- SXSW 2014
Some Republican extremists, including Missouri Senate hopeful Todd Akin, have adopted the platform that abortion should be completely banned. When asked about an exception for survivors of rape—an exception which more moderate Republicans accept—Akin made the audacious claim that pregnancy from “legitimate rape” is extremely rare because women’s bodies shut down their reproductive systems during rape.
Republicans want to tar and feather him. Personally, I think drawing and quartering is in order.
Arguments like Akin’s come from a long tradition of antiquated and backward-minded theories about women’s anatomy, developed by old privileged men who never actually asked a woman how her body works—frankly, because they were afraid to find out. Instead of logically analyzing women’s anatomy, they invented oversimplified junk theories so they wouldn’t have to think too hard about a subject that made them feel awkward and squicky.
Those junk theories range from the legal texts of 1290, when people thought women produced “seed” only during orgasm and therefore could only get pregnant if they consented to sex, to debates as recent as 1988, when Pennsylvania Rep. Stephen Freind argued that when a woman is raped, she “secretes a certain secretion which has a tendency to kill the sperm.”
Natural spermicide. Apparently there’s a gland for that.
Nowadays, idiot politicians like to cite articles from John C. Willke, who claimed that conception required a delicate balance of hormones that was upset during “assault rape”—the old-school equivalent of “legitimate” or “forcible” or whatever bogus distinction Republicans try to draw. Willke argued that women who were raped would experience such hormonal upheaval that they would either avoid pregnancy or miscarry.
So apparently trauma is a reliable form of birth control, and if an assaulted woman becomes pregnant, she must not have been traumatized enough.
I don’t argue that stress cannot cause a miscarriage; it can. But really, I don’t have to argue anything. I just have to cite a 1996 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which found that 32,000 pregnancies result from rape each year in the U.S. alone.
The inanity of Akin’s statement is bad enough, but politicians’ tone about this issue is infuriating. These aging male morons’ ignorance about women’s anatomy—and their resulting fear and discomfort—leads them to talk about women and assault with flippancy and insults.
You know, like making rape jokes or blaming a woman’s attitude on PMS.
Here’s a sampling of the classy way politicians talk about this subject:
In 1980, lawyer James Leon Holmes said that pregnancies after rape “occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” Sarcasm—always the right tone for sensitive issues.
In 1995, North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge said that “people who are raped—who are truly raped—the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work, and they don’t get pregnant.” Juices? Really?
But nowhere is these morons’ ignorance more palpable than in the way Willke himself refers to conception: “the whole business of fertilization.” In fact, Akin himself called it “that whole thing.” They might as well call sex “whoopee” and the vagina a “hoo-hoo.”
So the logic is faulty and the dismissive attitude is insulting. But really, the big death knell to Akin’s credibility is the fact that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. After Republicans (rightfully) withdrew their support from him, he complained that they were overreacting, saying that he only “said one word in one sentence on one day.”
That one word, “legitimate,” hinted that women claim they’ve been raped merely to justify abortion and dismissed the experiences of rape survivors as trivial. And Akin really didn’t think that was a bad idea.
Maybe the biggest problem is that America is listening to men when discussing women’s concerns. Moreover, these men are from a privileged caste known for marrying Stepford wives who are unlikely to disrupt their husbands’ political opinions with real women’s perspectives. Akin’s own wife Lulli considered a career in the Peace Corps or Ralph Nader’s campaign before a marriage to Akin “saved” her from “such a radical future.”
Stifling women’s opinions is second nature to politics these days. Maybe our opinions aren’t “legitimate” enough.