An Obama Ad About Rape?

Via Feministing, it looks like the Obama campaign is planning to film a campaign commercial with a rape survivor telling her own experience.  Like Ann, I come down on the side that it’s not in any way inherently exploitative (assuming, of course, that the woman in question is entirely and unequivocally on board with what they’re doing):

Political and issue-based campaigns frequently recruit people with first-hand experience to speak publicly and in ads. I wondered, would my reaction be so strong if the Obama campaign was seeking a laid-off autoworker to discuss his economic policies? Decidedly not.

All too often rape survivors are seen as objects of pity, rather than as people who have agency and a powerful voice. At a basic level, it’s good to have real women (not actresses playing survivors, Lifetime-movie-style) stand up and speak to this issue from experience. The major caveat, of course, is that there cannot be any coercion involved. And it doesn’t look like there was.

In fact, I will go a step further to say that at a basic level, of course having not seen the commercial as of yet, this is absolutely fabulous.  Really, I’m downright thrilled about it.  Yes, even if it’s a mere attack ad against Sarah Palin, because the rape kit thing absolutely deserves to be attacked, as does her atrocious position on abortion.

The idea of sexual violence being made into a campaign issue just boggles my fucking mind.  I’ll tell you what: that is not politics as usual, that is being willing to tackle an issue that is traditionally seen as: a) secretive and shameful, b) only affecting women (false) and therefore unimportant (doubly false) and c) really controversial — not because rape is wrong, but because there are too many people out there who don’t want rapists to be held accountable for it.  The kind of politics where we can talk about sexual violence as though the government should have a role in preventing rape and holding rapists accountable, and the kind of politics where rape survivors are given a public voice, is the kind of politics I’ve long dreamed of.

I look forward to the ad and can’t wait to see it.  I only hope that it is well done and actually addresses some of the real concerns of women, survivors, and all who care about them.  Your thoughts?

0 thoughts on “An Obama Ad About Rape?

  1. Jesse

    I’m going to withhold judgment on the ad in general until I a) see it, b) see how the Obama campaign handles the criticisms of the ad.

    But it does soften my view that the Obama campaign asked real women to share their voices. When he’s elected, I hope that carries into the White House.

  2. SunlessNick

    I’m undecided. As you say, the idea of sexual violence being a political issue is a good thing. But as Lemur says, ulterior motives may be in the background. Then again, even if there are ulterior motives, it still brings sexual violence to the political forefront. Though it may just be used as a big sensation without any intent of substance to back it up.

    The woman they choose will subjected to endless apologist attacks – at the same time, she may elevated to “sacred victim” status – someone sufficiently worthy that you can care about her without having to care about all the other bad victims. And it strikes me that the Democrat campaign, fearing the former, might embrace the latter, which could be to the detriment of other survivors.

    The other thing that strikes me is that they aren’t likely to go with “just any” survivor – they’ll want one the Republicans can’t attack, which means they’ll probably be carrying out their own “vetting” of survivors until they find one “rapeable” enough – which may leave a lot of trauma in its wake (especially if the Republican campaign or its flunkies get hold of it).

    Unless they have the moral courage to allow women* who may be deemed unrapeable to speak.

    * I would be more sanguine about an advert like this if it featured multiple women of different backgrounds and experiences.

  3. Cara Post author

    Lemur — in politics, I think there’s always an ulterior motive, and that motive is pretty clear: getting elected. The question, I think, isn’t whether or not there is an ulterior motive, but whether or not the issue will be treated with the respect and sincerity it deserves.

    Ulterior motives can of course be bad a whole lot of the time. Like when McCain tries to use patriotic images and talk about the troops as a way to get elected, it’s exploitative because McCain isn’t going to do shit for the troops, he’s going to keep them in a pointless war, keep sending them out on extended tours of duty, and has voted against increased benefits for them. The same would go for Obama if he were to talk about sexual violence as a way to get elected, and then showed he didn’t actually give a shit about sexual assault, like promoting making convictions more difficult or decreasing access to imperative health services like EC, STI testing and rape kits, or decreasing funding for programs that work to prevent violence against women or help women who have been the victims of violence. I don’t think he will do those things, but he certainly could and only time will tell. Ideally, of course, if he is running these ads he would also work to increase things like access funding, etc. In any case, in both of these examples the candidates are doing something they think will appeal to the public to get elected. In one case I think it’s wrong, and in the other I couldn’t care less. I don’t think the question is the motive as much as the intent to follow through.

    And in any case, again assuming that the ads will be tasteful, I’d like to reiterate that I’m thrilled to be currently living in a time where someone believes that running ads featuring the voices of rape survivors can help them win an election. I think it not only says something about the candidate, but also gives me hope for the electorate. And I’ve actually been rather impressed with how Obama has handled “women’s issues” — from running really strongly pro-choice radio ads in swing states, to the equal pay ads (some of which were running on this blog last week), and now this. Granted I was paying less attention then, so someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I certainly don’t remember this kind of behavior coming from the Gore or Kerry campaigns.

  4. Cara Post author

    Nick — I agree that I would prefer to see an ad with multiple women from multiple backgrounds, and was thinking as much when I heard about the ad. We still don’t know what they’re going to do, so I’m actually really hoping that this is the tactic they’ll go with. It would certainly, in my opinion, be the better one.

  5. Renee

    Even though this clearly being made with an agenda if the end result is support for survivors of sexual assault then I am 100% for it. I will reserve final judgment until after I see the video.

  6. Pizza Diavola

    I’m waiting to see how the ad turns out, because it’s so rare for most people to talk about rape and sexual assault without slipping in some victim-blaming. However, I’m waiting with more excitement and hope than not, because it’ll be remarkable to see an ad with a rape survivor speaking in her own voice!

  7. Quixotess

    *When* will the ad come out? I’m feeling very anxious about it, not as a he’ll-fuck-this-up thing but as a ignoramuses-will-have-a-field-day thing.

  8. Cara Post author

    The article indicated that it has either already been filmed or is on the very verge of being filmed. Which means that it will most likely coming out very soon, as political ads have a really quick turnaround by necessity.

  9. Siobhan

    It’s fair game for an ad, even if no victims were ever charged for rape kits. I just wonder why there seemed to be such an uproar about the Gianna Jessen (the abortion survivor) ad for the McCain campaign.

  10. Clounis

    Hum, I will advice NOT to do it, that is a ugly subject and very personal. even, if is an actress playing the role. I am pretty sure it will backfire… I am a mother of an 11 yrs old daughter. and that subject should not be part of Politics in any way shape of form…I dont know its just not right.

  11. Pingback: Obama Campaign Sought to Recruit a Rape Survivor for Ad « DezertDiva

  12. Cara Post author

    Clounis — I don’t know your background, but while you may have an 11-year-old daughter, I’m a survivor. And as a survivor, I know that the idea that rape is “an ugly subject and very personal” is one that keeps survivors from talking. Of course rape is ugly. One of the ugliest things I can think of. And each individual rape happens to a particular person and it’s a personal decision they make how to heal. But the rape culture we live in is not “personal.” The fact that conviction rates and reporting rates are so low is not “personal.” The fact that women are being charged for rape kits is not “personal.” The fact that there are ways to prevent rape and those methods need funding is not “personal.” They need to be public, and we need to stop using the personal line to stop coercing survivors into silence, just like we need to stop using the “good of society” line to coerce survivors into speaking out when they don’t want to.

  13. Anna

    Rape is not a personal problem, it is society’s problem. Rape is not a ‘problem’ a rape survivor has.

    I’m sorry, but by saying it’s a very personal problem you seem to be making an attempt to keep it behind closed doors, and that is just where abusers and rapists like it. Out of sight, out of mind – and it won’t wash with me any more.

    I like Obama a lot for this – even if it has a clear political agenda, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Rape being brought out in the open surely can’t be a bad thing?


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