Todd Akin’s Brain: It’s Not Just a War on Women. It’s a War on Critical Thinking and Democracy.

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Commentary Politics

Todd Akin’s Brain: It’s Not Just a War on Women. It’s a War on Critical Thinking and Democracy.

Soraya Chemaly

Akin's statement and the GOP's anti-choice positions aren't just an election year "war on women" narrative. They are part of a reactionary, fundamentalist backlash to modernity. It's a war on science. It's a war on facts. It's a war on critical thinking. But, really, consider it a war on democracy.

In case you’ve been deep-sea diving in the Marianas Trench, yet another Republican Congressman unwittingly revealed his party’s contempt for and distrust of women. And he did it by once again illustrating how the “war on women” is really part of a larger issue. What Todd Akin said and believes doesn’t just play into a media-catchy, election year “war on women” narrative. It’s part of a reactionary, fundamentalist backlash to modernity. It’s a war on science. It’s a war on facts. It’s a war on critical thinking. But, really, consider it a war on democracy. Statements like Akin’s reflect the degree to which some men, steeped in all sorts of dangerous denialism, will go to protect their power and how they undermine equality and democracy to do it. Mitt Romney’s smart, he gets how Akin made this obvious, which is why he’s distancing himself so fast and furiously from this incident. But, Romney deep down inside agrees with the ideas that reside under the surface of such an obvious mistake. That’s why he will not renounce his rights-stripping-for-women-personhood-for-fetuses happy running mate Paul Ryan, who shares the ideas expressed by Akin, even if he expresses himself less offensively.

When asked about exceptions for abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape, Missouri Representative Todd Akin of the Primacy of the Father Cult (formerly known as the GOP) had this to say:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But 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.”

The amount that this man doesn’t understand is staggering. He shouldn’t even try putting the words “doctors” and “understand” in the same sentence. It just confuses him. But, the problem is, he’s not an exception.

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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Although the six term Congressman, who is running against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in the November 6 election, won’t apologize, he has graciously come forward to join a long line of rape apologists who “misspoke.” He did not “misspeak.” Misspeaking is defined as “Express oneself imperfectly or inaccurately.” He was very clear: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

He wittingly regurgitated common misogynistic lies about women, their bodies, rape, pregnancy, and abortion. Like Chloe Angel, at Feministing who wrote a thank you note to Akin, I am loathe to engage in uncivil discourse. I, too, believe that people who disagree should be able to do so with respect and without resorting to personal assault. However, these lies are so blatant and result in so much harm that they have to be named for what they are and challenged loudly and repeatedly and persistently.

His statements reveal several ideas about women, who bear the immediate and obvious brunt of this type of assault on reason:

  • That even if women do get raped do their bodies somehow “take care of it.” Akin’s comments reveal the shocking level of scientific illiteracy and denialism embraced by Republican legislators when they deal with “women’s issues.” Even if some benighted predatory rapist repeated “I have legitimately raped you” three times while waving their weaponized dicks in the air, women do not emit some mystical, magical hormone “to shut that whole thing down.” Is it too much to ask that people suggesting, making and enforcing our laws know how to spell “biology”?
  • That women who are raped don’t get pregnant much so we shouldn’t worry our pretty heads about maybe getting pregnant and needing an abortion. It turns out that some women’s bodies don’t take care of it. The Washington Post cited a study that revealed that at least 5 percent of rape victims end up pregnant. Mr. Akin, who has explained that he is empathetic to their plights, might want to personally explain to one of the 32,000 women forced to be pregnant against their will that it is “rare.”

Akin’s “gaff” is not harmless. It is not just “out of touch.” It’s DANGEROUS AND CAUSES PAIN and OPPRESSION. And, it’s not a “November” issue. It’s a “just world” issue. It’s a “think for yourself” issue. These people aren’t pro-life. They’re pro-pain. Pain central to redemption.

Which is why this is also a prime example of how religious privileging in education and public discourse overtakes reason and results in debilitating ignorance and real and tangible harm for children and women. And men. Ideas like Akin are why rape tragedies like what happened at Penn State and the ongoing Catholic abuse nightmare happen. Ideas like Akin’s and friends’, grounded in misconceived ideas about sexuality and women’s inherent sinfulness, their shame, their laboring for their wrongs, their sacrifice, their punishment, deny the reality of male victims of rape. These religiously-vectored ideas are central to their political and legislative agendas as evidenced by these abortion and rape statements.

Akin’s statement and philosophy are consistent with conservative’s deep mistrust of women and reflect the perverse contempt with which they simultaneously glorify sacrificial motherhood as the pinnacle of a woman’s existence – a long standing theme in Christian culture, while denigrating actual women though lies like these. Women, long portrayed as sub-human by culture, do not have to earn their abortions (or the contraception for that matter) through pain – illness, incest, rape.

Women, in theory and according to international consensus, have the right to bodily autonomy, privacy and equal protection under the law. It is really interesting to consider his language: he refers to “the rapist” and “the child” but never to “the girl” or “the woman. ” Instead, the girl or woman – the actual person who is raped and seeking to end her unwilling, non-consensual, insemination – is “the female body” – like some kind of machine or useful tool. And, I know, it’s not just men. But, the women who support these arguments will die knowing that they contributed to the infinite harm done to children and other women by their support of these policies.

Say what you will about men like Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum – both good examples of how red hat-envy can bend bright men’s minds towards incoherence and inhumanity – at least they have the courage to take their convictions to their logical conclusions – even if they result in sentences like “Rape is a gift from God” and in the consignment of nine-year old girls to eternal hell while their rapists get to pass through the pearly gates. But, many people like Akin, rather than deal with the illogic of exceptions, find ways to downplay the instance, validity, painful reality, post-traumatic effects and pregnancy that result from rape.

As Garance Franke-Ruta pointed out in The Atlantic, these conservative rape memes have a long life. Take this doozy which she cites from 1995 when 71-year-old North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge:

“”The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.””

I highly recommend passing her piece along to anyone who doubts the long-standing (at least in 20th century American political, versus loooonng standing classical Greek and Christian thought terms) use of these confused and ignorant statements by people responsible for distributing rights and justice in the country.