Akin and Galloway have three things in common. Both are men. Both encourage rape deniers. And both have acted like fools
At first sight, Todd Akin and George Galloway might not seem to have much in common. The former is an ultra-conservative US congressman from Missouri. The latter is a loudmouth leftist MP in Britain. Politically, they occupy extremes of the spectrum. But they have three things in common. Both are men. Both encourage rape deniers. And both have acted like fools.
Mr Akin’s version of rape denial came in a weekend interview in which he claimed that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”. Mr Galloway’s version came in a video podcast in which he claimed that allegations against Julian Assange by two Swedish women were not rape, “at least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it”. The two men share something else. Each of them, though coming from opposing standpoints, has a set of pig-headed ideological preconceptions. In Mr Akin’s case, his foolishness has been driven by a doctrinaire social-conservative hostility to abortion which leads him to contort the issue of rape so that he can challenge the legitimacy of abortion in rape cases. Mr Galloway’s foolishness is driven by the equally doctrinaire obsession that Mr Assange is the victim of an American setup, which leads him to dismiss the allegations of rape as nothing worse than “bad sexual etiquette.”
Both male politicians also have a cousin in Kenneth Clarke. The justice secretary told the BBC last year that some rapes were “serious”, “forcible” and “proper”, before public outrage against his remarks forced him to acknowledge that all rapes are serious. To his credit, Mr Clarke apologised. Bombarded with criticism from both sides of the US political spectrum, Mr Akin has apologised too. Now it should be Mr Galloway’s turn.
All rape is serious. There is no such thing as trivial rape, and no such thing as consensual rape either. No matter how much force or violence is employed, and no matter in what circumstances the crime is committed, it is always serious. And there is no older trick in the rape denial repertoire than to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator .
There is, though, one major political difference between the Akin and Galloway cases. Insofar as the Respect MP speaks for others, he speaks for a tiny minority in a Britain which has mostly moved on from such shibboleths about rape. Mr Akin, by contrast, remains the endorsed candidate of the Republican party for the US Senate seat in Missouri. His views about rape are widely shared on the religious right. And the row caused by his remarks shows how the US is still far more deeply at risk than Britain over attempts to deny women’s rights over their bodies.