That’s what Wisconsin state representative Roger Rivard thinks, anyway. But don’t worry, everyone, he’s clarified! He didn’t mean it’s actually easy to rape some girls; what he meant was, sometimes you have consensual sex with a girl and then it turns out she’s a lying slut and she claims you raped her. So it was an easy rape! Because she’s easy. And so was the rape (“rape”). And it’s not even what he said, it’s what his daddy said. He was just repeating good advice. Because that’s really good advice: Don’t have sex, because the girl you have sex with might be a dirty lying whore. I mean, you know she’s at least a dirty whore, because sex. Lying isn’t so far off.
Have I mentioned that Paul Ryan endorsed this guy?
Also, really, what is with the Republican boner for rape? I wrote about this in the Guardian last week, and explained that the Republican rape problem typifies a more generalized Republican woman problem: They don’t particularly like women, they don’t believe that women should have a full range of rights, they don’t want to see women in power, and so they pass laws that try to coerce women into particular roles. Sometimes their deep disdain and distrust of women slips out a bit more bluntly, like Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments and this latest gem. But the ideology behind those ugly comments is front and center in the Republican party platform. Which, you know, basically says things like, “We will let women die before we will let them get abortions.” Heaven forbid women’s bodies are actually for the women inhabiting them, and not for someone else to boss around.
It’s more than that, though. Republicans also prop up rape culture, and rape culture is enabled by the kind of conservative worldview that the GOP promotes. I know I’m going full-on self-promotional here, but Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape deals with this pretty thoroughly. In the essay I wrote for the anthology, I talk specifically about the right-wing rape problem. There are a few steps to getting to the “conservatism props up rape culture” conclusion, and they are (here radically simplified):
The socially conservative worldview believes that men and women are fundamentally different — not just physically and emotionally and biologically, but in terms of what role they are supposed to fill in society. The conservative worldview sees a society in which these traditional, “natural” roles are filled as the best society. Conservatives believe that men are naturally aggressive and desiring of sex; in the best world, men are heads of households and responsible for action in the public sphere. They care for their families as financial supporters and physical protectors. But they have to be coerced into entering into that family model through a system in which they cannot get sex without marital commitment. Women, on the other hand, could take or leave sex, but they deeply desire monogamy, romantic love, commitment and support. Women are naturally subservient and desiring of stability; in the best world, women are helpmeets to their husbands and responsible for the private sphere — homemaking and caretaking of children and family. They are responsible for civilizing men, partially by withholding sex in order to get the marital commitment they want, and by establishing a nuclear family that is ultimately the best foundation for society.
In that view, sex is essentially a bartering chip. It’s not something that is good in and of itself. It’s good only when it’s used for both parties to get what they want in a socially-sanctioned way. It is something women “give” to men, once men give women what women want.
Sex as something that’s “given” — sex as a commodity — allows for sex to be constructed as something that can be taken.
But in order to take something, there has to be ownership. And the right-wing worldview doesn’t believe that women own their bodies, or have full rights to those bodies.
Unfortunately for the ideal conservative worldview, it turns out that women aren’t all that naturally subservient, submissive, and solely desiring of marriage and children. How do we know? Well, first of all, because the ideal conservative world has never existed — at least not without serious political intervention. Even in the Bible, bitches got real. And because in the blip in world history where that world did kind of exist for a very particular class of women, women revolted (feminism!). A few women pushed back and opened doors; once those doors were open, even larger numbers of women walked through them. We’re very far from a gender-egalitarian society, but even in conservative circles it’s no longer particularly acceptable to suggest that men should be in charge of the world outside of the home. So women are out having sex before marriage (although for record, even our grandparents were having sex before marriage) and delaying marriage until they’re actually ready and going to college and getting jobs and generally feeling like they are, or should be, equal members of society.
That is not the ideal conservative world.
And not everyone in society agrees that women should have equal rights and liberties simply by virtue of the fact that women, believe it or not, are human beings just like men, and just like men have complex and widely varying desires and life paths. And even a lot of us who do believe that women are people too are really confused, because all of this social upheaval happened relatively quickly, and women have by definition been reproducers and care-takers and individuals whose purpose is something other than simply existing for themselves for so long in our culture that it’s very easy to fall into this mindset where we don’t see women’s bodies as fully, 100% theirs. Ours.
But the more power women get, and the more we start to come through the fog of internalized sexism and the fact that we grew up as girls into women in a culture that is supremely hostile to both girls and women, the more we realize: A lot of the stuff that happens to a lot of us isn’t individual. It’s not a solo problem. It’s systematic. It’s a cultural problem. It’s a political problem. And when sex is a bartering chip, a woman “giving” sex and not “getting” marriage in return taints her; that’s not right. When sex is a bartering chip and a woman gets married, she’s “given” sex to her husband indefinitely — and suddenly there’s no framework for her to say no, or to allow herself to feel fully violated when her husband doesn’t listen when she does say no, or to get any sort of legal or social support if she musters the strength to rightfully feel violated by a very real violation (marital rape wasn’t outlawed all that long ago). Professional anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly put this well when she said, “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.”
Legally and culturally, we’ve moved forward — some (for what it’s worth, Schlafly’s comments were in 2007, so not exactly ancient history). The conservative worldview still sees sex as something women have and men get. We see that framework everywhere from the church to porn to abstinence-only education to dating advice. Our mainstream culture still sees sex as something women have and men get.
But increasingly women are saying no, we aren’t going to use virginity (or sex) as a bartering chip. And when we have sex on our own terms, you don’t get to physically assault us. Sex, ideally, is something that two people do together; a model that Thomas Macauly Millar describes in Yes Means Yes as “the performance model of sex” (his essay is a must-read, but basically: An ideal sexual system would see sex as something like playing music or dancing, where it’s an awesome thing for two people to do together, and coercing or physically forcing someone to do it with you is incredibly bizarre and fucked up).
The feminist model is not the conservative one. It’s not the one we live.
The conservative worldview says that real women — good women — use sex to get marriage; otherwise, good women put the brakes on sex. And women’s bodies aren’t really their own (the right-wing group Focus on the Family makes this explicit on their website, where in discussing female chastity they say, “It’s Not My Body“). Women’s bodies serve someone else– a baby, a husband, society, God. That view underlies a lot of GOP policy as it pertains to women. Abortion rights are the most obvious, but things like contraception access and even maternity leave are well in the scope of “women exist to physically serve anyone but themselves.”
That view also divides women into “good” women and “bad” women. Bad women give up sex without requiring marriage; good women do not. Good women can be raped; bad women, since they give sex freely, cannot be (you can’t steal what someone is giving away). Take this quote from Tennessee State Senator Doug Henry:
Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse. Today it’s simply, ‘Let’s don’t go forward with this act.’”
Rape, in the conservative worldview, isn’t about violating consent or forcing sex on someone against their will; rape is about who the victim is and whether or not she plays by right-wing rules. It’s about whether she’s already given up her right to say no.
At the same time, as the conservative female is naturally chaste and subservient and refusing of sex unless she falls from grace, the conservative male ideal is aggressive, animalistic and virtually uncontrollable (except by a good woman, of course). Men, in the right-wing view, are going to tirelessly try to get sex. “We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape,” says conservative activist and author of The Myth of Male Power Warren Farrell, “we called it exciting.”
And that, fundamentally, is what Rivard’s comments come back to: That the natural order of things is that men try to get sex, women should try to refuse it, and when women don’t try to refuse it society crumbles. That social demise is women’s fault, and women are not to be trusted, and sometimes you’ll have consensual sex with one of them and they’ll just lie and call it rape. Because unless you jumped out of the bushes and grabbed a virgin off the street, the sex was probably consensual.
Do some women lie about rape? Yes, of course. Just like some people set their own houses on fire to collect the insurance money, and some people lie about being robbed or their cars being stolen. I was going to say that just about the only crime people don’t lie about being victimized by is murder, but then some people fake their own deaths, so there’s that. People lie, often in stunningly pathological ways, and that is a sad reality. But women don’t lie about being raped any more than people lie about other crimes — which is actually not particularly often.
But just for kicks, let’s address Rivard’s argument on its merits. Here’s how he explained himself:
“[My father] also told me one thing, ‘If you do (have premarital sex), just remember, consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry,’ ” Rivard said. “Because all of a sudden a young lady gets pregnant and the parents are madder than a wet hen and she’s not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I was part of the program.’ All that she has to say or the parents have to say is it was rape because she’s underage. And he just said, ‘Remember, Roger, if you go down that road, some girls,’ he said, ‘they rape so easy.’
“What the whole genesis of it was, it was advice to me, telling me, ‘If you’re going to go down that road, you may have consensual sex that night and then the next morning it may be rape.’ So the way he said it was, ‘Just remember, Roger, some girls, they rape so easy. It may be rape the next morning.’
Ooookay. So many things to get mad about! But putting the mad aside for a second: This argument only works in a society that holds ideal conservative views about sex. This problem only exists in a society that follows, or aspires to follow, ideal conservative views about sex. And obviously American society is still that, at least partly (what we aspire to and what we do are two very different things). But if we all looked at sex as something awesome and healthy and natural that two people do together and that requires some responsibility and ethical treatment of oneself and one’s partner, instead of a bartering chip that women are supposed to give to men in one particular context and that sullies them if they give it in the wrong context? The Rivard rape scenario would not be plausible, because there would be no incentive to lie about rape. Put more simply: Why would the lying woman in Rivard’s story lie unless she feared retribution for having sex? And why, in a feminist world, would she fear retribution for having sex?
Feminism: Good for everyone, even men falsely accused of rape in a Republican dad’s paranoia scenario.
The fundamental problem here is that conservatives don’t trust women to run our own lives. They don’t trust us to determine the number and spacing of our own children, and they definitely don’t trust us when it comes to anything sex related. In their estimation, sex is always a tool to get something else. Women need to be controlled — by men, by the law, by the pervasive threat of sexual assault if they leave the home or if they act in unladlylike ways. And yes, that enables rape. It enables men to get away with rape. It enables the kind of mentality that Rivard expresses here.
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