The Counterintuitivity of Defining Rape
Practice Opening 1
Rape is perhaps the most heinous of crimes one person can commit against another. Historically, the majority of rape cases have seen a man raping a woman, and yet historically the exact criteria for what constitutes rape has been decided by men. Worse yet, the vast majority of these definitions have focused on not the woman’s loss of autonomy over her body, but the woman’s male owner losing his autonomy over her body. This crime being one of the greatest atrocities a man can visit upon a woman, it seems counterintuitive that men have been the ones to determine what is and isn’t rape.
Practice Opening 2
Throughout history, women have been subject to the whims, desires, and fancy of men. From Biblical times up until the modern day, even countries which pride themselves on being “modern” in their ideologies still are complicit in the patriarchy. For example, the definition of rape has been developed and enforced strictly by men from historic times even until the present day. One of the worst crimes a man can commit against a woman has been defined for thousands of years by men.
“Legitimate Rape” and Todd Akin’s Idiocy
In 2012, Republican Senator Todd Akin said, when asked about rape, “[i]f it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” This is a statement that not only belies a basic misunderstanding of human biology and physiology, but also indicates a fundamental problem in Senator Akin’s thinking — on some level, the phrase “legitimate rape” implies a hierarchy, wherein some womens’ rapes are on a higher level, more traumatic, or more rapey than those of other women.
Let’s take two women with whom I am close personal friends, whose names we’ll change for the sake of privacy. One woman, who we’ll call Kelly, experienced a rape when she was in high school — her rapist pressured her again and again to perform fellatio on him, and when she said she was uncomfortable he didn’t stop; in fact, he threatened to tell all of her friends that she’d, in fact, done it eagerly, thus labeling her a “slut” among her early high school friend group.
The other woman, Maria, had an experience which we might see as closer to the “traditional” scenario — the struggling, forced kind, perpetrated by her uncle no less. He held her down and removed her clothing, and before he was finished he’d forcibly had his way with her.
As sickening as those scenarios are to imagine, are we able to conclude under Todd Akin’s idea of “legitimate rape” that Maria’s experience was sufficiently rapey enough to qualify? By extension, then, are we able to write off Kelly’s experience as illegitimate? And more importantly, is it even reasonable and sane to be ranking nonconsentual sexual experiences like that? The answer is a profound no; it is absolutely insane, irresponsible, and reprehensible to attempt to categorize instances of rape as legitimate or illegitimate.
Women as Property
Throughout history, men have viewed women as nothing more than their property; whether we look at the Code of Hammurabi, the early British law text Fleta, the Bible, or 13th century Saxon law, there is one theme that commonly emerges — any wrong done to a woman is in reality done to that woman’s male owner.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says the rape of a virgin must be reconciled by a payment of fifty shekles to the woman’s father, as well as taking that pesky daughter of his off his hands by marriage, because what woman wouldn’t want to marry the man that just robbed her of her sexual and bodily autonomy? The Code of Hammurabi has a similar view, though it gets even harsher — not only does it describe the rape as “property damage,” it says that if the woman was married, her nonconsentual sexual experience turns her into an adultress. Regardless of the fact that by definition she was neither initializing the act nor enjoying herself during the act, under ancient Babylonian code she gets thrown into the river along with the rest of the cheating whores of the town.