Talk about your "15 minutes of fame!"
Before yesterday, who'd ever heard of Todd Akin?
Now, the international news media can't get enough of him. Akin is the Republican congressman running for one of Missouri's Senate seats who rambled during an interview Sunday that, in the event of a "legitimate rape," the female body is equipped to somehow "try to shut that [pregnancy] down."
A number of influential Republicans have joined Democrats in condemning Akin's rape comments as being insensitive at best and outright fraudulent at worst. Massachusetts' moderate Republican senator Scott Brown has called for Akin to end his race to be a senator from Missouri. And the Romney-Ryan campaign was forced to clarify its own position on abortion, a position which shuns running mate Paul Ryan's stronger views in favor of Romney's more nuanced tolerance of keeping abortion legal in the case of rape.
Ryan, a staunch Roman Catholic and hero of many social conservatives, opposes abortion in the case of rape.
When Junk Science Meets Pop Culture Media
What's scary about Akin's statement - which he himself has unsuccessfully sought to explain - involves the speed with which such a comment can consume America's political spectrum, the apparent folly of how somebody this inept could be a multi-term congressman, and how potent an otherwise statistically insignificant event, such as pregnancy resulting from rape, can become in our national discourse.
Considering how sensationalistic America's media has become, and so utterly dependant upon fragments of individual sentences and trains of thought for the basis of sprawling news stories, it's not surprising that an unknown politician from the "Show Me State" can rocket to the top of our consciousness in a matter of hours. But that doesn't mean who Akin is and what he said really should have much of an impact on our lives, does it?
First of all, even though he's currently serving as a congressman, he's running to be a senator - an election he could lose, even if he hadn't said what he said yesterday.
Second, plenty of liberal political candidates say incredibly incredulous things that the mainstream media never bothers to cover, and that's what gives right-wing news sites their growing clout among conservatives. If the networks truly reported legitimate news from an unbiased perspective, the Drudge Reports of the far right would have far less reason to exist. And off-base comments from marginally important politicians like Akin would probably not get much national air time from anybody.
Third, despite all of the coverage our media is devoting to Akin today, how many of us from any political ideology will remember him this coming November? And I fully realize that by writing about this today, I risk being part of the problem, instead of the solution.
Speaking of problems, however, what about Akin's apparent belief in even a thread of truth embedded in what he said? He's already apologized and claimed he "mis-spoke," but he didn't decisively retract what he said. Should a US congressmember be allowed to think the way he thinks and get away with it?
I, too, have heard before that the female reproductive system is somehow wired to distinguish between consensual, enjoyable sex and the trauma of rape. But I've never believed it. So I researched it this morning. If any medical legitimacy exists to this claim, I can't find anything even remotely close to it on the Internet. And besides, even if I could, it likely wouldn't cover the cases of rape where the victim has been drugged, rendering her unaware of what's happening to her. For someone in Akin's position to not realize that he's bought into an old wives' tale about good girls and bad girls speaks poorly to his estimation of women in general, and his empathy for sex crime victims in particular.
Being Honest About Saying "No"
Granted, with the rampant sexual degradation of women in our culture, the definition of rape is getting broader. Meanwhile, the willingness of some in our society to accept that broadening definition may be getting weaker. Just yesterday, a story ran in our local newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, discussing the surprising reluctance of grand juries here to indict accused rapists. It seems that as women engage in increasingly promiscuous behavior, where even some victims of rape admit that when they say "no," they really don't mean it, more and more people - at least in our county here in north central Texas - are becoming increasingly dubious that men share all of the blame for unwanted sexual encounters.
Considering how complex the legal wrangling over rape has become, if Akin was a prudent politician who wanted to prioritize a respect for victims of rape over unsubstantiated theories about the difference between consensual sex and rape, he would have simply launched into his response to the question about abortion with his otherwise legitimate answer. And his answer? He'd rather penalize the perpetrator of the crime than the child produced by it.
Which, in itself, represents a wildly unpopular answer for many in our society who don't view the biological product of rape as being a potential victim of an abortion. In other words, many people believe aborting the child produced by a sex crime represents an acceptable way to resolve a bad situation. By now, we all know that the percentage of rapes that result in pregnancy is a mere fraction of all rapes - so statistically small that even in the pro-life camp, wiggle room exists to accommodate abortion as a political reality. Personally, however, I happen to agree with Akin on this point: if a pregnancy develops from criminal sex, killing the fetus is still murder, and two wrongs don't make a right. If Akin wasn't so befuddled with wacky junk science, he would have been able to state his case far more productively and emphatically. He wouldn't have made international news, nor would he likely have converted anybody to his pro-life cause. But he wouldn't have further alienated anybody, either.
Yet alienation is the only thing taking place after Akin's grievous error. In one stupid sentence, he introduced a wedge between the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his running mate - a wedge hammered home by one of the most divisive issues of our time. Indeed, even though the pro-life caucus sometimes waffles on the abortion-after-rape scenario, it's still a point of contention among the faithful's political elite. Were this difference between the Romney and Ryan beliefs ever to be flaunted in the open, I'm sure they would have much preferred to do it their own way, in a far less bizarre fashion.
The national press apparently hopes otherwise, but frankly, there's probably little in this dust-up that will change any voter's mind about anything. Except, hopefully, Akin's.
More Fallout From the Sexual Revolution?
It's not like this will be a talking point for long anyway. American politics being what it is, plenty of time exists between now and our November elections for other politicians to say more stupid things to help us forget Akin's name.
Plus, Akin's transience in America's consciousness has to do with the fact that he was talking about rape, a crime which itself has become a victim of our society's lust for sex. In a perfect world, when a woman says "no," that should be sufficient, right? But human nature being what it is, might society be opening to the possibility that the timing for saying "no" has as much to do with the "no" word itself? Is being in various stages of undress, inebriation, and other indiscretions after an evening of flirting and cavorting an effective environment for proverbially closing the drawbridge? Is previously saying "no" but meaning "yes," while then enticing one's partner further, an abdication of one's prerogative to say "no" and mean "no" during some future encounter?
It's not like sex before marriage is universally understood to be forbidden anymore, and that those who break the abstinence code these days are violating all sorts of social rules, if not moral (and legal) ones. This wonderful new world sexual revolutionaries like the recently departed Helen Gurley Brown celebrated has actually made sexuality more confusing for men, and more dangerous for women. According to the Star-Telegram story, most rapes are committed by men victims know; they're not the random attacks by complete strangers we assume most rapes are. The way we craft our relationships now has apparently become so reckless and sloppy, with such obscure boundaries, we've forgotten that sometimes, the morning after is too late to decide what you weren't wanting the night before.
But that's about as politically dangerous a thing to say as advocating for pregnancies resulting from rape to be allowed to go full term. Especially when a man says it. Women today have been taught by the likes of Helen Gurley Brown that men are here to be turned on and turned off like light switches. Yet if that was true, wouldn't it mean we shouldn't have nearly as many rape victims as we have? Instead, rape is a serious problem in the United States, which means that personal responsibility needs to play a far greater role in our sexual encounters than many people in our society want to admit.
Yes, I believe that if a woman isn't "in business," she shouldn't be advertising. I also believe that women have developed a perverse ability to toy with men without fully understanding the biomechanics of arousal typical among my gender. Yet I also still believe that "no" should mean "no." Men have an ethical duty to women to be the standard-bearers of restraint, even if their women don't want to reciprocate.
Republicans hoping that Akin quits his race do so in the hopes that their own campaigns can minimize the damage his foibles may do to theirs. If I lived in Missouri, I'd have a hard time voting for somebody who publicly advocates such junk medical science, especially during a conversation about crisis problems like rape and abortion. Unfortunately, society won't want to go down the personal responsibility path like I have done here, because it involves ideas most people today consider prudish and provincial regarding sex.
If anything good can come out of Akin's remarks, it would be people recognizing that even more than junk medical science, it's junk theories about sex that play a major role in rape.
And that expecting abortion to play any role in fixing our rape crisis is as dumb as what Akin said about female physiology.
Update: Since writing and posting this essay, I've learned that Akin is a member of the denomination I attend, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He also holds a degree from the PCA's Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Does this change my opinion of Akin? Not really; in fact, if he is a professing believer in Christ, I would hope he expresses more care than sloppy condemnation (as I hope I would) when discussing explosive issues like rape and abortion. That being said, I trust he'll let Christ use this flashpoint in ways that honor our Lord.