Akin to Idiocy, or George Galloway's Insertion

Jenny Diski

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.


  • 20 August 2012 at 10:07pm
    alex says:
    As a blast against Galloway and Akin, this is fine. But has Assange himself used any of these non-excuses? The first sentence of your last paragraph implies his complicity in this type of argumentation or world-view, whereas my understanding is that he denies the allegations made against him tout court, and not on the basis of such specious reasoning. I'm happy to be corrected but I think it's worth establishing.

    • 22 August 2012 at 8:19pm
      Rikkeh says: @ alex
      His lawyers appear to have done so on his behalf and will have done so on his instruction (see para 6 of the High Court judgment available on

    • 28 August 2012 at 10:08pm
      alex says: @ Rikkeh
      Thanks for the reference, which clarifies that A.'s lawyers (under his instructions) deny rape, but not that they do so along the same lines as Galloway or Akin. It seems to me important to establish that not all defences against rape charges partake of the same logic to which Diski wishes to reduce them.

  • 21 August 2012 at 5:30am
    Colin says:
    I'm not sure that first paragraph really does 'get Assange in.' It seems to me actually to be exploring the implications of Galloway's insertion assertions in more of a modal frame.

    As regards the directly above comment, Jemmy Diski has written very illuminatingly about rape in previous LRBs -- at least one occasion of which, about the phrase 'rape rape', has stayed with me, and influenced my views in a way I find very valuable.

    At the very least I'm not sure you're on the right track when you suggest that 'dense essays' are what we want on this particular subject.

    • 21 August 2012 at 11:38am
      In that case you might have to move alex's comment, which now replies to the comment below it, so that it sits below it, if you see what I mean, otherwise the sequence makes no sense at all.

    • 21 August 2012 at 4:07pm
      Don't be so silly, Thomas! Everybody who has the least interest in Assange has known for two years who first accused him in Sweden. It's all over the net, for everyone to find out by a mere google. Australian state TV did a documentary that even included photos of her partying with Assange - and Oz, like the UK and US, has rape shield laws!

      But let's ignore for a moment the fact that her name is now unquestionably in the public domain. Rape shield laws make much sense to me. Given how unreasonably nasty society can be to a raped woman, it's only natural that her identity should be protected. But there are limits, as there are to almost everything, and it isn't unfair to claim that the Assange case should be an exception: the supposed victim's tweets clearly put her honesty regarding Assange in doubt - here the defense is most certainly not dredging up the victim's distant past, which would no doubt be dishonest. Here's wikipedia on a particular instance in which a court came to this conclusion:

      "In 1999 in the case of People v. Jovanovic, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court had improperly ruled as inadmissible e-mail in which the plaintiff/witness in a rape case expressed her consent to, and later approval of, the encounter. The lower court ruled these e-mails inadmissible on the basis of rape shield laws, however the Court of Appeals ruled that the previous court had misapplied those laws."

      And why should did you need to remove my entire post instead of just redacting the supposed victim's name, Thomas? Or was it because I was too *undiplomatic* in the rest of it? Why is it then that Bernard Porter has to spend several paragraphs of his own post stating his impartiality before saying a few things in favour of Assange, but Oliver Miles gets to justify the reckless, impulsive attitude of the inept William Hague and his minions without making a reference to the scandal it has already caused abroad? Your very own contributor Tariq Ali virtually MC'd the meeting preceding the speech by Diski's bête noir. He introduced Craig Murray, who pointed out that not a single European country has supported Britain's threat. Everybody but Hague and apologists like Miles thinks there's anything that reasonaby justifies it. Perhaps HM's government, now a global laughingstock in diplomatic circles, will declare Assange's suspected crime an act of murder. After all the US has already done the same with leaking.

  • 21 August 2012 at 6:48am
    philip proust says:
    Linking Todd Akin's rape idiocy with Julina Assange and his case is a pretty shabby old - damning by association - rhetorical device.

    One wonders if Jenny Diski's 'contribution' to the discussion is merely an attempt to provoke indignant responses.

    • 21 August 2012 at 8:01am
      alex says: @ philip proust
      Dunno about that, but condemning someone for being defended by George Galloway seems to accord Galloway more importance than he deserves (which is of course what he wants, and surprisingly often gets).

  • 21 August 2012 at 7:15am
    alex says:
    Just to clarify that 'the directly above comment' to which you refer is not mine but one that was deleted (and which I didn't agree with either).
    I see what you're saying about 'a modal frame' in the sense that Diski presents it as a consequence of Galloway's logic rather than as a direct assertion of her own. But Galloway's logic doesn't lead there: rather, he attributes himself the right to judge Assange's "sordid and disgusting" deeds without reference to his intentions. In the Gospel according to Galloway, only Galloway has intentions and knowledge.

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