Monday, September 24, 2012

Todd Akin and the Enchanted Uterus

Senate Challenger
Todd Akin (R-MO)
I find it easy to comprehend Todd Akin’s clumsy comments about rape and abortion this past August. The most excoriated passage in that interview, the claim about “legitimate rape,” was not meant, I think, to call some rapes illegitimate. Akin simply meant that old canard that, if abortion bans include a rape exemption, some women will cry rape to subvert the law. While I abhor such unreconstructed views, they at least accord with a certain subset of American conservatism.

However, beneath this patronizing attitude toward women lies an even stranger thought pattern that may say something about an entire ideology in American politics. His claim that a woman’s reproductive system can distinguish rape semen from love semen, much mocked by liberal talking heads, is actually a very important signifier. It goes right to the heart of why some men fear women, and what lengths they’ll travel to keep women under their control.

In fairness, it seems likely Akin, and the purblind doctor who advised him on this point of medical pseud-fact, have some footing in reality. Biological conception really is impeded in situations of bodily or psychological stress. While this does not make rape conception impossible, it does make it less likely, as a fraction of encounters, than non-forcible sex. Akin simply took this kernel of medical knowledge and ran it to absurd lengths to justify an opinion he already had.

This warped and unintentionally comedic episode of pseudoscience matters, in the larger sense, not because of Todd Akin’s magical thinking, but because Akin’s thinking probably represents a segment of the male population. Men’s widespread distrust of women has engendered (ha!) much heated debate through the years. But Akin reveals that men distrust women, at least in part, because some of us fear women have superior powers we men don’t share.

We know, in a very fundamental sense, this is true. Women can, after all, give birth. Women control the access to men’s ability to ensure a genetic posterity. If men do not want to resort to violence, women have the complete ability to exclude us from the preservation of the human race. Much psychiatric literature has pored over men and our inherent “womb envy,” and how our biological limitations lead to inappropriate fear-based behaviors.

Incumbent Senator
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
In attributing powers of discernment to a woman’s uterus, Akin simply slaps that fear on a billboard for all the world to see. He announces that he sees women as different, as The Other, based on the fact that he thinks they can shut off access to biology, and men cannot. But in so doing, he also attributes to them powers that we can only see as magical, as supernatural. Women can shut down the future, because women have super powers.

That means Akin, and whatever male constituency he represents, fears women because he believes women are better than men. He believes they possess a nature that is not only different, but superior, arguably superhuman. In such an environment, men can only press their advantage and maintain an edge by the application of our one superior ability, brute physical strength. Only if we can use force to keep women out of clinics can we gain control of human posterity.

Psychologists will attest that rape itself is not about sex, but about power. The rapist, believing himself somehow stripped of vitality and made less of a man, will strike out at the one identifiable trait that makes women identifiably different, and distinctly powerful. We can see the same behavior playing out in men who would compound this violence by denying women the ability to make choices about their own reproduction. It’s not about sex, or birth; it’s about power.

Nobody seeks to take power away from people they consider lesser than themselves. We only take power from people who could potentially harm or destroy us. As the late historian Howard Zinn observed in A People's History of the United States, American racism was engineered to keep blacks, Indians, and poor whites at each other’s throats, so they could not band together against their real shared oppressors, the rich whites.

Todd Akin reveals exactly that mentality toward women. Because Akin, and men like him, feel powerless against women’s perceived superiority, they must take power by force. This attitude only makes sense if Akin thinks women have power over him. Lopsided power is always a tool of those who believe themselves powerless, who cannot afford the luxury of magnanimity. Akin fears women because he fears innate male weakness.


  1. Excellent work Kevin! Bravo!

  2. And the "plantation owners" are still at the same game, here in the 21st century, with no apparent lessons having been learned because the modern populace has no real sense of history.
    I've had conversations with people who had never heard of Joe McCarthy, let alone Scopes.
    It makes me sad, sir. And it empowers the landowner class, which makes me sadder.