August 20, 2012
More Gynecology from the GOP

For God’s sake, people, get a grip. Congressperson Todd Akin was only saying what even federal judges know: pregnancy from forcible rape is about as rare as voter impersonation.

In 1980, attorney James Leon Holmes wrote, in a letter arguing for a constitutional ban on abortion, “Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”

He later apologized for his comment and was successfully nominated to a federal judgeship by George W. Bush in 2004, the inside-Washington controversy over his remarks notwithstanding. Today he serves as the chief judge of the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Besides, what’s the big deal about forcible rape, anyway? For the Ayn Rand crowd, it’s kind of hot. As it used to be back in the 40s and 50s for Smith and Vassar coeds, who lapped up Rand's description of Howard Roark raping the haughty Dominique. What real woman could fail to grow moist over prose like this:

She fought like an animal. But she made no sound. She did not call for help… He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him — and she would have remained cold, untouched by the things done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted…

She turned the light on in the bathroom. She saw herself in a tall mirror. She saw the purple bruises left on her body by his mouth. She heard a moan muffled in her throat, not very loud. It was not the sight, but the sudden flash of knowledge. She knew she would not take a bath. She knew that she wanted to keep the feeling of his body, the traces of his body on hers, knowing also what such a desire implied…

She had found joy in her revulsion, in her terror and in his strength. That was the degradation she had wanted and she hated him for it.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 20, 2012 12:37 PM
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Smith and Vassar coeds? Really? Were those colleges admitting men in the 40s and 50s?

Seriously, please can the word "coed" as a noun meaning "female college student." I mean it; in its own way, it's as bad, maybe worse, than calling a woman "c**t" or b***h.

Posted by: Tim on August 20, 2012 7:35 PM

Actually, what Tim said. The word implies that women aren't real students but only conditionally permitted auxiliary students, their right to an education subject to revocation at any whim.

It's a first step back toward the wedding ring as thrall-collar and the childbed as grave. As in *The Handmaid's Tale* -- that horrid moment where the female academic suddenly finds her credit chip has been revoked -- all is now in the name of her husband. Her loss of independent civil existence has begun.

Thoughts maybe a little more dire than usual on this subject because of the Akin business, which reminds people of my ilk (born female) that some people still view our citizenship as a temporary fiction.

I wrote a Storify last night about some of the deep-running legal-history currents under that "legitimate rape" remark -- see storify.com/MarthaBridegam/the-akin-business-women-as-property .

After a threat like Akin's, I'm always just that little bit angrier. Women of my generation are old enough to remember where the slippery slopes are and that they are real.

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on August 22, 2012 12:48 AM

I agree with both of you. That said, I used the term because it was the general one used in those days, and would have been used by those students to describe themselves. One point of the post, which evidently I didn't make clearly enough, was to show how college girls of that time had been successfully trapped into a sort of Stockholm syndrome. (Let me quickly add that they were indeed "college girls" and we were "college boys". The term "college men" would have sounded self-important. I wasn't entirely comfortable thinking of myself as a "man" until I reached my forties and my kids were college boys. I suspect that most of the non-dolts of my generation could say the same.)

Another point of the post was to show that we may not have come a long way, baby, but at least we've come a little way. This mean little Missouri asshole's gynecological views wouldn't have caused a ripple in your mother's or grandmother's day. Certainly Ayn Rand's repellent rape scene didn't. In fact the book was a huge success on women's campuses, probably because of that scene. But then so was Katherine Anne Porter's "Ship of Fools" a few years later, so go figure. She's a funny old world.

Posted by: Jerry Doolittle on August 22, 2012 10:33 AM

Thanks.

I'm old enough to tell some of those stories myself but, re: prior generations, would note that women made significant progress toward recognition of their human status during the early 20th century, when, e.g., my great-grandmother Annie was in her redoubtable heyday. Then the lid came down again in the '30s on, among other people, my grandmother.

In the notes at the Storify page, I talk about a repellent argument -- the claim that it was logically impossible for a married man to rape "his own" wife" -- made by a "liberal" criminal law professor I had at Hastings College of the Law in the early '90s. There were no repercussions for his adoption of this argument, which he made repeatedly during several class sessions on the subject.

This was during the "65 Club" days when extremely elderly distinguished professors were attracted to join our school's faculty by reduced class schedules not available elsewhere. The professor in question was well over 80 years old, hence of my grandmother's generation. He was a sometime Roosevelt antitrust regulator and on the whole a national treasure. He held old-fashioned merciful views on every other aspect of the Rights of Man. So it was especially sad to learn that in a fundamental sense he understood a married woman to be something less than a person, a resource owned like a plot of land, her physical integrity outside the equal protection of the laws.

Mostly what I remember is the anger at having to go on with my studying and nonprofit work for more than a week while floating like a butterfly in the fight-or-flight sense. It wears you out, going to class angry, going in there head down, hands closed, ready to defend your human status. Because once the subject comes up, either you imagine fighting back or you imagine giving in. So you imagine fighting back.

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on August 24, 2012 5:09 AM

It did occur to me that there was ironic intent in your usage for that post. Glad to hear that is the case. I'm not sure why exactly, but hearing that used as a noun for "female college student" just makes me instantly rageful (obviously! lolz). It doesn't happen that much anymore. One of the places I have heard it is on the local news station I watch. In fact, it was in a story about a student at Iowa State, with which I seem to remember you have some connection ;). Unfortunately, I didn't go to the phone immediately and call them, as I did once over their use of the phrase "ground-zero mosque" (I was very polite, but firm), so the opportunity kind of passed. If I hear them do it again, I promise I will.

One thing: did college women actually refer to themselves as "coeds"? I dunno; I can sort of half-remember, half-imagine maybe a game-show contestant doing her introductory spiel and saying something like, "I'm so-and-so, blah blah and a coed at State U."

As for Rand ... sigh ... yes, I was one of those; from late high school to around age 24, I tracked down and read pretty much every word she ever wrote. This was way before the days when things were online. What can I say? Only to use the all-purpose excuse of my generation for anything stupid we did: It was the 70s. Among the many facets of overall embarrassment is that rape scene. I was like Whut?, knowing there was something wrong there, but also probably kind of getting off on it. [CONTENT NOTE: serious weirdness coming, possibly more than you want to know] And to f**k it up even more, I was, because of my gender/orientation "confusion" at the time, identifying with rapee rather than rapist, presumably just like those Smith and Vassar ... um ... women. Howard Roark had the face of my best friend, with whom I was in unrequited love.

Yeah, like I said, more than you wanted to know. Still, given all that, I feel I did well to deprogram myself from Randism and turn out reasonably well-adjusted.

Posted by: Tim on August 24, 2012 11:52 AM

My connection is not to Iowa State but to Iowa (University of), where my granddaughter is a 6'4" co-forward on the basketball team. If I called her a co-ed and if she knew the freight it once carried, she would no doubt drive me into the ground like a a tent peg. Kids these days have no respect.

Posted by: Jerry Doolittle on August 24, 2012 1:09 PM

Yes, I came away from this talk last night -- angry again -- thinking about the bit in *Don Quixote* where a man delivers a lecture about the inability of a woman to "take offense." By which he means that a woman in his world has no ability to defend her own honor, but must have it defended for her, so she cannot (i.e. may not) take offense directly.

Now we take offense on our own behalf, yes. Or sometimes we do. If you call a woman a "woman" in the old sense of what that meant, those are fighting words to her as they would be to a man.

Or maybe I'm dreaming. In areas like gendered generic pronouns and princess-track toy marketing, we've slipped.

But I do think most of us don't allow ourselves to be viewed as the property of our households any more.

That's what frightens Mr. Akin: the loss of the Thomas Jefferson notion of democracy as a set of understandings among masters of households -- as *1066 And All That* put it, "fellow barons, who would understand."

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on August 24, 2012 3:19 PM
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