Wednesday, August 22, 2012
A few years before I was born, my father was on Broadway with the famous acting duo Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The play was The Visit by Frederich Dürrenmatt. We read it when I majored in drama at college.
The story, set in the depressed town of Güllen, begins with the arrival of a wealthy woman, Claire. Claire grew up in the town and the mayor hopes she will help it with a sizable donation. She agrees to and goes further, offering each individual citizen a huge cash settlement — with a rather shocking provision. Someone must kill respected townsman Alfred. Years earlier, we learn, Alfred seduced and abandoned Claire. Pregnant with Alfred's child, Claire fled the town, delivered and lost her baby, and was forced into prostitution.
Although the town and its officials righteously reject the proposal, Claire knowingly stays. Soon, the entire town is making purchases on credit. And Alfred realizes (as does the audience) that his days are, shall we say, numbered.
My father played "the Athlete," who at the end of the play with the support of the entire town, strangles Alfred. (It was a particular thrill to see a photo of my own dad in one of my college textbooks!)
Although The Visit is really more about personal morality and money's ability to corrupt it, the feminist tones are clear and strong. And this week, as our country continues its outlandish archaic debate on what does and doesn't constitute rape, I remembered reading it.
"But wait," you say. Claire wasn't raped. She herself admits that she was seduced, that she was in love. Besides, we know she wasn't raped because she became pregnant.
"If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Thank you, Senator Akin for this obscenely unscientific information.
What this gross misconception leads to is that if a woman claims to have been raped, but the rape resulted in pregnancy, then it doesn't count. If she's pregnant, she must have wanted it.
Sounds an awful lot like: if she was wearing that skirt, she must have wanted it. If she was at that club, she must have wanted it. If she was drinking beer, she must have wanted it.
This is the latest in what has become a frighteningly systemic attack on women's health, women's rights and women's freedoms. And, just as the story of The Visit (produced, by the way, in 1956) depicts, when a woman succumbs or is seduced or raped (although remember, it's not a legitimate rape if conception occurs), it is she and not the man who has fallen from grace. In Claire's case, she had to become a prostitute. In today's argument, the woman loses the right to her own body. Her act (or the act of a man whom, we have already established, she secretly wanted) forfeits that right.
You cannot convince me that there is no war on women. As the mother of a teen girl, I read the news and shake my head in wonder. How can we have lost so much ground?
But, the platform is missing a key ingredient. Why not, as in some other sexist fundamentalist societies, offer the rapist an opportunity to marry his victim? Wouldn't that solve everything?
"He raped her. Bad."
"He's offering to make an honest woman of her. Good."
"What a sweet couple."
Bonus! Then the baby — if not the rape — would be legit.