Spectres of Rape: On Hypothetical (Female) Bodies, 'Welfare Queens', and the 2012 Campaign

by on Oct.26, 2012

[I was going to put a picture of Richard Mourdock here, but I prefer to promulgate this spectre of Alternate Future Gender and Race Relations. Click here for the moving picture.]

Ken’s post below on male body language and affect our current election cycle and Sarah’s post below about “Mother’s Substance” together point to a strange spectre haunting the 2012 election cycle: The spectre of rape.

The only woman’s body that seems of interest to contemporary right wing politicians and the media who follow them is the raped impregnated women’s body. This body is of course shot through with hypotheticity, because this body only comes into the ‘being’ of media visibility in the discourse of these particular, right-wing, antichoice men.

A feminist of either gender who chose to discuss such bodies in terms of their actuality, in terms of statistics, the availability of legal services or actual health care (even maternity care, let a lone abortion services) does not receive such media platforms. When an actual woman who uses contraception (Sandra Fluke) becomes visible, she immediately becomes synonymous with that other favorite misogynist spectre, slut. Similarly, the only real policies anti-choice politicians have enacted regarding actually raped women is to deny them services– legal services such as rape kits or medical services such as emergency contraception.

Yet it is there, in the body of ‘hypothetical’ ‘rape’ that the true battleflag of anti-choice absolutism must be planted, because if the ban holds here, it holds everywhere. Women who might have become pregnant through consensual sex or ‘illegitimate rape’ sex go without mention; as if we all agree that they must of course be forced to carry those pregnancies to term.

Non-pregnant women and their concerns about living from day to day, caring for themselves and/or their families, are also not allotted non-ludicrous space in the discourse (binders full of women?).

But the impregnated raped woman, who is always hypothetical, a hypothetical spectre, not an actual raped woman, girl, toddler, or infant, must be constantly evoked and invoked—and also made to carry her hypothetical pregnancy to term, giving birth to the baby, who is somehow not hypothetical but enjoys ‘personhood’.

What makes this whole economy even more ‘hypothetical’ is that the rapist is never mentioned by these right wing male politicians; the impregnator is never mentioned; the male is never mentioned; criminality or legal situation is never mentioned. All that is mentioned is the pregnancy and the rape—as if rape is the absolute (though hypothetical) circumstance which gathers women into its murky wing; all other bodies are contingent, are made more or less actual, in relation to this circumstance of rape.

It does not seem surprising to me that God and rape then begin rhyming in these anti-choice minds—because God is the absolute and the hypothetical to which all human bodies are contingent.

Rape-pregnancy is  a positive; it is the holy double of its unholy double, abortion. Pregnancy redeems rape, identifies it as part of God’s plan.

Finally I would like to contrast the spectre of ‘rape’ in this cycle to the spectre of the ‘welfare queen’ during Reagan’s campaign. Both these spectres are evoked in order to discipline real women through the enactment of actual,punitive laws, laws that will control these hypothetical bodies. In the case of the welfare queen, lawless libidinousness and the fearful ‘luxury’ of poverty was cravenly concocted and deployed, because it Orwellianly inverted the real state of things, the radical disempowerment of the impoverished, and particularly the black female impoverished body. 30 years later, the politicians are not even bothering with the political sophistication of Orwellian inversion; instead, the spectre of the raped woman, her radical disempowerment, is the preferred female spectre; it is the only visibility of women in right-wing politics.

If the black ‘welfare queen’ had to be punished, then the ‘raped’ pregnant woman, this most coerced of women must be coerced further, to the very hypothetical limit of a white male politicians imaginations, because she is woman itself.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Sarah Fox

    “The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”