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The Excellent Absurdity of Legitimate Rape: A Note on Art and History

[By Jerry Ward]

The American mind seems to have a
limited capacity for dealing with either the diachronic or synchronic aspects
of issues.  That is unfortunate.  However, if we seek to overcome those limits,
we discover a profound need to deal with the
absurd
.  In August 2012, we had
occasion to consider the excellent
absurdity
of legitimate rape.
Representative Todd Akin of Missouri
said on public television”
It
seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really
rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the
female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Had Akin momentarily become the
anti-hero of Voltaire’s novel Candide
and were his unguarded remarks  informed
by the twisted beliefs of Dr. Pangloss? 
Was he at all aware of what Mark Twain, a famous writer from Missouri,
had said about the madness of “rape” in King
Leopold’s Soliloquy
?  Perhaps
not.  Few of our politicians can
demonstrate cultural literacy.  But from
the angle of literary analysis, it seemed Akin had uttered a proposition about
“rape” that was itself “legitimated” by the genocidal “rape” of indigenous
peoples to obtain the Lebensraum that
is now the United States of America. 
From the angles of cultural analysis and biology, it seemed Akin was
dead wrong,  because “legitimate rape” of
the African female body during the period of slavery so frequently resulted in
pregnancy. Akin suffered from the convenient amnesia that for thousands of
years has made rape legitimate. Much of the outrage about his statement pertained,
I suspect, to his treachery in revealing a secret that was no secret.

When I informed a friend that
I need your opinion on
the absurd topic of “legitimate rape.” Does it make any sense to use
the wording as a category for analysis in history or as what I call an analytic
metaphor? I want to write a short essay on the antiquity of the concept (the
Romans legitimately raped people and territories to create the Roman Empire)
and its contemporary uses (American citizens are legitimately raped by
political uses of disinformation or misinformation).
he replied
The definition of rape
has evolved over the centuries. As you state the Romans, and earlier
civilizations did not consider what they did as “rape” by the
traditional definition. It was an act of power, pillage and empire building.
Much has to do with the position of women as subservient, “baby
makers” and sexual objects historically. Also recall that under Greece and
Rome, soldiers had young male escorts that accompanied them for sexual purposes
that one could define as having been “raped” regardless of how Akin
used this in reference to pregnancy and abortion. The entire concept is much
broader and complicated than what the media has superficially attributed to (an
ignorant Republican…–you get my drift). I think your inclusion of the
political use of the term “rape” is right on and again reinforces the
multiple uses and realistic definition outside of a violent sexual act against
one’s consent. I recall a picture of a woman protesting the government and
taxes. She held a sign that said something to the effect that “I don’t
have to worry about a sex life, the government fucks (i. e. rapes) me
everyday…”
It is obvious, as my friend added in a
later email, that “legitimate rape” as an analytic
metaphor
can indeed reveal much about “an historical continuum” that
extends from such literary works as “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and the Homeric
epics to aesthetic treatments of rape in the visual arts to  the political histories of the  Japanese rape of Nanjing and the recent and
very costly rape of Iraq and to the contemporary  neo-colonial rape of the continent of Africa
that must be studied in depth in the realm of the post-colonial.  In her forthcoming book, Policing the Womb: The New
Cultural Politics of Reproduction
(Cambridge University Press), Michele
Goodwin promises to enlighten us, by using empirical evidence, about the
“political and regulatory discourse on women’s reproduction.”  Nevertheless, something more is needed.   Akin’s
opening of Pandora’s box warrants our giving literary and cultural attention to
how the symbolic discourses of female and male bodies describe and indict what
is after all these centuries still primitive in world civilizations. Perhaps
when I do write “An Absurd Essay on the Absurdity of Legitimate Rape,” I shall
be compelled to suggest : human beings still pray to an unknown God as John
Donne did in Holy Sonnet 14 (1633)

Take me to You, imprison me, for I,
Except You’enthrall me, never shall be
free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.