It’s been a tough few weeks for certain public figures who have come under intense scrutiny for ignorant and insensitive remarks made after wading in to a very public debate surrounding what constitutes rape. The polemic issue of sexual violence has once again been brought to the forefront of media debate after U.S Republican congressman, Todd Akin, claimed that abortions after rape were not a necessity because, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” and that female recipients of unwanted sperm have an intrinsic way of expelling it, concluding by stating that there was such a thing as a “legitimate rape”. His shocking ignorance of basic biology aside, Akin’s uninformed opinion on the issue of rape shows a deep, complex misunderstanding of the issue and a worrying sexist prejudice towards women. The outrage continued when Respect MP George Galloway, in defense of accused rapist, Julian Assange, claimed that having sex with a sleeping woman was not rape but merely “bad sexual etiquette” and that once a woman is in “the sex game” with a man she has no right to claim otherwise; “I mean, not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion” he stated. His unfounded and dangerous views were only compounded by Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, who stated that a man who shares a bed with a woman once can never be accused of rape.
These comments show a dangerous and deeply entrenched opinion on the inherent division in relationships between men and women and ultimately the state of gender inequality not only in the United Kingdom but in countries all over the world; let us not forget that violence against women is borne out of the profound gulf that exists between men and women’s equality. This disturbing culture of rape denial is a prime example of the deeply worrying misogyny that runs through our society like a stream, trickling down in to the very fabric of our social consciousness.
Not only have these very wrong and insensitive comments forced rape survivors to relive their horror by having to defend themselves, but these three men have also only served to perpetuate well-versed rape myths with their ignorance; Galloway and Correa’s assertion that rape is impossible once a woman is in the so-called “sex game” with a man would surely be disputed by the thousands of women each year who are subjected to a barrage of domestic violence, including rape, from their partners. In fact, a quarter of women living in the U.K will experience violence at the hands of a current of former partner. This also brings us to unravel another standard rape myth that still lives amongst many rape deniers; that rapists are strangers, madmen that jump out at unsuspecting women from bushes or back alleys on dark nights. The truth is that as many as 84% of rape victims are assaulted by family members, friends or acquaintances. Correa and Galloway’s opinion also leads us on to the notion that once a woman is married or in a relationship with a man it is her “duty” to sexually gratify her partner, as if she is merely a medium through which the man can exhibit his “dominant” sexuality. This suggests that a woman is not free to do with her body what she will.
Moreover, Akin’s view that there is such a thing as a “legitimate” rape suggests that there is a rape hierarchy, reflecting MP Ken Clarke’s error last year when he spoke of “serious” rape, as if rape could be anything but serious. The creation of a hierarchy of rape seriousness not only reflects the rape myths stated above, but serves as another medium through which to deny the suffering of abused women and keep them under the control of a dominant order.
The extreme sexualisation and objectification of women in the media, persisting polarized gender roles attributed to men and women and the notion that women are the passive receivers of male virile sexuality all work to propagate gender inequalities that can lead to rape and domestic violence. Despite all this, rape is not inevitable; although it is treated as a natural occurrence that women must do their best to avoid, it is not. Our culture- misguidedly but with its best intentions- teaches women to alter their behaviour so as to make themselves less rapeable; young women are told to wear less revealing clothes whilst on nights out, taught to carry rape alarms, travel in groups, not get drunk, look after their personal space- the list is endless. Rape is not a natural occurrence, it is not a natural hazard, it is not inevitable, but grows out of gender inequalities that we must work hard to topple. Opinions on rape must change; the blame must stop being shifted on to the victim, but left with the only culpable party. Women never put themselves in a situation where they are raped; their attacker does that for them.