1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Why Some Republican Candidates Make Stupid Remarks About Rape

It Has to Do with Rape Myths, Women as Property, and Traditional Family Values


Updated October 29, 2012
Why are so many Republican politicians insensitive about rape? There have been plenty of examples in the 2012 election cycle: Senate candidate ‎Todd Akins and his claims about "legitimate rape"; vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his view that rape is "another method of conception"; presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his advice to women to "accept this horribly created" gift of human life bestowed "in a very broken way" by rape; Wisconsin state representative Roger Rivard's observation that "some girls rape easy"; and Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and his assertion that rapes which leads to pregnancies are "something God intended to happen."

Why do these GOP men make these statements that outrage women, worry their political peers who subsequently distance themselves, and then refuse to apologize or acknowledge their insensitivity? Why is it that Democratic male politicians don't appear to share these opinions or express them?

The reasons have to do with traditional family values, the conservative opinion on where a woman's rightful place in society should be, and acceptance of the rape myth. These men speak so authoritatively on the topic -- despite having no direct knowledge of the subject -- because they truly believe this will never happen to any woman in their lives. Not their wives, their daughters, or any female that they are responsible for.

It helps to know the women in these men's lives to understand that rationale.

For a lengthier profile of each woman, see Wives of 'Rape Remark' Politicians: Who are the Women Married to These Men?

  • As a college graduate, Lulli Boe Akin considered the Peace Corps and the CIA before becoming a systems engineer with IBM in Providence, RI. She met a company salesman, Todd Akin, married him and moved to St. Louis where she embraced a new life as an evangelical Christian and prominent homeschooling educator.
  • Janna Little Ryan was the daughter of two successful litigation attorneys and, like her mother Prudence, attended Wellesley as an undergrad. After law school, she ended up in Washington as a lobbyist where she worked with a prominent firm. After marrying Paul Ryan, she gave up her career and is now raising three children.
  • Karen Garver Santorum was a 22-year-old nursing student when she moved in with her lover, an obstetrician and abortion doctor 41 years her senior. They lived together for six years despite disapproval from her Catholic family and his disinclination to have children. While attending law school, she met Rick Santorum, married him, and never practiced law. Instead she stayed at home, supported his political career, and raised seven children.
Each woman was the dictionary definition of "self-made" and a career-focused college graduate. Two went on to earn law degrees. They worked in engineering, politics and medicine -- all fields that offer opportunities for advancement and promotion. Each woman entered into marriage well aware that she was expected to sacrifice her career for her husband's own ambitions. Although we'll never know the reasons why they chose the path they did, it's interesting to note that the men they married chose them. They wanted strong-minded, intelligent women as helpmates, but they were also clear about their expectation that their wives would focus on family and support their political careers.

So we have once-independent women now under the care and control of their husbands, men who pride themselves on working toward the greater good as public servants and caretakers of the public trust. All three men are patriarchal figures who constantly promote their conservative values. They see their role as one in which it's both God's will and nature's way for them to protect their mates and children, and they are confident no harm will come to anyone under their care. And for a woman sequestered in their homes, the chances of being raped and/or sexually assaulted are minimal because they are leading traditional lives.

Compare this with the woman who works the third shift at a factory or hospital, or the one who stays late at the office working on a legal brief, or the one who waitresses until closing time. Because she works outside the home, she is exposed to far more "dangers" than the stay-at-home mother. She's at much greater risk walking toward her car in a dark parking lot or garage at 11 pm at night than the woman safe at home. And if she's raped or sexually assaulted in this situation, well, although that's not her fault, she knew the risks of the work that she was doing and the life that she was leading, didn't she?

These may sound like baseless assertions, but they represent the type of thinking that underlies the concept of rape myths. Rape myths are widely held but unspoken beliefs that at some level, a female who is raped is responsible for what has happened to her. Some rape myths are even believed by the victims themselves.

If we hear a woman was raped in a parking garage, we may think differently about her circumstances depending on what brought her out late at night. If she was an attorney working on a domestic violence case on behalf of a battered woman, we see her in one light; if she was a stripper coming home from working at the club, we see her in another light. But if we learn that the stripper was a single mother trying to earn enough to feed and shelter her child, we see the situation differently. That opinion shifts even further if we learn that the young woman had to drop out of school to care for her terminally ill mother and never earned a high school diploma, and stripping is the only way she can earn a living wage.

We make subconscious assumptions about the circumstances in a woman's life that expose her to such crimes as rape and sexual assault. The proof of this is that a woman won't hesitate to say that she's the victim of a robbery, because robbery victims are largely seen as blameless.

This may explain the thinking behind the male politician who casually discusses rape as if it's no big deal. His own deep-seated belief in rape myths may make him appear cavalier and unconcerned about the real ramifications of rape because it will never happen to one of his own. His females aren't alone in parking lots late at night. They are under his care and protection and because of that, they would never be in situations that would put them at risk. They are not "asking for it."

Democratic male politicians, in contrast, are more progressive in their spoken opinions. Many have working spouses with their own careers. Witness Michelle Obama, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Judith Steinberg Dean and of course Hillary Clinton. This may make them more understanding of the issues of rape and sexual assault because they conceive of it happening to their own wives whose own spheres of influence take them far beyond the home.

This is not to say that Democratic men are beyond reproach. Far from it. One can understand the trauma of rape and sexual assault and have compassion for women and still be unfaithful. Anthony Weiner and Bill Clinton could be poster boys for this particular circumstance. But they err because they are taken with their own power and charisma, and they see sex as consensual and mutually beneficial. They are powerful men engaging in what powerful men have always done -- bad behavior.

The men who've spoken so insensitively about rape have "conquered" previously strong-willed, independent women and now have ownership of them. They can no more easily envision another male raping their wives or daughters than they can imagine someone stealing from them. And when women are viewed as property, rape may be seen as another form of theft.

At least the attitudes of Republican politicians who refuse to consider abortion in the case of rape are a step up the evolutionary ladder. Among some species in the animal kingdom, when a new dominant male unseats a former one, he kills all his rival's children.

"Greater St. Louis Area Home Educators Expo: Lulli Akin." Service-life.com. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
Britney, Free. "Janna Ryan: Five Facts About Paul Ryan's Wife." TheHollywoodGossip.com. 13 August 2012.
Hass, Nancy. "Before Karen Met Rick." TheDailyBeast.com. 16 January 2012. Wilkie, Christina. "Janna Ryan, Paul Ryan's Wife, Lobbied For Cigar, Nuclear, Pharmaceutical Industries." TheHuffingtonPost.com. 14 August 2012. Yarrow, Allison. "Who is Mrs. 'Legitimate Rape'? Meet Todd Akin's Wife, Lulli." TheDailyBeast.com. 20 August 2012.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.