Woman as Reason: Retrogression’s stench

From the September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Woman as Reason

Retrogression’s stench

by Terry Moon

Everyone has heard—and a great many rightly condemned—the unconscionable statement by Missouri Republican Congressman and Senate hopeful Todd Akin: “from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” he said, referring to pregnancy from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” It is not only horrifying that he is factually wrong. Akin’s statement, plus the bill he co-authored with Republican Vice President wanna-be Paul Ryan, attempted to narrow and redefine rape to “forcible rape,” as a way to limit federal funds for abortion barely available to women made pregnant by rape.

All rape is forced. What they really mean is that a woman has to put up a struggle, show some bruises, a black eye or two, maybe a few broken bones. Then, maybe they’ll believe her. Akin, Ryan, and their ilk reveal an attitude to women that would erase 40 years of struggle.

FIGHTING THE SAME FIGHT—AGAIN

The expression “forcible rape” takes us back to the days when women had to be beaten, had to take pictures of the bruises to have some kind of document, some “proof” of her charge, to have even the slimmest chance of bringing a rapist to justice—or be believed.

When I became active in one of the first Women Against Rape groups in the country in the early 1970s, rape was viewed as always the woman’s fault. It was what you were wearing, where you were, who you were with, what you said—no matter what, it was your fault. That was if you were white. If you were a Black woman, you were assumed to always want sex and could not be raped at all.

The attitude revealed by Akin/Ryan is that women are liars. If she hasn’t been beaten bloody, she’s lying, lying about the rape, lying to get some innocent guy in trouble, lying to get that money for an abortion—as if that would be an easy thing to do.

BACK, BACK, BACK TO THE 1920S

It’s ironic that this putrid retrogression is appearing when, finally, the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape—what police and the FBI use to collect information and prosecute rape—was revised. How far back Republicans want to take us is to 1927, when rape was legally defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That left out men and boys as victims of rape, it left out rape of women who might be drunk or drugged, it could leave out those who submitted because there was a gun to their head or a knife at their throat—it left out all rape except the most violent. The new definition, more inclusive and realistic, came only after decades of struggle as well as research: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Akin, Ryan, and their cronies seem to see women as less than human, as creatures not to be trusted, who lie about the most serious things, who have no regard for what Akin/Ryan consider “life.” Life to them is not the person standing in front of them who was brutalized, rather it is a fetus, the size of a fingernail, and the woman in need of help is a liar and a murderer.

While unlike some interpreters of Sharia law who demand that a raped woman produce four male witnesses or the rapist confess, Akin/Ryan and those they represent are on a similar trajectory.

THE QUEST FOR UNIVERSALITY

What they ignore at their peril is that what the Women’s Liberation Movement has been about at its revolutionary core is not gaining rights or political reform—that’s only a part of it. A large segment was looking and fighting for a whole new and different world— fighting to be whole human beings.

All aspects of what it meant to be a woman were in question. It was that struggle that included everything from equal pay to women taking control of our own healthcare. What gave the fight for abortion rights such depth and power was that we knew that without reproductive justice and when abortion is illegal, women die.

What’s important about this now, when that movement no longer exists in that form, is that the Women’s Liberation Movement revealed what Karl Marx called “the quest for universality.” That is what drives all freedom movements from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to Occupy and most especially Arab Spring today.

The cynical slap on Akin’s wrist from Romney and other Republicans reveals nothing about what they think of what he actually said—most agree with him and his hateful attitude towards women. Rather, it reveals that they are very afraid that if they go too far, show too much of their real contempt for us, they’ll touch off another movement for freedom that they will be unable to contain.

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