It’s a big week for rape. And it’s only Monday. In a mid-August special, the Republican candidate for the Senate Todd Akin and balcony diva Julian Assange’s best friend George Galloway have come together to bring you the truth about rape. What it is and what it isn’t. Akin, who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has explained that there is no need to consider abortion for rape victims since ‘from what I understand from doctors’, women rarely get pregnant from ‘legitimate’ rape as ‘the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.’ If, by some chance, this mechanism fails, ‘I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist, and not attacking the child.’ In that last sentence you will notice that there is no reference to the raped woman, only the ‘child’ – that is, foetus – and rapist. Did I mention that Akin is on the House committee on Science, Space and Technology?
This is not to say that Akin isn’t talking science, only that his science is the science of medieval physicians. It was believed in the 13th century that a woman couldn’t conceive if she hadn’t had an orgasm (why else would she have one, after all?). This looks very like the hot news brought to us by Todd Akin. The theory was last mooted in 1814 as a legal argument, but in its assumptions it is very similar to a piece of worldly wisdom I received as a teenager around 1963 when I was told by an adult male friend that there was no such thing as rape, because if the woman wasn’t wanting it she wouldn’t lubricate and it would be impossible to penetrate her. The 13th, 19th and now 21st-century assumption is that if a woman is penetrated and gets pregnant, she could not have been raped, even if she says she was.
I use the word penetration very slightly in preference to George Galloway’s chosen alternative to ‘fuck’, as in: ‘Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion.’ This is his explanation, in the rather frighteningly named Good Night with George Galloway video podcast, for the invalidity of the use of the word rape in relation to Julian Assange’s alleged offence of having non-consensual sex with a sleeping woman he had had consensual sex with earlier in the evening. This is ‘not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it’. It’s ‘something which can happen’. As a matter of fact, it precisely is not something that can happen without someone doing it.
Galloway’s law that not everybody needs to be asked at each point of insertion suggests that Galloway and Assange, at least, naturally possess a special skill in distinguishing those who do need to be asked from those who don’t. How can those not so blessed tell which is which? Galloway considers Assange to have shown poor manners in having sex with two women who did not know about each other (he doesn’t mention Assange’s wife). It might have been ‘really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and asked do you mind if I do it again’ but it is, he booms with evangelical rhetoric, ‘not rape, or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning’. You see, he is much more serious about the vileness of rape than the rest of us. In any case, Galloway asks finally in an epic non-sequitur, granted that Assange is a rat, are not the US and British empires rats too? ‘Imperialism is a bigger rat than Julian Assange, no?’ he demands, with all the satisfaction of Martin Luther successfully passing a stool. Actually, the biggest rat may well not be any of his three options, but a photo-finish between Galloway and Akin.