By now you’ve heard about Todd Akin’s notorious comments to a Missouri TV station when asked about his views on abortion in cases of rape:
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. Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.
One of the most devastating consequences of living in a society as polarized as ours is that we grow completely out of touch with those who disagree with us. Hence, Republican lawmakers say really embarrassing, horrifying, distressing things like that. (Santorum flirted with this kind of rhetoric a lot as well during his campaign.)
One of the things that really, really needs to happen for us to have better conversations on these social issues – and this goes for racial issues and gay rights issues too – is that we really need to reach each others’ books. And not the bad ones that we can point to as ways of demeaning or dismissing the other team for being home to crazy person x. If you’re a conservative on gender and sexuality issues, read Dorothy Allison, read Ms. or Jezebel. Maybe even pick up Luce Irigaray or Simone de Beauvoir. Don’t just read Dan Savage, say “he’s mean,” and be done with it. (Likewise, liberals should extent the same courtesy to traditionalists. Don’t read Sarah Palin and then tell me how bigoted I am. Read Francis Beckwith or Richard John Neuhaus or Russell Kirk.) Avail yourself of the best thinkers of the contrary position and learn to think the way they do. That doesn’t mean you agree. But it does mean you have some idea of where they’re coming from and, therefore, respectful, civil conversation is more likely to happen.
Another point on this: Relational connection seems really important as well. I suspect that candidate Akin would be much less likely to say such calloused, unkind, irresponsible things if he were in active relationship with women who have been victims of sexual abuse. Actually, let me rephrase that: Akin would be less likely to say those sorts of things if he was aware that he actually does know women who have been sexually harassed. Statistically, the odds are very good that he knows several such women, he just doesn’t know their story. But anyone who has studied rape culture on university campuses (something several of my columnists did at the Daily Nebraskan and whose work taught me a lot) knows that if you have a room with four recent female college graduates, odds are good that one of them was assaulted or harassed in some way during her time at university.
One other thing: Go read TNC’s post about this:
At any rate, I think what’s interesting here is the assumed power. I have the right to objectively define pregnancy from rape as rare. I have the right to determine separate legitimate rape from all those instances when you were in need of encouragement, wearing a red dress or otherwise asking for it. I have the right to manufacture scientific theories about your body — theories which reinforce my power. If the body doesn’t “shut that whole thing down” then clearly you weren’t raped, and there’s no need to talk about an abortion. And even if I am wrong on every count, I still have the right to dictate the terms of your body and the remaining days of your life.
All of my rationales range from the totally subjective to the outright mythical. But I am the sovereign of the female body. On my word rumor becomes science, and the destruction of your life is repackaged as the defense of someone else’s.
In a later post, he made a really important point for conservatives to keep in mind: “The thing about power is that it makes opening your eyes optional.” That nails it. When you have a position of privilege… well, you have a position of privilege. And you don’t need to go around on your belly in sack cloth and ashes begging everyone’s forgiveness for the fact that you were born into a privileged position. But you do need to be aware of that and understand how that reality has shaped you.
James Hamblin also is worth reading on the science of pregnancy and rape.