The XX Factor

Republicans, Save Yourselves. Stop Talking Rape.

Tom Smith is confused.

Photograph courtsey

Seems like politicians need a new survival guide for dealing with reporters who ask questions about rape that are designed to see exactly how medieval your attitudes toward women really are. So, a public service: 1) Ask yourself, “Am I a male Republican?” 2) If yes, flee the scene without answering. That may seem a little harsh and could make you look like a coward, but it’s likely better than whatever you might let slip to the reporter.

I’m sorry that I didn’t have this guide prepared in time for you, Tom Smith, Republican challenger to Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. Had I been more on top of things, we may all have avoided this exchange with reporters yesterday

MARK SCOLFORO, ASSOCIATED PRESS: How would you tell a daughter or a granddaughter who, God forbid, would be the victim of a rape, to keep the child against her own will? Do you have a way to explain that? SMITH: I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to … she chose they way I thought. No don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape. SCOLFORO: Similar how? SMITH: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock. SCOLFORO: That’s similar to rape? SMITH: No, no, no, but … put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar. But, back to the original, I’m pro-life, period.

While most reports on Smith’s “gaffe” are focused on the strange “father’s situation” comment, I want to give a shout-out to the fact that Smith actually showed some self-control, starting to say that if his daughter hadn’t made the choice he wanted, he would have had to … do something, but then wisely pulling back from describing the coercive uterine control measures practiced by the Smith family. Sucking that up appears to have confused him and next thing he knew, out pops this nonsense that sounds like he’s equating rape and unwed motherhood. From the father’s perspective. Just so you’re clear that it’s not the same from, say, a jury’s perspective.

My theory is that Smith was trying very hard not to say something like “legitimate rape,” and this garbled nonsense is the result. Trying to parse his meaning was a fun way to pass the time for some journalists on Twitter yesterday, as we all wondered which father Smith was referring to in these situations. Did he mean that men who impregnate women they aren’t married to through consensual sex don’t distinguish themselves from rapists? Or did he mean that if you’re the father of the pregnant woman, it makes no difference to you whether or not she was raped or chose to have unmarried sex? Either way, his suggestion is that the main problem with rape is, as Irin Carmon pointed out, “that it’s non-sanctioned sexual activity, as opposed to a crime against a woman’s person.”

It was just so much simpler in the days when the legality of intercourse was determined by a marriage certificate, instead of this confusing new system where it’s determined on a case-by-case basis involving complex questions like, “Is she consenting?” “Is she of legal age?” and “Is she awake?” No wonder Smith’s party longs for simpler days steeped in tradition instead of these confusing new times.