Slowing the knee jerk

2 Nov

Melinda Henneberger wrote a thoughtful and, for me, provocative article in October for her Washington Post column “She the People.” In “Rape shouldn’t be used to score political points” (, Henneberger discusses one of the many statements about rape that have been a lightning rod in politics of late, quoting Republican Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, as saying, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended.”

If you hadn’t heard about this particular incident, you can fill in the blanks of the subsequent Democratic Party fist-pumping and Republican distancing and/or defense (depending on how secure candidates’ felt in their particular election campaigns).

Henneberger’s point is that when you take a step back from a partisan knee-jerk response (and I’ll cop to that–the profile of the older white male Republican who claims the right to determine women’s reproductive choices presses a button for me), then this particular case is less clear-cut in terms of Democrats being better for women: Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly, co-sponsored the House bill that aspired to limit abortions for rape survivors to those cases involving “forcible rape” ( Despite co-sponsoring the bill, Mourdock claims not to have read the bill that closely when this rape controversy hit the media.

I really appreciate Henneberger’s more nuanced and human coverage of Mourdock, and her call for discernment, instead of defaulting to our knee-jerk responses, whether we find ourselves defending or attacking the next person who says something about abortion we don’t agree with. And by “we,” you can bet I mean me. And maybe you, too.

If you read the whole article, you’ll come to Henneberger’s own story as a rape survivor. And this is where she really struck a chord with me. After having been raped as a younger woman, Henneberger decided (or felt resigned) not to press charges against her assailant, and this is what she has to say about that decision now:

The older I’ve gotten, the worse I’ve felt about deciding against reporting him — and the more I’ve worried about how many other women he’s called since then to say darn, how embarrassing, my car’s in the shop.

Why do I say all this now, half a lifetime later? First, because he could still be playing that trick; if you live in Dallas, Texas and have been thrown onto that same foyer floor, call me, and now I will testify. I say it now, too, because rape isn’t a joke, and shouldn’t ever be used to score political points; if you can’t get it right, maybe you really shouldn’t say anything at all.

As someone who understands living with regret about decisions I’ve made, I am inspired by her bravery, her compassion for others and her revelation-into-action that it’s never too late to stand up for justice.

**Thanks to my East Coast colleague LM for the article.

One Response to “Slowing the knee jerk”

  1. Laura @PublicAlly November 2, 2012 at 10:00 pm #


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