Re: Akin et al.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt,” Abraham Lincoln once said. Though Lincoln lived in an era before viral videos and constant media scrutiny, he nevertheless understood the power of poorly chosen words. The modern GOP might want to take a hint and quit shooting itself in the foot. Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” were sabotage enough. U.S. Senate candidate Tom Smith responded to a reporter’s question about the phrase “legitimate rape” by ostensibly drawing a comparison between pregnancy as a result of rape and having a child out of wedlock. According to the Huffington Post, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan clarified his position by referring to rape as a “method of conception”—medically accurate, I suppose, but insensitive to the point of callousness. Such remarks, made by prominent, (supposedly) educated politicians—one of them Missouri’s own, no less—might be outliers in terms of their extremeness but serve as a reminder that we are still plagued by gender inequality.
As a woman, I am offended by such remarks. I cannot imagine how anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault feels hearing those comments. It’s important to remember these men aren’t rapists or wife-beaters; they’re politicians who, in trying to justify their views on abortion, turned off the P.C. scanners that prevented such gaffes before and let loose with the awkward, antediluvian message that no matter how traumatic the circumstances surrounding conception, a pregnant woman’s privacy and self-determination can simply be overridden.
If these were isolated incidences inconsistent with policy and social reality, it would be prudent to dismiss them as mere factual and verbal goofs (although in Akin’s case, I’d recommend at the very least that he switch physicians). But with a platform that not only includes outlawing abortion—with exceptions for extenuating circumstances such as rape and incest to be decided at the state level—but also cutting funding to programs like Planned Parenthood, the GOP does not seem all that interested in advancing the interests of half of its hypothetical constituents.
What is the most bothersome about such remarks is not these three stooges’ stances on abortion—although I completely disagree with them. At the very least, they present an intellectually consistent view of abortion—i.e., that in all cases, protecting “life” as an overriding principle, no matter the circumstances of conception. It’s a stance rooted in an understanding of morality and in all likelihood advocated in good faith. Being pro-life does not necessarily mean being anti-woman or misogynist, though I do find it to be inconsistent with gender equality. What is most acutely bothersome is that, in general, these politicians do not shift the conversation to better sex education or the need for family planning services, programs that would 1. improve quality of life and 2. help prevent the need for abortion in the first place.
Pregnancy resulting from rape is another story, of course. But why not emphasize preventative measures that anyone, regardless of their views on abortion, could agree upon? Rates of sexual assault on college campuses and elsewhere is abysmally high—for women and also for men. No matter your political affiliation, efforts to improve education about sexual assault and healthy relationships should be an obvious step in the right direction.
As it is, Todd Akin seems to be the Republican party’s sacrificial goat—called to step down for his extreme ignorance and imprudence and also something of a distraction from the mainstream Republican goal of outlawing abortion, something a good chunk of the population finds radical in itself. Casting Todd Akin as the lone weirdo (which, to be fair, he is in a lot of ways) makes the idea of setting back women’s rights 40-odd years seem tame in comparison.
So what’s the solution? Not shying away from the subject nor self-censorship. This isn’t just about changing the vocabulary surrounding sexual assault and abortion but about changing prevailing attitudes. We can begin by refusing to vote for candidates like Todd Akin.