Trigger warning: This blog post is about sexual assault.
I’m a believer in entropy. Well, not “in” it exactly, in that I don’t worship at the altar of things coming undone or descending into chaos, but I believe it exists as a force. Clean up a room and slowly things get out of place. Watch the waves come into shore and eventually you’ll notice the beach is growing…or greatly receding. If the universe is replete with patterns, it is also chock full of disorder. Stars collapse, DNA mutates, and here on earth human beings invent new ways of injuring each other.
So it is that in the sea of sound bites that defines the Sunday morning politics shows on American television, Representative Akin (R-Mo), running for the Senate, said that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant because the female body releases a chemical that prevents insemination. This representation of pseudo-science, which stems from an evaluation of how some waterfowl resist pregnancy, is at once a misunderstanding of science, how the human body works, and the range of circumstances that lead to sexual assault in this country. And these are not to mention that it is millions of women, not “thousands” as described by Akin in his amendment to his statement after the Internet cried foul upon his original remarks.
As if women don’t already question whether they’ve experienced a “real” rape or not, now they have to worry about a new facet of their experience. The anti-logic and nonsense bound up in this concept is almost amazing in its multifacetedness. Here are all the angles of “wrong” in Akin’s assertion, but let’s begin with his quote first:
First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
Problem #1: Human bodies don’t actually work that way. Hey, you can find someone with an M.D. to say most anything. Maybe that doctor isn’t board certified in anything, or practicing. But the Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates that something on the order of 30,000 pregnancies result from sexual assault each year, and a recent study at the University of South Carolina showed that 6.4 percent of rapes result in pregnancy. Ducks, on the other hand, do secrete a chemical that prevents conception if the female doesn’t want to mate. And let me harken back to grade school biology class: People are not ducks.
Problem #2: The concept of “legitimate rape” is more than a little sickening. It’s not new to hear that some men talk about rape in terms of “real” rape and “falsely reported” rape, and thanks to that discourse, millions of women feel like total crap for decades on end. But to call it “legitimate” is a misuse of the word, in that it is marking some rape strangely as aboveboard, when 100 percent of rape is a terrible, awful blight on society and the people it leaves in its wake (pregnant or not) is especially appalling. Also, to have “illegitimate” children come from “legitimate” rape tears at the very fabric of meaning. Of course, these are the folks who want to redefine personhood. (Can’t redefine marriage, oh no, but PERSONHOOD is fair game.)
Problem #3: Statutory rape flies in the face of this stupid freaking concept. Is Todd Akin really ready to argue that a 12-year-old girl, pregnant from a rape or incest, wanted her encounter and that’s why she’s pregnant? So the woman who was kidnapped as a teenager by her father in Austria and forced to bear 7 of his children was okay with her relationship with him? This, Congressman, is why people see red when you blather out your ill-informed, offensive bullshit. Because you just erased any validation that millions of women had in coming to terms with the trauma they survived.
Problem #4: The lack of pharmaceutical research on these contraceptive “secretions.” Let’s get real here—if women were capable of producing their own contraceptive chemical, global pharma would be all over it in order to create a contraceptive. And right-wing preachers (and the politicians they support) would swarm the arrival of this product on the market as the newest doomsday for human reproduction and morality. Not seeing that happening? That’s because this chemical does not exist. Also, while Akin asserts there is some kind of affirmative chemical that women can secrete, other extreme conservatives have said pregnancy is prevented during forcible rape because “the juices don’t flow.” So which is it, guys? Are there sperm killing juices or life-giving juices at play here? My sense is that they don’t really know, because they probably don’t have much contact with either in their personal lives.
Okay, that was a low blow. My apologies. Let’s get back to it.
Problem #5: Akin didn’t really apologize. In his “apology” a few hours after his original remarks, his Web page read (full statement here):
As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.
He’s also misusing the word empathy here for “sympathy,” which would be more appropriate, but I’m splitting hairs. The issue here is where is his apology? He just offended millions of people and suggested that any woman who was faced with the horrendous situation of getting pregnant after being raped wasn’t really raped, and he can’t even apologize to them? He thinks it’s clear he “misspoke?” It’s clear, sir, that you’re an asshole, that’s what’s clear. That in looking to shore up conservative votes in the GOP base in Missouri—a state in which you were already polling well—you used rape survivors to get votes. And that would mean, in my book, that you should apologize to the good voters of Missouri, because that’s an insult to them, too.
So we didn’t get an apology from a politician who asserted something that wasn’t true, using science that doesn’t exist. Still following along? The descent from what we’ve believed is an orderly universe is troubling when we see the entropy in culture, isn’t it?
It was only a few hundred years ago that women who were burned at the stake in Massachusetts faced their own misogynistic mash-up of pseudo-science and skewed morality:
They said if she wasn’t really a witch, she wouldn’t burn.