The President took a bold and controversial stance on national television last night when he appeared on Leno, explaining that “Rape is rape. It is a crime.” Quelle horreur! Cue accusations of “playing to his base.”
This has been a year for increasingly ridiculous and terrifying statements about rape, coming primarily from conservative candidates hitting the campaign trail. They’ve been telling us all about rape as a gift from g-d, legitimate rape, forcible rape, and more -- creating a sort of hierarchy of rape, a rape pyramid, if you will, against which any and all cases of rape must be assessed to determine if they qualify.
These are the people who want to become political leaders, policymakers, the people in charge of the budgetary purse strings; they are the ones who want to decide how and where funding will be dedicated. And they’ve already made it clear that, given their druthers, they’d defund basic women’s health services, refuse to provide social benefits for women who can’t prove they were raped, and more. They want to usher in a terrifying new world, and thus far, a lot of Democratic leaders have remained surprisingly restrained when it comes to calling them on the carpet.
Which is why I was so stunned last night when the Barack Obama campaign on the official @BarackObama Twitter said this:
It’s absolutely correct and a Tweet I strongly support; it’s ludicrous for Romney to be throwing his support behind a candidate like Mourdock after statements like that. John McCain threatened to withdraw his support on the grounds of that comment, making Romney’s lack of comment look all the more glaring (of course, McCain later got back on board after being appeased with an apology, allowing him to neatly play both sides).
In this campaign, Romney's emerged as a markedly different man than McCain’s moderate; he’s doubled down on a lot of troubling statements and attitudes that suggest, as my landlord put it when we were talking about this the other day, “endless war and a national security state.”
My landlord is a veteran and a senior citizen. He’s seen his fair share of elections and terrifying candidates and he’s more disgusted by this campaign than he’s ever been with politics; he doesn’t even watch the debates because he doesn’t want to get that riled up.
When Barack Obama essentially reiterated what his campaign staff had said on Twitter, I couldn’t but help but give a quiet cheer, paired with a muted trumpet of frustration. Yes, I’m beyond pleased that the President came down firmly on the side of anti-rape, and said unequivocally that rape should be labeled and treated as a crime, that there are no flavors of rape and that there aren’t greater and lesser degrees that should be “considered” when evaluating a case.
And yet, I was also deeply sad that this even needs to said, as Laura Beck noted at Jezebel. Like, seriously? This is the depth to which political discourse has sunk? We now need to get all excited and actively praise a politician for saying that rape is a crime and it should be taken seriously? This is a rather grim state of affairs, which highlights the grim nature of life in the United States for women. Depending on which state you live in, and which region you inhabit, and your race, and so many other cultural and social factors, your treatment when you are the victim of a violent crime will be highly variable.
This is supposed to be a nation “with liberty and justice for all,” and yet I’m not seeing that in the way rape and other crimes against women are handled. I’m seeing instead that we have policies and frameworks rotten to the core when it comes to cracking down on violence against women and taking such crimes seriously.
I’m seeing, too, that after years of critical evaluation and studies pointing to the fact that disabled women, women of color, poor women, and other women who belong to marginalized groups are treated differently, nothing has changed. And some of us are starting to get angry.
If you want justice, you still must be “the right kind” of rape victim. While the President’s comment rang loud and true and angry, what actual social shifts will it lead to? There are victims and survivors waiting for justice right now who may have been glad to hear the President’s words, but are also acutely aware that they wouldn’t lead to any meaningful change in their own cases. And there are people who know they are at acute risk for sexual assault who know that nothing has changed for them, that despite this stance from the Commander in Chief, if/when they’re raped, there’s little chance their rapists will be brought to justice.
That the President had to say this at all is infuriating; more infuriating still is that so many conservatives who claim to care about women and families are so determined to make rape into a bizarre scoring game where you must make at least this many points to proceed to the next level.
And it is tragic that the President’s opponent is so reluctant to make what should be a simple statement on this issue: Rape is rape. It is a crime.
Image credit: The White House.