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So-Called Legitimate Rape and Other Outrages: How Dare They?

A mother and rape crisis volunteer confronts the issue, and other fights women continue to battle, with her three teen daughters.

So, who appointed a bunch of men in Congress to define rape and determine the allowable actions that follow such incidents?

As a parent, this has been the most uncomfortable few weeks, courtesy of the Republican Party’s platform and Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

I had barely conquered the basics with my youngest about growing more "mature," with a very light version of the birds and bees when suddenly I am confronted with legitimate rape as a concept that needs some explaining. Having been a rape crisis volunteer since I was 19 (and yes, that means I have done this for more than 20 years), this was a foreign term to me. It was certainly not one I anticipated hearing about in the U.S., much less explaining to my 13-, 15- and 17-year-old daughters.

When the news broke, I thought I was in another country. It sounded like the justification for gang rapes by armed militias in third-world countries. I have spent years listening to excuses for why a woman asked to be raped. I have sat in court hearing a defense attorney argue that a 90-year-old woman, raped in her bedroom in the middle of the night by a burglar, was asking for it because she had on flowery underwear under her floor-length flannel nightgown. I have watched a panel reviewing a date rape case debate the semantics of when “no” really means “no.”

Really, is there another definition of “no” that I missed in college, because as an English major, I was pretty sure it was a simple thing.

And that’s the tricky stuff. What about the woman jogging by herself, riding a bike by herself, driving her car by herself — all are cautions we hear afterwards to never do, because it makes you a woman at risk. And why does a man jogging by himself, a man riding a bike by himself, a man driving a car by himself, not put him at risk?

How can two letters, “w” “o,” ensure a difference in perspective, where the whole world views you as a victim through some negligence or fault of your own? 

And now we compound the injury by saying if you become pregnant due to a rape, you will carry the rapist’s child (share custody depending on the state’s laws, or am I the only person who caught that story)?

Obviously, it can’t be a legitimate rape if you became pregnant, according to ... Notice even the way we phrase these things. My daughters did. They wanted to know why things always were happening to women, i.e. they were acted upon and depicted as passive.

Why is the woman viewed as passive? She became pregnant, she was raped. What happened to truth in description and depiction — he raped her, he impregnated her? 

The issue brings up so many questions:

Why are we parsing rapes and spreading misinformation about how women’s bodies can prevent rape, debating if it is truly rape? Trust me, if it were possible for the female body to repel a rape-induced pregnancy, I am sure our bodies would cook up some fabulous defense to prevent penile penetration too (wait, can we say that word in Congress?).

Why in Texas, Planned Parenthood facilities that do not perform abortions are still losing their state funding for “vaginal” exams (are we allowed to say this word in public, since we are not allowed to say it in the halls of Congress – another fun question I have had to answer recently) as well as breast cancer screenings?

This after the public uproar and drop in funding for breast cancer support last year – is it open season on women this year, in this country as well as the many others I read about across the globe?

There are so many places where women have no property rights, cannot vote, cannot own property, cannot drive, cannot work, cannot receive an education, cannot choose whom to marry and what they want to be and how they want to live and whether or not they want to have children.

How far away from that are my daughters? How far away am I? I feel lost in a time warp, replaying the culture wars of the '80s and '90s while this time, my daughters deal with the aftermath.

So, how about you?

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