Thursday, August 23, 2012

RAPE IS NOT ABOUT SEMANTICS

By now you've heard of Todd Akin, Missouri Senate candidate who earlier this week stumbled into a hornet's nest with his on-air comments about the odds of rape resulting in pregnancy. I was one of those outraged by what he said, so much so that when I happened upon a video of the interview in which he said it, I stood up from my desk and exclaimed at my PC screen, "No WAY." I watched again, listening carefully, becoming more incredulous with each passing second.

My initial reaction was to want to hit the thick-headed son-of-a-bitch over the head with a two-by-four, but then of course I realized how unproductive that would be (especially in keeping myself out of Federal prison). So I'm writing this blog instead.

First of all, my outrage has nothing to do with Todd Akin's views on abortion (he is against it, in case you haven't heard, and has drafted legislation to make it illegal in all cases). Whether or not abortion is murder, and therefore should not be legal under any circumstance, is an issue that has troubled the best minds (and hearts, too) in the country for many decades, with no definitive resolution, no matter what laws are in effect at any given time. I have concluded that it is a matter to be decided by the personal conscience of the uterus-owning person to which an unwanted pregnancy happens.

My outrage has everything to do with the fact that Todd Akin has been working on legislation that governs half the people in this state, but without the merest glimmer of a clue about what it means to be one of those people, and what their particular vulnerabilities in society might be. In the video of his interview with Charles Jaco, he actually makes a dismissive gesture, as if to wave away all women who were ever raped and left pregnant thereby, as if they never existed, and indeed would never exist in his mind, since he was laboring under the delusion that rape could not cause pregnancy.

My outrage has to do with the absurdity of his holding a position of legislative responsibility for years but never bothering to walk even half a mile in the shoes of those whom those laws might effect. In short, his words in the Jaco interview proved to me that he was dealing with the problem of rape by choosing to believe that it simply doesn't exist. Presumably, it's something made up by sluts who want attention or want to harm innocent men by their accusations... or who, heaven forfend, actually WANTED to have sex, which in itself, in his eyes, is apparently somehow damning. Also, he seems to believe that every instance of "legitimate" rape consists of a great show of physical violence with lots of spectacular bruises to exhibit to a DA. Sadly, nearly every woman knows all too well that all that's required is for someone bigger and stronger (or with sufficient drugs or alcohol) to get physical control of her body for a few minutes without her consent or compliance. And anyone who's ever so much as channel-surfed past any pop-psych show such as Oprah or Dr. Phil is surely aware that vast numbers of children are raped, "forcibly" or otherwise, every year in this country alone, and that they frequently they have babies as a result.

Todd Akin is woefully, willfully ignorant of the issue he is trying to legislate about, and that I can neither countenance nor forgive, especially when his subsequent "apologies" deeply underscore his continued cluelessness as to WHY people (and not just women) are outraged.

It's not that we deny him the right to his pro-life stance or that we do not respect it; it's that he has concluded that it is the only correct stance without doing even a modicum of his homework. And it's not that he "used the wrong words" in the now-famous interview. This is SO not about semantics. It's not even so much about ignorance of human biology, although that in and of itself is troubling.

It's about complete ignorance of the problem.

Has Todd Akin ever sat by the bedside of a 12-year-old laboring to deliver her own father's baby? Probably not. Is he aware that a third of all women in the U.S. have had or will have an abortion during their reproductive lifetimes? Doubt it. Did he ever even do a quick Google, as interns at news stations all over the country did the day the Jaco interview aired, just to fact-check how many pregnancies (reported ones!) result from rape per year? (That would be over 32,000, by the way. Seems a lot of them to be dismissed by the wave of a liver-spotted hand.) I was told recently by a psychologist with a PhD who practices family counseling that one in three women will be sexually abused in her lifetime, but that that figure may be low because sexual abuse is a vastly underreported crime. I wonder if Akin knows that statistic, or even dimly grasps what it means? And if he doesn't, how can he possibly hope to represent women in Congress?

And before you conclude that I'm just another angry, man-hating, feminist cow, I would like to state that I do not object to men. I love, admire, cherish, and respect lots of them. I had a father who was male, have a brother who is male, a husband who is male, and a beloved son who is male. Some of my best friends are male. Nor do I particularly object to old, white, Christian males, so long as they make an effort to understand people and things outside their own narrow range of experience, just as I strive to understand men and their issues, some of which will always be far outside the range of my own personal experience.

If Todd Akin chooses to take a sabbatical from politics to educate himself about the realities of a woman's life -- perhaps by volunteering at a shelter for battered women, by talking with and getting to know former rape victims, by interviewing counselors who treat such victims, by reading a biology textbook, by any means he can think of to educate himself so that he can represent in Congress my issues as a woman -- then I would accept happily accept any apology he chooses to make.

But until then, please, Missouri; do not elect another old, white, Christian male who does not begin to understand the people whose lives he wants to govern with ill-considered legislation.

6 comments:

Linda Fields said...

Spot on! Thank you.

Tony said...

Great write up. I agree wholeheartedly.

Without commenting on everything else that all of Akin's comments (and his years of bills and votes) entail, the fact remains that he's in a high office and seeking an even higher one. He's in a place to dictate and alter policy for the entire country.

And almost more importantly, significant portions of his past work have involved this very topic. He has attempted to redefine rape and other related issues.

If you get to that point and that age and you still believe quacks that say women magically secrete some sort of anti-rape spermicide... then what other crazy things do you still believe? What other bizarre notions does he have that affect how he approaches things?

And he's even on a science committee. Talk about counter-intuitive.

Unknown said...

What an excelllent post, Margie! I've vascillated for days, thinking that because of my years working sexual assaults, I might be able to shine a light on the absurdity of all this, but I've been so utterly bumfoozled by this wack-job that I've been rendered speechless.

Akin's narrow (I'd say 'stiff', but I doubt that's an adjective seldom applied to him in ANY circumstance), view regarding sex crimes obviously leaves out the millions of victims who comply simply to avoid physical injury~~too terrified or subjugated by the perpetrator to risk the most softly whispered 'no'. Then, of course, there are those people who are incapacitated for whatever reason. Perhaps they're drunk or under the influence of narcotics. I'm sure that in Akin's world those circumstances make a person unworthy of being a rape victim; she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, AND IT'S ALL HER FAULT. Then there are the mentally diminished, the psychotic~~toss them on the pile, too. And finally, minor children, too cowed by the people who are supposed to love them most to ever say no.

Often times, these victims (yes, men and little boys are rape victims, too) don't have bruise one. Brutalization does far more to the inside of a person than it does to the outside. Someday, perhaps Mr. Akin will learn this.

Sadly, I doubt it.

Margie Summers said...

Tony,
This episode at least has gotten many of us to pay attention to the people we elect to public office. I had really drifted off and just lost interest in all the candidates because of the constant wrangling and apparent stalemate. Akin's ignorance shook me out of my lethargy, at least, so I guess that's a good thing. :)
Margie

Margie Summers said...

Linda,
Thanks for your response. I'm finding out, slowly but surely, just how utterly ubiquitous rape really is in our society. So many people I never suspected of having experienced it are now telling me they did. The circumstances run the gamut from being molested as a very small child to being date-raped to being assaulted by a stranger... And I'm also learning how many of my friends had abortions or babies "out of wedlock" (gawd, remember that phrase?) that they were forced to give up for adoption, either by their embarrassed parents or by their own shame and/or financial straits. Something has to change. I wonder if there is any way we can collectively effect a positive change... maybe simply through educating the Akins of the world about what the realities are? What do you think?
--Sum

LGVernon said...

I really don't know what the answer is, Margie. I do believe that exposing this kind of riduculous, backward thinking helps. As jaded as I am, Akin's commentary still has me shaking my head. It's unbelievable to me that anyone able to articulate a thought could have ones such as those forwarded by Mr. Akin.