There has been a great deal of ‘piling on' in recent days following Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s statement about “legitimate rape” and his assertion that in such cases women don’t get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Of course, partisan advocacy groups and women’s rights organizations are making hay out of his political blunder. I’m willing to give him a pass on his unfortunate word choice – he didn’t really mean ‘legitimate’ in the sense that rape could ever be considered acceptable. He meant ‘legitimate’ in the sense of ‘real’ rape, presumably as opposed to false claims of rape. So, let’s not play the ‘gotcha’ game and critique the one wrong word he used.
Giving him a pass on his choice of words, we are left with a member of Congress who accepts the premise that some rapes are true crimes, while others are not. I presume he is referring to those cases where ‘she asked for it.’ We all know those cases – she asked for it by dressing in a short skirt, or by dating the person who violated her. Or she must have asked for it because no weapon was used and she had no bruises. Welcome back to the 1950s.
What troubles me most is that despite all the medical, sociological, and political advancements we have made in the past 50 years, there are still too many people who hold these backwards views. Certainly Rep. Akin is not alone – he just had the political misfortune to publicly blurt out what he really believes rather than masking his views with a carefully crafted, poll-tested message like most politicians. There are undoubtedly others who hold such views among us; they are making policy decisions, serving on school boards, in state legislatures and, yes, in Congress.
Rep. Akin’s ‘gotcha’ moment revealed what he and too many others really think. In some ways we should be grateful for the faux pas. It would be easier to write these people off as being on the fringe, except that they are making decisions about the most critical issues affecting our nation, about the education of the next generation, and about women’s health. We should all be on notice.
Rabbi Marla Feldman is the Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism.