I just read this NYT headline four times. I read it out loud, to Bear. And then I started yelling. Which was bad, because my friend from Australia is staying here for a couple nights and she was trying to sleep.
Do you guys know about this? You probably do. Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, defending his stance on abortion (none at all, under any circumstances!) broke it down for us really simply: if a woman wants to get pregnant, she will. If she doesn’t want to, she won’t. So if she’s raped and she’s into it, she’ll let herself get pregnant. And if it’s a “legitimate” rape, and, you know, she doesn’t like it as much, she will just shut down her special woman hormones and her egg production and get all tight and unwelcoming in there. No sperm allowed! It’s basic biology.
I saw that. I read the quote. It made me die a little inside. Because that whole thing, where you blame women for everything, even their own rape pregnancy, it is so dangerous. It is terrifying. That whole set of logic that starts at “well, she was wearing those sexy tight jeans” and pauses briefly in the middle with “if she wanted to take care of her kids she would get another damn job and stop whining” before concluding with something about how she died of the cancer she got from the toxic fumes in her unregulated factory work and couldn’t afford to pay for any of her frantic, hopelessly expensive treatments– it’s bad.
(it looks so venerable. I want it to be. source)
But what made me yell was the New York Times‘ headline, and then the article. Patiently breaking it down for us. With the usual quotes from both sides. No, no, we’re pretty sure rape is bad. We’ve interviewed some experts. We’re pretty sure women can’t magically decide exactly when and when not to get pregnant.
It was suddenly easy to imagine other headlines and pieces, from other times. This expert says that black people are totally inferior to white people. And he has some good points! Let’s be fair! And then this other expert says, no, black people are not totally inferior to white people. They could be a little inferior, though, let’s not get carried away…
Sometimes I am stunned. I know, it’s a cliche. I live in Brooklyn. I grew up in a Jewish family in NJ. I live in a bubble. So of course I think that people should not think things like the things that apparently people think about rape and women. It goes without saying. But I have to say it, because I am still worked up:
WHAT THE HELL? Why is this where we are? How is this a headline that even deserves to be printed? Was there really any doubt? Is there any doubt among people who read the New York Times? Why is there any doubt for anyone, anywhere?
A reporter friend of mine is researching a piece about date rape. She shakes her head sadly over dinner. “It’s amazing. But the police almost never seem to handle it right. They just say ‘she was drunk.’ It’s amazing how many women are turned away, not given the proper care, not given a rape kit. Rape kits are expensive, you know. And rape is extremely underreported anyway. Those are just the women who come in.”
“But–” I sputter. I don’t want to believe things like this. I want them to be totally ridiculous. I want this to be a story about one police officer, once, before the mandatory session on responding to rape.
When my friend was raped in college, I begged her to go to the police. I thought that they must be able to somehow fix it, help it, start to make it better. She refused. She refused and refused and refused. She said she thought it might be her fault. She had gone to the party. She had drinks there.
Now I wonder what the police would even have done.
Somehow, on the topic of general oppression I guess, we end up talking about transpeople, and my reporter friend is saying that they still don’t have the same basic rights in most states. In most states, transpeople aren’t really people, apparently.
“We’re just not ready,” says another friend. “We’re not there yet. We’re barely at gay marriage.”
We nod and murmur agreement.
But why? Sometimes this enormous anger collects in me and it pushes up against all of my surfaces. Why are we supposed to be reasonable about this? Why are we supposed to open our New York Times and nod and murmur assent as we read that experts generally conclude that women do not want to be raped? Why are we supposed to have careful conversations and make balanced arguments and listen to everyone’s perspective, even when they think that this entire group of people should never be able to make any decisions for themselves, ever, because actually it turns out that they might not be as human as the rest of us? Why should we take our big, fancy educations and hang them on the backs of our chairs as we sit around the seminar table and have a civilized exchange about it all?
I am a squirming mass of questions. I am desperately indignant. I am wildly offended.
“Are you offended?” I ask Bear, over and over, gesturing at him with my phone, on which I’m reading the article. “I am so offended. Are you offended?”
“I am offended,” he says. But I don’t think he’s really offended. I think he’s tired.
“Maybe a lot of people believe this, about rape,” he says. “Maybe they’re trying to explain.”
They might be, out of kindness. Or it’s just a hot topic, and that’s how news works. It’s a business. I know. I know.
But god. It makes me feel like things are tilting towards the edge of madness. But maybe the whole world is always balanced there, teetering.
* * *
What is your reaction? Are you calmer? Are you shocked?
Unroast: Today I love the way I love the way jeans and a white t-shirt look, every time.