, unrehearsed display of your own victimhood. You, like so many victims before you, question the definition and experience of rape. You have adopted a victim mentality of denial. Perhaps you are a victim of this culture. Perhaps you were exposed to too many bad sermons on Sundays. Whatever caused you to deny the legitimacy of rape, rest assured that there is a network of men and women out there who can help you shed this mentality: therapists, doctors, writers, musicians, feminists, yogis. They can teach you to free yourself from illusion and find liberation in truth.

I look forward to the day when you publish your memoirs; Riot Grrrls in the Boy’s Club: How I Got Redeemed, Re-Elected and Rocked! I look forward to the Amazing Grace moment when you dedicate what was your campaign money to the needy women’s shelters of Missouri. Transformation is possible. I know because it happened to me.

Sisters: rise up and send Congressman Akin a care package.

He needs the books of bell hooks and the music of Le Tigre. He needs De Beauvoir and The Vagina Monologues. He needs The Bluest Eye. He needs a viewing and discussion of Born Into Brothels. He needs a Judy Chicago coffee table book. He needs Alice Walker. Paging Tara Brach! We must help him shed his victim mentality. It’s a good thing we commie, feminist, liberals are here to help Todd Akin. He is a victim of himself.

Even though he is, legitimately, an asshole. Namaste.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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