Todd Akin rape comment: Eve Ensler in the Congo, and rest of the world reacts to 'legitimate rape'

HONG KONG -- In just a few days, a politician largely unknown outside the U.S. has earned the dubious reputation on the world stage as the "rape-gaffe congressman."

It's not an enviable title but one that has inspired column-writers worldwide to pick apart Todd Akin's comments -- their possible implications for the U.S. presidential election and what they say about an apparently civilized society's attitude towards rape.

The standard news story has been syndicated worldwide, stating the bare facts; that a Missouri congressman referred to "legitimate rape" when trying to explain, incorrectly, a woman's biological response to being raped.

Rape victims, the congressmen inferred, would not become pregnant because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." The comment came in response to a presenter's question as to whether abortion should be allowed in the case of rape.

Akin's comments echoed as far away as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where award-winning playwright Eve Ensler penned a powerful open letter titled, "Dear Mr. Akin, I Want You to Imagine..."

The U.S. author of "The Vagina Monologues" wrote that she was lying awake at 2 a.m. in Bukavu in the City of Joy in the Congo where she was working to support "thousands of women who have been raped and violated and tortured from this ceaseless war for minerals fought on their bodies."

"Mr. Akin, your words have kept me awake," she wrote, before explaining what it means for women who have been raped to hear him make the distinction between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" rape.

"The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority," she wrote, before imploring him to imagine someone "violently, hatefully forcing themself into you so that you are ripped apart."

At the time of writing the story had been shared more than 60,000 times on Facebook.

"Everyone's talking about rape," declared Hadley Freeman, writing in Britain's Guardian newspaper. "It is testament to the determination of some folk to bend reality to their preferred viewpoint that there are so many intriguing words around these days for rape to make it seem, I don't know, less rapey," she wrote, looping a string around Akin and "certain devotees of Julian Assange."

She was referring to George Galloway, a British lawmaker with the Respect Party, perhaps best known outside the UK for his fiery testimony at a 2005 U.S. Senate Committee hearing into alleged impropriety concerning the United Nations' oil-for-food scheme.

Galloway has refused to retract comments made in his video podcast in which he said the allegations made by two women in Sweden against WikiLeaks founder Assange "did not constitute rape" but were more of a case of "bad sexual etiquette."

However, the majority of international column space devoted to the Akin comments related to their impact on the U.S. presidential race.

Historian Tim Stanley struck back with this blunt analysis in Britain's Telegraph newspaper. "Todd Akin's remarks on rape don't tell you what conservatives think about sexual assault. They don't tell you much about anything, other than that Akin is an idiot."

He added that Akin's comments were what President Barack Obama had been waiting for; an opportunity to swing the political narrative from jobs to culture.

"How Akin's foolishness will play out in the election remains to be seen. Incredibly, he remains neck-and-neck in his Missouri race, which suggests that economics continues to eclipse social policy in the popular mind," he wrote.

But the Australian Sydney Morning Herald's U.S. Correspondent Nick O'Malley said Akin's comments had "trashed" any hopes that Mitt Romney had of "refocusing attention on to economics."

The straight news story about Akin's comments and refusal to end his bid for the Senate was carried on several websites in China, and generated a sprinkling of discussion on the country's twitter-like micro-blogs.

User "Xingxingnameliang" wrote: "Is he an undercover sent by the Democrats to destroy the opponent? Obama must be so happy to see this."

And "reddress" said: "This would be a big headache for the Republicans. A lousy teammate who can sabotage his own people is the worst."

Under a column entitled "Mistake of words and of the heart," the BBC's North America editor Mark Mardell asked why a U.S. politician was peddling pregnancy rape theories which dated back to the 13th century.

"Mr Akin may have many admirable qualities which recommend him to the voters of Missouri, but it seems strange that a 21st century politician is willing to legislate on the grounds of old wives' tales. Perhaps he should be explaining

that, rather than his clumsy use of language," he wrote.

One CNN reader who commented on the opinion piece "Wake up: It's not just Akin" also looked beyond Akin's wording to question the value of the debate.

"What is the probability of an aroused woman getting pregnant versus the probability of a non-aroused woman getting pregnant? Non biased researchers probably know the answer to this question. Regardless of the answer, why did he think it's good politics to debate this stuff?"

However, one of the most inventive and educational responses to Akin's comments came from an academic website in Australia, posted by a professor of evolution and ecology who specializes in the biology of sexual conduct.

"Like almost everybody else I spoke to today, I was staggered, this morning, to hear Todd Akin's comments about 'legitimate rape' and pregnancy," wrote Rob Brooks, from the University of New South Wales on The Conversation website.

Brooks questioned whether Akin was confusing human biology with that of Australian Black Field Crickets, a species for whom forced copulation is impossible.

"She has to mount him voluntarily and she is unlikely to do so unless he has a sexy song. But once she has mated him and he has attached a bag of his sperm (a spermatophore) to her abdomen, she often chooses to remove it before its entire contents enter her body," he wrote. "Perhaps this is the kind of thing Todd Akin had in mind?"

On a more serious note, Brooks wrote: "What strikes me about the anachronistic attitudes of evangelicals and their Republican puppets to abortion, contraception, family planning, female economic empowerment and feminism in general, is just how unambiguously male these attitudes are.

"An entire political party in one of the most advanced and educated countries on earth has become a caricature of the most basal evolved insecurities about masculinity. They seem terrified of losing control over the means of reproduction and petrified of cuckoldry," he said.


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