Last August, I wrote a column about the right wing’s war on women entitled “Todd Akin is a legitimate Idiot,” taking off on his absurd notion of “legitimate rape.” The next day I received a batch of cranky e-mails. And not all from Todd.
I also made fun of Rush Limbaugh who had called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke “a slut” for testifying before Congress. For my efforts I got an e-mail from Maria S. in Santa Monica who criticized Ms. Fluke for “wanting to sleep around at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Clearly, Maria and Rush confused wanting birth control with promiscuity. All Ms. Fluke had suggested was that women’s health insurance should include birth control, especially since Viagra has been included for years.
In the 2012 election the GOP was perceived as at best insensitive to women and at worst downright hostile. Consider the joke that circulated right after the election. One voter says to the other, “Did that Republican rape guy lose?” The other man replies, “Which one?”
The humor was clearly aimed at Missouri’s Akin, and fellow world class boob and senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana. Akin’s quote about a pregnancy caused by rape was, “In the case of a legitimate rape, doctors tell me that the female body has ways of shutting the whole thing down.” Good grief.
And who can forget Mourdock’s infamous comment that while rape is horrible, “it’s something that God intended.” Unfortunately this Neanderthal thinking isn’t only in right-wing politics or extreme Muslim fundamentalism. It’s been in our military for decades. So much so it was the subject of a powerful 2012 Academy Award-nominated documentary, “The Invisible War.”
And now the subject is being addressed in Senate Armed Services Committee hearings involving, among other issues, Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. In 2012 Col. Wilkerson, an F-16 fighter pilot, was charged with the sexual assault of his house guest who alleged that she woke to find him groping her breasts and vagina. Wilkerson’s wife proceeded to kick the guest out of the house. (Blame the victim, anyone?) The woman’s departure was so sudden that she left without her shoes.
In court, Wilkerson’s wife’s testimony was refuted by two witnesses, including an Air Force investigator. Wilkerson himself failed a lie detector test.
The jury convicted Wilkerson of the sexual assault, stripped him of his rank and sentenced him to prison for a year. But only weeks ago, Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, also a former fighter pilot, who didn’t attend the trial and had no legal training, overturned the conviction with a stroke of the pen. (Old boy’s club, anyone?)
The victim and her lawyers pleaded for justice with the newly-appointed Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Albeit reluctantly, Hagel lamented, “Under the uniform code, the decision of the convening authority cannot be changed, either by the Secretary of the Air Force or by the Secretary of Defense.” What a system.
But Hagel did say he’d open an immediate investigation, which may mean something real or a meaningless commission. The truth is many think Hagel needs to initiate a top-to-bottom culture change within the entire military.
Given what Wilkerson’s victim went through, is it any wonder so many women in the military are reluctant to come forward? Women reporting sexual assaults are routinely and strenuously warned that if their report is false they will lose their rank, among other penalties. And, oh by the way, do you still want to press charges?
If you doubt these circumstances may I suggest you view “The Invisible War.” The documentary chronicles the lives of several courageous military women, representing thousands more, who have endured sexual assault. It’s a stunning account of the nightmare and public humiliation of these women who refuse to be intimidated into silence about the epidemic of rape in the military.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta screened “The Invisible War” and immediately promised changes. But Gen. Franklin’s overturning Col. Wilkerson’s conviction suggests that change may be a ways off.
Part of the problem is that while women represent 51 percent of the population they only hold 18 percent of the 535 seats in the Congress. In fact, in legislative gender equality we rank no. 77 in the world, well behind no. 68, Saudi Arabia, a country where women are forbidden by law to drive!
When Akin and Mourdock spouted their absurd theories about rape and when Limbaugh mocked Sandra Fluke, I was stunned that GOP leadership didn’t universally demand immediate retractions and apologies. In my opinion the GOP of Ike and Reagan surely would have.
When Maria S. e-mailed me describing Ms. Fluke as promiscuous for wanting birth control on her health plan, I thought I must have moved to Iran and not noticed it. I can only imagine what Maria is going to e-mail me now.
Admittedly not a million laughs, “The Invisible War” is available on Netflix and is an important documentary worth seeing. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.