“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” ~ Todd Akin
The comedy website Funny or Die has created a “Legitimate Rape” pharmaceutical advertisement parody based on the outlandish comments made by Republican Todd Akin. The video spoof suggests women might consider rape a means of avoiding pregnancy while still having sex. In other words: rape is a form of birth control. The video effectively highlights how historical understandings of the female body—and the uterus specifically—as magic, dangerous, and deadly, are being redeployed in the interests of an anachronistic political philosophy predicated on masculine dominance and control of women.
The video attempts to use humor to reveal assumptions at the core of Conservative ideas about rape. Sometimes it does a fairly sophisticated job. For example, when it switches to a cartoon uterus, complete with talking ovaries discussing whether the rape taking place is “legitimate,” it connects anti-choice rhetoric to a long tradition within Western masculinist thought that imagines the uterus—“hystera” in Greek—as an autonomous, mysterious and potentially dangerous organ with privileged access to the female subconscious. (The bogus diagnosis, “hysteria,” was founded on this imaginary relationship and psychiatric “treatment” included removal of the mystical organ through hysterectomy) This cartoon humorously highlights the Conservative belief that, while women themselves are not trustworthy when it comes to charging rape, their uterus’s powers of discernment are irrefutable: it knows when a woman is being legitimately raped and, it reacts appropriately, with deadly “secretions” and military-like closures. So, though a woman might say it was rape, her uterus, with its privileged access to her subconscious desires—desires she may be unaware of or, more likely, unwilling to admit—knows the Truth. And, in a move we can liken to 17th Century witch-hunt logic, suddenly “if she floats she’s a witch”: her body can be counted on to betray her. Through these ideological gymnastics women are reduced to uteruses.
Despite how this spoof reveals a disturbingly consistent patriarchal genealogy of meanings around the uterus, I do not endorse it. The violent mock rape it depicts reduces rape’s horror to comedic ploy and comes off as confusing and dangerous evidence that “maybe she really does like it violent.” This spoof had the potential to address the Republican Party’s widespread (and strategic) “rape illiteracy,” instead, it reinforces their potentially devastating, misogynistic cluelessness.