The Todd Akin Legacy: A Study In Rhetorical Rape
Mr. Akin was quick to disassociate himself from these “off-the-cuff” remarks, just as prominent Republicans were quick to disassociate themselves from him. But neither Akin’s claims of having misspoken, nor the GOP’s denouncing of the over-zealous conservative, are enough to get either party off the hook.
Let’s give Akin the benefit of the doubt and say he really did misspeak. People usually misspeak about something because they're trying to provide an impromptu explanation for something they don’t have an explanation for. During last Sunday’s KTVI-TV interview, Akin ran into something he couldn’t explain, something big, ugly, and apparently beyond the scope of his scientific education.
That something is, of course, rape-induced pregnancy. A man driven by his Christian faith, Akin could not reconcile the reality of a child conceived through rape and the traditional Christian concept of consensual and intentional procreation. So he determined that only one could be true. Naturally, he chose the one he had actually been exposed to, demonstrating his complete and utter lack of awareness of the 5% of pregnancies nationwide—that’s 32,000 pregnancies yearly—that happen as a result of rape.
This is the part where Akin loses the benefit of the doubt. You can’t misspeak about scientific fact. Either you know it, or you don’t. And Akin apparently did not know that rape can, and does, cause pregnancy.
Or maybe he just hoped it didn’t. Despite being a member of the House Science Committee, Akin obviously didn’t bother to check his facts before he vomited them all over television. He didn’t actually have any reason to believe what he said was true. He just needed it to be. Because otherwise his platform on abortion would entirely fall apart.
Suddenly Akin’s God—the God who mandates that life begins at conception and that women do not have the right to reproductive autonomy—is Himself violating the sanctity of conception by not building a magical mechanism into women’s bodies to reject rapists' sperm. Suddenly, Akin has to demand that rape victims bear the children of their rapists, or else back down on his position on abortion.
And this is where the rest of the GOP comes in. We can at least respect Akin for not being a hypocrite. Akin understands that abortion can’t be wrong in one circumstance and right in another. The Republican presidential campaign, however, announced as part of its condemnation of Akin’s remarks that “a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
This is completely irrational. If abortion is murder in one circumstance, it is murder in another. A fetus conceived normally has no more right to life than a fetus conceived through rape. Either the campaign doesn’t want to admit that it secretly agrees with Akin, or its stance on abortion is merely a gimmick for conservative votes. Both are despicable.
Then again, perhaps this is the first time the Romney-Ryan duo considered the rape issue as well. Perhaps Akin's comment was extreme enough to make them realize that abortion is not so obviously immoral as they claim it to be. Perhaps, for the first time, they see abortion as it should be seen: a medically sound procedure, a salvation and a right.
Akin’s comment is not the first of its kind. It comes from an extensive legacy of ignorance of women’s issues on the part of conservative men (and some liberal ones too). This legacy goes back to the days when women were considered commodities—purchasable housekeepers, companions and wombs through the supposedly sacred rite of marriage. It has surfaced repeatedly in our nation’s history, form the age of "The Scarlett Letter" to the early days of welfare, when conservative administrations denied aid to single mothers, to this past year’s Republican primary, when Mitt Romney proudly admitted that his understanding of women’s issues in America came from his ultra upper-class wife.
America has demonstrated time and again that an elected official has no need of factual information about women or their unique burdens in this country. Todd Akin’s gross scientific blunder is proof enough of that. And yet many Americans think it’s perfectly fine for these officials to legislate what women should do with their bodies.
To those of us who know better, such uninformed legislation is completely unwelcome. In fact, what makes the unwelcome attempts of politicians to control women’s bodies so different from the attempts of rapists to control women’s bodies? Both are a form of assault on the reproductive system. One denies a woman’s right to consent to sex, the other, her right to consent to procreation.
The way I see it, Todd Akin’s comment last weekend was a rhetorical form of rape. His apology, in which he still denied a woman’s right to stop a piece of her rapist from growing inside of her? The same thing. The GOP’s position that a woman can only exercise her reproductive rights when they say she can? Still rhetorical rape.
In the words of Eve Ensler,
“I am asking...the GOP to get out of my body, out of my vagina, my womb, to get out of all of our bodies. These are not your decisions to make. These are not your words to define.”
To Todd Akin: start respecting the right of women to make a decision you will never have to face. And to the rest of the social conservatives preaching about the immutable evil of abortion: stop pretending that you have already given women the respect they deserve.
Reach Contributor Francesca Bessey here.