Todd Akin, Jared Wilson, and apologies that aren’t

Peace March for Richmond Rape Victim

Bay Area community members rally in support of a Richmond High School rape victim. Photo by Henderson Images used under CC license.

Trigger warning: sexual violence, rape apologism, victim blaming, cissexism, anti-choice rhetoric. Content note: Not all people with uteruses are women and not all women have uteruses. Not all rape survivors are women, or adults. I use language that reflects this where I’m not paraphrasing/unpacking the views of people who choose to believe the only people who can be raped or get pregnant are cisgender women.

Dear Todd Akin, please join Jared Wilson in the corner for dudes who assert half-baked, misogynist as hell theories about rape (and again with racist and colonialist subtext) as divinely ordained fact.

“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” said Akin said of pregnancy caused by rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.  – Congressman (!!) and Senate candidate Todd Akin, R-MO (Huffington Post)

Rep. Akin is shocked, just shocked, that people are outraged. All he did was use breathtakingly inaccurate “understanding” of human biology as a justification for suggesting some rapes aren’t really rape and denying reproductive health services to survivors.

Todd Akin would like you to accept his fake apologies that don’t acknowledge the issues with his comments – and in fact indirectly reiterate and reaffirm the ideas that caused the backlash in the first place. Todd Akin wants you to know how deeply he cares about rape survivors and that he would never, ever condone rape.

If it sounds like he’s working from the same rape apologist, accountability evading playbook as Jared Wilson, it’s because he is. Like Wilson, Todd Akin belongs to a church that is complementarian and Reformed. This is not a coincidence.

Akin and Wilson have responded to the backlash against their comments in strikingly similar ways. But while Wilson’s attempt at crisis management was met with a strangely positive reaction from some of his egalitarian critimcs, no one is buying Akin’s “clarifications” and apologies – not even people who agree with his stance on abortion.

So I have a question for those egalitarians who welcomed Wilson’s mea culpa: what’s the difference between Todd Akin’s and Jared Wilson’s so-called apologies?

Let’s compare. Akin has said he “misspoke” and “used the wrong words in the wrong way.” He meant to say “forcible” instead of “legitimate” rape. Translation: he still thinks some rapes aren’t really rapes, and by implication, anyone who says they’re pregnant as a result of rape is probably lying.

Which is apparently what he believes:

[I] never used the word legitimate to refer to the rapist, but to false claims like those made in Roe v. Wade…There isn’t any legitimate rapist…[I was] making the point that there were people who use false claims, like those that basically created Roe v. Wade.

But never mind that Akin thinks pregnant rape victims are probably liars! He knows “rape is an evil act…[that] can lead to pregnancy” (note: this isn’t incompatible with the claim that pregnancies resulting from rape are “really rare). He knows “rape has many victims” – a rather obvious dogwhistle for the belief that terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape is punishing an innocent fetus.

After several days of huge public backlash, Akin has finally admitted that it’s “medically wrong” to say the “body has ways” to shut down conception during rape. Of course, this concession is part of an effort to salvage his political campaign. There’s no reason to assume he has any firmer a grasp on human biology than before.

The thing is, though, in actually admitting that he said something that was wrong in and of itsef, Akin has conceded way more ground than Jared Wilson did in his supposed “apology.”

Wilson “apologized” for: 1) sharing Doug Wilson’s rape apologist quote with the wrong audience, i.e., one for whom the post was too “insensitive” and “blunt” 2) bringing “ill repute” on his colleagues at The Gospel Coalition and his other “complementarian brothers and sisters,” and 3) hurting rape survivors with his words.

Wilson couldn’t resist starting off by saying that he’s gotten lots of supportive messages from women who are survivors. He spent a LOT more time hand-wringing about damaging the reputation of complementarianism than addressing the harm he did to living, breathing survivors of sexual violence. He didn’t specifically mention even one part of the post that was hurtful to survivors, much less show any comprehension of why it was hurtful.

In Jared Wilson’s world, there was nothing wrong with the post, other than that delicate lady feelings can’t handle such manly truths and he made his friends look bad.

This is no different from Todd Akin saying he “used the wrong words in the wrong way.” It’s not an apology. It’s a patronizing reassertion of the complete rightness of what he said.

That’s without even getting into Wilson’s elaboration of his repulsive belief that sexual violence against women is God’s “passive judgment” on societies that fail to “cherish” women by expecting female submission. Abandoning Christian patriarchy is “systemic sin,” and “society reaps what we sow when systemic devaluing of women results in violence to them.”

Predictably, Wilson wants to have it both ways and claim that this belief doesn’t hold rape victims responsible for the actions of rapists: “rape victims are innocent, always.”

So somehow feminisms and Christian egalitarianisms, women-led movements, cause the systematic devaluing of women, leading to sexual violence against women, but women aren’t to blame if they’re raped. Maybe someone else can make sense out of all that.

This is what Wilson still believes is “biblically sound.” What’s changed is he’s now apparently committed to only sharing this teaching with other men. He’ll continue to use rape culture rhetoric and sexually violent imagery to teach men about proper gender roles and sexual intimacy. He’ll just keep the full details and extent of this teaching from the people it most directly impacts.

Let’s call this what it is: secrecy, soft-pedaling, and double speak: all things that abusive, patriarchal cultures thrive on. All things that simultaneously make women, children and nonbinary people in these communities more vulnerable to abuse and less able to name it or speak out about it.

How is this “humility” and a “step in the right direction?” I’d love for egalitarians who were encouraged by Wilson’s statement to elaborate on this.

And what does it say about the culture of evangelicalism in general that a powerful man preaching harmful theology is thanked for making a tiny concession in how he communicates that theology? More thoughts on that in the next post.

6 Comments

  1. This is been an incredibly helpful parsing/comparison of Akin and Wilson’s “apologies,” especially since I initially thought that Wilson’s was a step in the right direction. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Jared Wilson and the politics of forgiveness | Are Women Human?

  3. thiiiis! exactly this.

  4. Really appreciate your analysis here. Re: your conclusion, it’s worth mentioning that this is the approach which Doug Wilson employed in the book that started the whole thing off; “Fidelity” is written as a marriage prep manual for young men, with the explicit guidance that the contents shouldn’t be read by unmarried women or unsupervised married ones. It’s incredible to me that this school of thought can simultaneously be promoting the idea that their brand of complementarianism creates an unmatched level of marital honour and unity while openly acknowledging that the materials they’re creating to inculcate it amongst men will be seen as crass and offensive to the majority of their prospective brides.

    • Yes, I thought that was striking and disturbing as well. Seeing your comment I’m reminded of a similar phenomenon in the church I used to be part of – there was one annual regional retreat (for the “family” of churches) where all the men and teen boys got a big important message about lust, and the first several minutes of the sermon were a message to any girls or women who might be listening to the recording of the sermon to turn it off because it wasn’t for them. Disturbing!