The Vagina Memo: An Open Letter to Eve Ensler

Dear Eve Ensler:

To be honest, I had no intention of writing about Missouri congressman Todd Akin's now infamous remarks on rape, pregnancy, and abortion. I'm already on record arguing that the 1973 Roe decision should stand on the basis of stare decisis. Why comment on the meandering foolishness of a senate candidate from another time zone? But then, by the dozens, liberal friends began referring me to your pathetic (in the literal, non-pejorative sense) open letter to Representative Akin. You sure laid into him: "You used the expression 'legitimate' rape," you wrote, "as if to imply there was such a thing as 'illegitimate' rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape."

Really, Ms. Ensler?

This is the first I've heard about "re-rape." Maybe it's an elusive concept, and maybe only rape survivors like yourself can grasp it; I know I've mulled it over for several days, but I still can't fathom how a two-bit politician putting his foot in his mouth is the psychic equivalent of your own description of the original act: "I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you are on your bed or up against a wall or locked in a small suffocating space. Imagine being tied up there and imagine some aggressive, indifferent, insane stranger friend or relative ripping off your clothes and entering your body—the most personal, sacred, private part of your body—and violently, hatefully forcing themselves into you so that you are ripped apart. Then imagine that stranger's sperm shooting into you and filling you and you can't get it out."

So I'm sitting here weighing those two things—a congressman saying something stupid versus a crazed attacker violently penetrating my body—and for some reason I can't get the scales to balance. Still, I know there must be something to what you're saying because, well, you're Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, and because I've read enough feminist theory to know that men don't "get" certain things . . . even though, of course, believing that women don't "get" certain things is grounds for a lawsuit.

Still, I have to tell you, Eve—do you mind if I call you Eve? I don't want to misspeak and inflict still more horrific violence upon you—there's something, well, disproportionate about your response to Akin's buffoonery, something that goes beyond a standard election-season gotcha, beyond even your attempt to tar Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan with Akin's remarks on the grounds that the two of them were among 227 co-sponsors of a May 2011 bill called "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." That bill included the phrase "forcible rape"—which the FBI has been using for decades, and which Akin now says he meant rather than "legitimate rape"—in order to distinguish rape involving physical violence, or the threat of physical violence, from rape in which the victim may express outward consent—such as cases of statutory rape when, for example, a 19-year-old boy has sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend.

The bill's sponsors say they were attempting to address a loophole in the Hyde Amendment that bans the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortions. Under current law, Medicaid funds can cover abortion costs when the pregnancy is the result of a rape or incest. By including the phrase "forcible rape," the sponsors wanted to prevent the use of Medicaid to pay for abortions for minors whose outwardly consensual sex nonetheless met the legal definition of statutory rape.

Whatever you think of the wisdom of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," its intent was clearly to strengthen the Hyde Amendment. . . . Oh, I'm sorry; you don't think so, Eve? You read it as something more sinister, something akin (no pun intended) to the way "rapists played with us in the act of being raped—intimidating us, threatening us, muting us. Your playing with words like 'forcible' and 'legitimate' is playing with our souls which have been shattered by unwanted penises shoving into us, ripping our flesh, our vaginas, our consciousness, our confidence, our pride, our futures."

(As an aside, Eve, I notice that you keep referring to women's "souls," which you specifically differentiate from their minds and hearts. If a woman's "soul" is distinct from her mind and heart, what does it consist of? Where does it come from? Oh, and when does it arrive? You see where this is going, don't you?)

Likewise, you hear a more sinister subtext in Akin's mindboggling suggestion that women rarely become pregnant as a result of rape because, as he explained, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Generations of female slaves and their biracial children might beg to differ, of course. But I keep hearing that as mere biological ignorance. You, on the other hand, noticed something else in Akin's words: "It would seem you were saying that getting pregnant after a rape would indicate it was not a 'legitimate' rape."