Obama on Oct. 24, 2012:
I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas. Rape is rape. It is a crime and so these various distinctions about rape, don’t make too much sense to me, don’t make any sense to me.Valenti writes:
Despite decades of activism on sexual assault—despite common sense, even—there is still widespread ignorance about what rape is, and this absence of a widely understood and culturally accepted definition of sexual assault is one of the biggest hurdles we have in chipping away at rape culture.She refers to disgusting statements and beliefs of a couple of Republican senatorial candidates and others: "legitimate rape" and pregnancy from rape "as something that God intended."
The definition of who is a rape victim has been whittled down by racism, misogyny, classism and the pervasive wink-wink-nudge-nudge belief that all women really want to be forced anyway. The assumption is that women are, by default, desirous of sex unless they explicitly state otherwise. And women don’t just have to prove that we said no, but that we screamed it.Referring to a recent court decision in Connecticut, she writes:
This is not just a problem of rhetoric or legalese. The lack of an accepted cultural definition of rape leaves room for mischaracterizations that turn back the clock on progress already made.Valenti discusses a term popularized five years ago in a book and magazine article by an anti-feminist writer: "gray rape"--supposedly caused by "hookups, mixed signals, and alcohol” and “the idea that women can be just as bold and adventurous about sex as men are.”
There is nothing “gray” about this. There is nothing gray about violence, there is nothing gray about “choke on it,” there is nothing gray about rape. But thanks to this made-up definition that isn't recognized by law, medical professionals or sexual assault advocates—and that puts the blame for assault on women’s sexuality—this young woman and countless others think that maybe the sexual assault that was perpetrated against them was something less than a violent crime.The rest of her article is a valuable discussion about what feminists should do to counter bad policies, bad legislation, and cultural weaknesses and uncertainties.
[W]hat’s crucial is that we make a shift from targeting pieces of the culture in a reactive way to proactively changing the broader culture in a more lasting way. We need to spend less time worrying about ultraconservative misogynists and extremist politicians and focus on shifting the way we all think about sexual assault and consent. We need to think and act much, much bigger. ...
The time is ripe for going big. The American public, young women especially, are ready for a new message about sexuality and for a definition of rape that is accurate, strong, progressive and indisputable. ...
Clearly, this is just one piece of a tremendous battle. A widely accepted definition of rape—even a progressive, feminist one—will not change everything, and it won’t eradicate rape. But it is a necessary step to shift the culture. ...
Thanks to widespread online activism and women’s issues dominating election discourse, feminism is enjoying a moment of real cultural power. Now is the time to use it._______
Valenti's article in The Nation is featured today in my online paper, Footprints: Progressive Steps--available at the Progressive Politics tab above and by free email subscription.