Last night, I happened to notice a Snopes article shared by one of my Trump loving relatives. The headline blared– Bernie Sanders’ 1972 Essay on Rape. My relative posted it without comment. He’s one of my less vocal family members, at least on social media. However, I’ve known him my whole life and I know what he thinks of extreme liberalism, so I pretty much understand what his intent was when he (or his wife, since they share an account) posted this link.
I have mentioned more than once that I didn’t always care about politics. In fact, it was probably true in 2015 that I wasn’t really paying attention to the political arena. Back then, it was inconceivable to me that we’d have Donald Trump as our dear leader. But apparently, back in 2015, when Bernie Sanders was running for the Democratic nomination, an old essay of his surfaced on the liberal Web site, Mother Jones. It was written for a long defunct alternative newspaper called Vermont Freeman in February 1972, when I was still in utero. Back then, Bernie was still a young man and it looks like maybe he was trying to make his mark on the world by writing a somewhat bizarre essay on gender roles and sexual fantasies.
The Mother Jones article is a good read, and I recommend that anyone who is legitimately concerned about Bernie’s 48 year old “rape essay” read it and gain some perspective on this. Yes, it’s weird that Bernie opens his article with these paragraphs:
A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.
A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.
The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday — and go to Church, or maybe to their “revolutionary” political meeting.https://www.vox.com/2015/5/28/8682503/bernie-sanders-rape-fantasy
But– the fact is, some women (and men) do have bizarre sex fantasies. Some women even fantasize about being raped, even if the reality of rape is absolutely horrible and nothing they would ever actually want to happen to them. All you have to do to realize the truth about this is take a look around the darker corners of the Internet, or check out the sales of books like 50 Shades of Grey or 9 1/2 Weeks.
In fact, a revolutionary book about women’s sexual fantasies was published in 1973, just one year after Sanders dared to suggest that some women fantasize about rape. My Secret Garden, by Nancy Friday, was so successful that it spawned several sequels, including Forbidden Flowers, Men in Love (about men’s sexual fantasies), and Women on Top. I have actually read all of those books, having discovered My Secret Garden at a Waldenbooks when I was 17 years old. The books were comprised of sexual fantasies submitted to Nancy Friday by anonymous men and women. Friday compiled the essays, then wrote introductions and explanations between each one. And judging by how crazily well the books sold for many years, a lot of people identified or, at least were very interested.
When I first saw the headline about Bernie Sanders’ “bizarre” sex essay that suggested that a woman fantasized about being raped by three men, the first thing I thought of was My Secret Garden. That book came out at a time when sex was becoming a lot less taboo. It was before the conservative 1980s– before AIDS became a universal terror that reminded people that freely having sex with many partners can lead to devastating consequences. I clearly remember reading several sexual fantasies submitted by women who were fascinated by rape. I’m sure that not a single one of those women would actually want to be raped. It was just a concept in their heads that intrigued them.
I also figure that Bernie Sanders was simply trying to do what most writers try to do. He was trying to get people to read his work about gender roles. His method was to surprise them with something shocking and potentially distasteful, and he succeeded.
It’s true that most people’s first reactions to Bernie Sanders’ essay would likely be horror and disapproval. Most people have closed minds about topics regarding sexual assault and rape, just as they do about taboo topics like pedophilia. There is a difference between a pedophile– who is attracted to children, but may or may not have ever acted on the attraction– and a child sexual molester– who may or may not be attracted to children, but acts on abusing them. It’s not often that I encounter someone who can have a discussion about a topic like pedophilia with an open mind and rationality. Many people think that admitted pedophiles, whether or not they’ve ever acted on their deviant attraction to children, should simply be taken out and shot, rather than given compassion and real help for what must be a horrifying problem.
And yet, strangely enough, a lot of the people who publicly express horror and disgust toward sexual abuse of women and children don’t mind voting for a man who has openly admitted to sexually abusing women and has actually been accused of raping at least two– one of whom was just 13 years old at the time. I guess they choose to overlook inconvenient facts– particularly when it means more money in their paychecks. It’s much easier to be outraged about topics like rape and sexual assault when one’s livelihood isn’t at stake.
I will admit that I don’t know a lot about Bernie Sanders, other than his age– 78– and that he’s well known for radical, idealistic ideas that upset a lot of conservatives. Bernie Sanders just won the New Hampshire primaries ahead of Pete Buttigieg. Scores of people are “feelin’ the Bern”, while a lot of other people think Trump is “making America great again”. I guess some conservative folks are legitimately worried that Bernie could actually win the White House and things will be “worse” for them than they were during the Obama era. I think a lot of white people– particularly those from rural areas who have felt disenfranchised and shamed for being who and what they are– are afraid that a potential President Bernie Sanders will land them at the bottom of the heap. And so, I can understand why my relative saw fit to share this old news about Bernie’s foray into alternative journalism.
I’m not sure I approve of Bernie Sanders’ attempts to be edgy in his writing for a long defunct alternative newspaper in notoriously liberal Vermont. However, I would much rather have a president who has written clumsy, provocative essays about taboo subjects like sexual assault and rape fantasies, than have a president who has actually carried them out. And, as I pointed out above, many Americans have already shown that they don’t even care about the sexual abuse of women, when it either doesn’t personally affect them or someone they love, or it involves someone famous and charismatic.
Look at how long it’s taken for Bill Cosby to finally be punished for what he did to dozens of women over the years. Look how long Jeffrey Epstein got away with raping, abusing, and sexually trafficking young girls before he was finally dealt with by law enforcement. Look at the fact that our current president was actually caught bragging about “grabbing women by the pussy” before he was even elected! People still voted for Trump, even though he was undeniably guilty of making those misogynistic statements in what he called “locker room talk”. I think it’s disingenuous for Republicans to be upset about Bernie Sanders’ 48 year old comments about rape and sexual fantasies for a long defunct alternative newspaper. Moreover, I’m sure that most politicians are dirty to some extent. Being involved in some kind of sex scandal seems to be required for any of them to move beyond the most basic political offices, but maybe I’m just being cynical.
So… count me among those who say “big whoop” about Bernie Sanders’ so-called “shocking” rape essay, published before I was even born. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it’s a big deal. As far as I know so far, Mr. Sanders hasn’t actually abused anyone sexually himself, although I did read that some women claimed that they experienced sexual harassment during his 2016 campaign. However, I haven’t read that Mr. Sanders was, himself, the perpetrator of that harassment. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been accused of some extremely vile sexual conduct which I have, more than once, written about in this blog. I will take Bernie Sanders’ declaration that some women fantasize about rape (which is a verified fact) any day over Donald Trump boasting about his ability to harass women at will because he’s a “star”.