Rape tolerance and actual facts.

Trigger warning: Please take care of yourself and be aware of your own limitations whenever you read anything about rape.

I had a bit of a thing the other night when I discovered this article: “Rape flier causes outrage; Arizona sex assault victim speaks out.”

The flier, posted in a men’s bathroom at Ohio’s Miami University, read in part: “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape: 1) Put drugs in the woman’s drink, therefore she wont remember you… 6) Sex with an unconscious body does count, so don’t back down if shes sleeping; 7) Practice makes perfect, the more you rape, the better you get at it….”

Seeing this in the very week in which we have been assailed (yet again) with a new rash of rape apologism was just too much. My blood started to pound, I was suddenly crying, and I was filled with a powerful sense of emotional nausea (if that makes sense), reactions that are all overcoming me again, even as I type.

Women live with this every day of our lives, it’s in our leader’s mouths, it’s in the jokes we hear, it’s in the very air we breathe — and then we’re told that rape is our fault. To put an aspirin between our knees. To prove that we didn’t like the rape. To bear the rapist’s child. And to drown in shame.

I’ve been feeling all day that I really should write about it all, but I just can’t. I’m too exhausted by it, too worn down, too emotionally nauseated. But luckily, someone with a slightly bigger soapbox has written a piece filled with both righteous fury, and reams and reams of data. I’m cutting and pasting some of it below, but really, please: Click through and read the whole thing: “50 Actual Facts About Rape,” by Soraya Chemaly.

And men of good will? Please, please share this with your friends, your brothers, your uncles, your father. Please.

Remember facts? Remember facts about rape? Because it turns out that a whole lot of people know less than nothing about the subject. Indeed what they think they know is a whole lot of something that is wrong and dangerous to our heath, safety and well-being.

… For months now we’ve been subjected to surreal revelation when it comes to what people think and understand about rape, god and women’s magical bodies. Here is some real, fact-checked information from a list originally published last week in RHRealityCheck…..

1. Low estimate of the number of women, according to the Department of Justice, raped every year: 300,000
2. High estimate of the number of women raped, according to the CDC: 1.3 million
3. Percentage of rapes not reported: 54 percent
4. A woman’s chance of being raped in the U.S.: 1 in 5
5. Chances that a raped woman conceives compared to one engaging in consensual sex: at least two times as likely
6. Number of women in the US impregnated against their will each year in the U.S. as a result of rape: 32,000
7. Number of states in which rapists can sue for custody and visitation: 31
8. Chances that a woman’s body “shuts that whole thing down”: 0 in 3.2 billion

Had enough? Me, too. And, believe me, this is the Cliff Notes version. Some people are offended by frank conversation about violence, especially sexualized violence. I’m offended by tolerance for these assaults, scientific denialism, entertainment at the expense of people’s safety and bodily integrity, and shame-infused legislation that hurts children and women and is based on the belief that all men are animals at heart.

Rape happens everywhere . All over the world rape acceptance, rape tolerance, rape denial and rape ignorance at best are used to restrict women’s reproductive rights and impede women’s equality. At worse, rape is used strategically and with violence and malevolence as a weapon in war and as a tool of active oppression. Keeping the reality of rape in the shadows has obviously done us a massive disservice and provided cover for rapists and their apologists. So, even though it’s not easy information to digest, it’s important. Maybe information is part of god’s divine plan.

…Akin, Mourdock, Ryan, et al are the distortions. If men like Mitt Romney really doesn’t agree with them then he should grow some ovaries, so to speak, and stop playing in the same political sand box….  All of this goes hand-in-hand with Facebook rape pages, Daniel Tosh rape jokesReddit rapist threadsmusic, videos, movies, ad infinitum. This recent political display of religiously convoluted rape “reasoning” in legislation is a national shame with deadly consequences for women here and abroad.

To read the rest of “50 Actual Facts About Rape,” please click here.

Dear GOP: You do know how pregnancy works, right? (I think they weren’t listening the first time).

I first ran the following back in May; at the time it went kind of crazy viral, but the evidence of the past few days suggests that the leadership of the Republican Party was not among my readers. And so I offer it again…. Please feel free to share broadly — last time, the little post that could got FB-ed more than 10,000 times, and garnered more than 400 comments. O_O! 


I have been pregnant four times.

These pregnancies led to the following four results, in this order: abortion, baby, miscarriage, baby.

These pregnancies occurred over a span of many years, across two continents, and in three different homes. There were at least seven different health care professionals involved, my hair styles varied widely, as did my levels of nausea. The only constant, in all four cases, other than me, was the presence of a penis.

It happened to be the penis I eventually married, but regardless, that is how pregnancy works. No matter who you are, no matter your sexuality, ability to reproduce, or family make-up, if there are children in your life, at some point along the way, there was a penis involved.

I mention this only because it seems the GOP may have forgotten.

Because as we trundle along, shaming women for having any kind of sex, ever, that is not entirely focused on producing babies — even if we are married, even if it wasn’t so much “sex” as “rape,” even if having a baby would threaten our health and thus the well-being of the children we already have — we are completely and utterly ignoring the fact that the single, solitary way for humans to reproduce is for sperm to meet egg. And sperm, you may recall, come from penises.

Which are attached to men.

If women are having too much sex, so are men. If women are producing babies, so are men. If women are making irresponsible reproductive choices with which they want to burden “the American people” — so.are.men.

Birth control, abortions, prenatal care, postpartum care, child care — whatever we may think, whatever we may have been told — are not women’s issues. THEY ARE HUMAN ISSUES.

There is a purely incandescent rage that comes over me now on a nearly daily basis over the blatant dehumanization of women that is currently sweeping the nation. It is exhausting. It is heart breaking. It is spirit crushing. And there’s nothing to be done but to continue to feel it, because I refuse to stop fighting for my right, my daughter’s right, my mother’s right, my sister’s right — the inalienable right of all women everywhere — to human dignity.

But every once and a while, a particularly galling aspect of the GOP’s War on Women floats to the top of the filth, and I am gobsmacked anew. And today it is as simple as this: Women do not reproduce on their own.

If the Republican Party is so anxious to control women’s sexuality (and it clearly is), it had better start shaming men, too.

That is, unless its representatives are willing to argue that men are constitutionally incapable of not sticking their junk into the nearest available lady bits, and we gals have all the power.

I, for one, have too much respect for men to buy that.

But wait, it gets better – if you’re poor, the GOP hates your baby, too.

Step one: Don’t allow health insurance to cover contraceptives (thus guaranteeing that poor women will either have to stay celibate or fall pregnant) – so say Indiana Treasurer/candidate for US Senate Richard Mourdock and Senator Rick Santorum (to name just two leading Republicans who support such legislation). 

Step twoDon’t allow any kind of abortion, ever (thus guaranteeing that poor women will either have to give up their babies for adoption or have babies they may not be able to afford) – so say Vice Presidential candidate/US Representative Paul Ryan and Indiana Treasurer/candidate for US Senate Richard Mourdock (to name just two leading Republicans who support such legislation).

Step three: If babies are born to a mother who cannot prove that said babies are the result of rape, cut back that mother’s food stamp benefits (thus guaranteeing that poor women and their babies will stay poor and quite possibly hungry) – so say Pennsylvania State Reps. RoseMarie Swanger, Mark Gillen, Keith Gillespie, Adam Harris, and Mike Tobash [+ a Democratic douchebag Blue Dog state representative named Tom Caltagirone], who, you’ll be stunned to learn, are also anti-choice (just click on the links).

I wrote earlier that the right to reproductive choice is a question of fundamental human rights and the separation of church and state, but it’s important to remember that it is wrapped up in many other things as well, not least: The right to decide who controls a woman’s sexuality.

And it ain’t the woman. And damn any babies who get in the way.

And PS: Not only do food stamps keep people from being malnourished, they’re a good governmental investment: For every dollar spent on the program, the economy sees an influx of $1.73. Clearly we wouldn’t want any of that, in this economy.

Romney/Ryan, abortion, and the humanity of women. (And church and state, too).

Yesterday I had the honor of being on a panel with Daniel Ellsberg on HuffPost Live, and the good fortune to be given the opportunity to talk about how, in fact, the little matter of which party sits in the White House is hugely important to American women, because there’s one party that treats 50% of this nation’s citizens as autonomous people, and one party that doesn’t.

Then a little later in the day, this was reported:

Defending his stance that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape, [Indiana Treasurer/candidate for US Senate Richard] Mourdock explained that pregnancy resulting from nonconsensual sex is the will of God.

“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

And I honestly found it refreshing. Because Richard Mourdock said, out loud and for all to hear, that which so many of these anti-choice culture warriors carry in their hearts: This is God’s will, and if you abort any pregnancy, regardless of its provenance, you are acting to thwart the Almighty Himself.

This isn’t about compassion for the poor witless woman who might not know what she’s missing out on if you don’t force her to undergo state-sanctioned rape in the form of a transvaginal ultrasound; this isn’t even, really, about human life. This is about the will of God, and the belief held by a great many people that humans are required to bend to that will — and that for women, there’s a lot more will to go around:

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man…. [A man] the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 1 Corinthians 11:3 & 7

To be clear: There are millions upon millions of Christians who have grappled with verses like those I’ve just quoted and come to an understanding of their faith and Scripture that support women’s equality and our right to bodily autonomy. (And just to be clearer still: I believe that all modern-day monotheism, including my own, requires this kind of grappling, because none of our Scriptures are without ugliness).

But the Christians standing at the head of the American right wing are not that kind of Christian, and they’re the ones we’re facing.

God is above man, and man is above woman. If you were raped, that’s not cool (in no small part because rape is equated with sex, and a woman’s sexuality belongs to the man she married/will marry), but if that rape made you pregnant? Well, that’s what God wanted. And women who attempt to thwart God’s will are not only making God reallyreally mad, they are upsetting the natural order of things, and that cannot be allowed.

I think it’s helpful to be told flat-out that this is what we’re battling. Many anti-choice activists may honestly believe that they’re acting to protect children (though I might argue that if they really want to protect children, they might consider the needs of the fetus after it becomes a baby, but I digress), but leaders of the anti-choice movement are acting to protect what they know to be the Divine order.

But I live in a secular nation. I live in a country where the separation of church and state is written into law. I live in a place where your knowledge of the Divine order should have absolutely no legal bearing on my life.

There is one party that agrees with that notion, and one party — the vice-presidential candidate of which stands behind some of the most extreme anti-choice bills on the American scene — that does not.

One party that is working — however fitfully, however imperfectly — to protect the right of half of this country’s citizens to be legally recognized as humans with autonomy over their own bodies, and one party working to declare zygotes legal people, to require physicians to lie to patients about the established medical facts of abortion, and to allow hospitals to deny abortions to women even when their lives are in immediate danger.

This is not about the medical procedure called “abortion.” This is about the separation of church and state, and it is about allowing women to be human.

Don’t tell me the parties are the same. 

Update: Mitt Romney taped an endorsement for Mourdock on Monday, but his campaign told TPM yesterday that Mourdock’s views do not reflect Romney’s. And yet for all that, the campaign has said today that it has not asked Mourdock to pull the ad. So. There’s that. 

An open letter to Conservative men about rape.

I am a Progressive, a Liberal, a Democrat, a left-winger, an Obot — whatever you want to call me, go ahead. I’ll own it. Hell, I’m a borderline socialist.

And in the course of my gig as an opinion writer and left-wing activist, I write a lot about “the GOP,” often in a fairly condemnatory tone.

And even so, I try to make a very careful practice not to write about “Republicans,” because what I take issue with is the party itself, its current leadership, and its official platform/policies.

I am very, very much aware that there are a lot of folks out there who identify as Conservatives or Republicans with whom I probably am in agreement on many issues, and from whom I could probably learn a thing or two. There are a lot of arguments that we could have, too, but that’s the way it goes in a democracy. We’ll part ways at the ballot box, and that might create some hard feelings.

But at the end of the day, there are some things that are not (should not be) partisan. Some things are right, or wrong, and we should be willing to cross the aisle to say so. Taking sexual assault seriously, treating it as the horror and the scourge that it is, is one of them.

Rapists don’t care what your politics are. They don’t care what your education is, how much money you make, or what your stance is on the Bush tax breaks. Rapists are criminals who cause grievous bodily harm, and far too often mental and emotional anguish. More often than not, they know their victims, and far more often than we’re willing to admit, are in fact in an intimate or familial relationship with their victims.

If you are a living, breathing adult, you know people who have been sexually assaulted. Maybe some have never told you, maybe a few have, but no matter the extent of your personal knowledge of the individual facts, the singular fact remains that someone — female or male — is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes. And you know some of them.

When representatives of the party we vote for say and do things that are wrong — say and do things that hurt people who have already been hurt or are already vulnerable — it is our responsibility to stand up and say “That’s wrong.” I have done this before, and I will do so again — the Democratic Party is not a collection of angels, after all. It is a collection of human beings, some of whom are exceptionally ill-informed or insensitive, and if I want the party to truly represent me and my values, I need to make my voice heard.

I doubt I’m going to reach many Conservative men with this open letter — this blog is tiny, and it’s pretty firmly ensconced on the left hand side of the blogosphere — but if you are a Conservative man, please take to task those in your party who have recently made exceptionally ill-informed and insensitive comments about women and rape.

There is no room for parsing what is and is not “legitimate” or “forcible” rape, and there is no room for mealy-mouthed apologies that try to escape responsibility for using those phrases in the first place. There is no room for likening rape to other “methods of conception.” There is no room for comparing a pregnancy resulting from rape to a pregnancy resulting from consensual sex in an unmarried relationship.

Please talk to your daughters, your sisters, your wives, your mothers. Find out what has happened to them in the course of their lives, and the lives of the women they know. Read the stories told here, sit with this information — with the knowledge that the fact of rape and the threat of it serve to shape and guide the lives of 50% of the human population — and then, please: Say something.

Say something to your party. Say something to your friends. Say something on Twitter, on Facebook, on your blogs, in your articles. Please.

Think about the women you love, and say something.


I don’t believe in it.

I don’t believe in karma in either the strict Hindu or Buddhist religious sense of the total effect of a person’s actions and conduct during the successive phases of the person’s existence, regarded as determining the person’s destiny (American Heritage Dictionary, 2000), or in the loosely-held American culture sense of karma-as-payback/reward. Neither do I believe in monotheistic notions of heaven and hell as places of reward/punishment (it bears noting that Judaism doesn’t traditionally share this essentially Hellenistic understanding of life after death — ideas about the afterlife and the extent to which people are rewarded or punished are a bit up for grabs and open to interpretation).

I’m not particularly clear on what I do believe — it could be that (as John Lennon said) death is just getting out of one car and into another; it could be that (as the pastor conducting the funeral for Canadian politician Jack Layton put it) we are not physical beings with souls, but rather souls who briefly put on physical form; it could be we just die and are done. I honestly have no idea, though I’m kind of hoping for some kind of carrying-on.

But regardless of All That We Cannot Know, I am pretty clear that the other stuff, the ideas of payback-and-damnation and/or crowns-of-heavenly-glory-and-really-good-parking-spaces, are simply powerfully human ideas that we’ve constructed because it’s just too painful to consider the possibility that those who hurt us will get away with it.

Indeed, I’ll take it a step further:

I often say that people who live ugly lives have to live with themselves and that’s punishment enough — but the truth is that even that’s not always true. If you’re Paul Ryan, for instance, or an Israeli settler, but are kind and loving within your own circles, true to your convictions and, I don’t know, make really good cake, any suffering you undergo as a direct result of the ugliness to which you’ve dedicated your life likely doesn’t read as punishment to you. It likely reads as That Which You Are Willing to Nobly Shoulder in the Name of the Cause. Just as I think of myself and my advocacy for social justice and against Israeli settlements.

There’s simply not a lot of recourse in our lived reality. Beyond the obvious questions of legal codes and courts of law — you know: sending folks to the hoosgow when they deserve it — I honestly think that all we can do is stop worrying about whether or not others get their comeuppance and focus entirely on our own lives.

Does this bring me joy? is a good place to start, but there is a lot that I do that brings me no joy at all and yet it must be done. Into this latter category falls a broad variety of things, from thinking about finances, to consistently doing the laundry, to continuing to advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which, it should be noted, is kind of my job). Moreover, there is a whole lot of life, and there are a whole lot of lives, in which “joy” is at best a distant hope. Mostly there’s a lot of getting through our days and seeking a little bit of pleasure.

But there are moments when we get to choose – this way, or that way? Smile at the lady in our path, or keep our head down? Do the thing that we know needs doing, or let it slide until it’s past being doable? Take action on that thing that breaks our heart, or back away?

I don’t believe there’s any extra-curricular reward for choosing A, in any of those cases, nor do I believe there to be any punishment for Thing B. It’s true that when we treat people well, we are often treated well in return – but not always, and not exclusively. If we’re being nice in order to gain niceness, we’re going to be disappointed a lot.

But the only life I have is this one, right here. In this head, in this skin. It matters to me that I lay my head down at night, or at the end, believing myself to have tried my best. And in the end, that’s all I have control over. Even if I take revenge on someone who I believe deserves it — what do I know about how they see that revenge? And what does that tell me about me?

So, yeah: heaven, hell, karma-in-both-senses — not so much.

But I can aspire to being able to look myself in the eye.

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