Seriously, why are they so obsessed with rape metaphors?

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, March 26, 2010 21:05 EDT
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I’m not usually one to do this, but I’m going to put the image I’m talking about below the fold at the bottom of this post, because it’s so gross I don’t want to foul up the front page of Pandagon. And since we’re not really squeamish here, that’s saying a lot. I wouldn’t post it at all, but it helps to understand the discussion if you can see it. It’s a cartoon that Darleen Click of Protein Wisdom drew, and it shows Obama getting up after having just raped the Statue of Liberty, telling her she “consented” in 2008 by electing him while she sobs. He also promises to come back to gang rape her with immigration reform, amongst other things.

Jeff and SEK have posted on this, and both are sort of amazed that while Darleen acknowledged and tried to defend herself against the racism of the cartoon, the fact that this sort of joke about rape is pretty fucking sick didn’t seem to matter in the slightest. I guess that should be more surprising coming from a woman, but I’ve dealt with Darleen before, and she’s the textbook example of a female misogynist. So I’m not surprised. About this, Jeff says:

I have, thankfully, never been a victim of sexual assault, but I’ve met my share of survivors, read their stories and done my best, as a compassionate human, to understand what the attacks have done to them, and to work as an ally to make sure that I stand against those who would minimize those attacks.

I cannot speak for anyone who’s suffered through the process of dealing with assault, but I’ve yet to see anyone who’s dealt first-hand with the issue see it as a metaphor to be drug out to describe political events. It’s far too personal for that. It’s like describing a zoning decision as a Holocaust — it’s just too big to be a metaphor.

Well, it’s not the bat signal, but I figure if Jeff wants the perspective of an actual rape survivor, which I’ve been open about being, then I’ll happily oblige. The callousness to actual rape victims on display here is simply a more explicit version of a rhetorical trope that’s been in play since Obama took office, and has really escalated as the favorite metaphor used by conservatives to describe health care reform. Maybe having gone through a literal sexual assault makes me a little quicker to pick up on this, or maybe it’s just really obvious, but the non-stop bleating about how health care reform is being shoved down various throats is a rape metaphor. In its most abstract, maybe not, but they dwell on it so much that it’s hard to forget that it’s a rape metaphor, even if it’s a mainstreamed one. Every time Limbaugh squawks about having to bend over and take it? Rape metaphor. Rape is not only the favorite metaphor conservatives use for health care reform, it’s quickly becoming the only one.

How does this make me feel? I’m not really in a position to speak for most rape survivors, but what I personally feel is frustrated and pissed off. Every time I hear a conservative use rape as a metaphor where they cast themselves as the hapless victims, I want to point out that this means all their rape apology crap is clearly that—misogynist crap.

Let me explain. When it comes to actual rapes, the right wing position is that the problem of rape is way overblown, and that most rapes—most anything that gets called a date or acquaintance rape—aren’t a matter of men forcing themselves on women because they enjoy raping, but just bad sex that sluts regret later and therefore “cry rape”. Take for instance the debate on the BBC where Heather MacDonald basically denied that the vast majority of campus rapes were actual rape. It’s not fun having people imply to your face that you’re the sort of person who would lie about a good man for no reason except shame that you don’t have about sex or perhaps spite that you never felt towards the guy until he raped you. But that’s the least of the problems with this narrative. The big one is that the narrative conservatives tell obscures the fact that rapists rape because they enjoy the power trip over their victims. For whatever reason, a lot of right wingers like to push the idea that rape is a matter of innocent men getting mixed signals, which simply isn’t the reality of the situation. Rapists are predators and ordinary men are actually pretty good at understanding when a woman they’re on a date with isn’t into the sex.

But what’s both fascinating and frustrating is that when conservatives aren’t apologizing for actual rapists, it seems their understanding of what rape is reflects reality pretty well. When they use rape metaphors when describing health care, they contextualize rape as a brutal crime, a display of power over the victim for the sheer pleasure of forcing her to submit. This cartoon reflects this understanding; there’s no question that the Obama-rapist in the cartoon was confused about his Liberty-victim’s unwillingness to have sex with him. In this cartoon, in fact, the Obama-rapist gets off on the sadistic pleasure of hurting her. Which is like real life rape, but completely opposite of what conservatives say happens in these rape situations.

So, they clearly know what rape is all about, when they’re casting themselves as the victims. But when real life women are real life victims of rape, suddenly they go stupid and think it’s all a matter of too much alcohol or mixed signals. And that level of full-of-shitness pisses me off.

That they enjoy imagining themselves as the victims of a brutal metaphorical rape is the sort of fucked-up-ness that I can’t really wrap my mind around, but seems to be endemic in the hysterical wingnut population. Anyway, if you want to see the cartoon, it’s below the fold.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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