A thank you note for Todd Akin

I’m a pretty even-keeled kind of gal. I don’t lose my temper that easily. I’ll get irritated, sure, and sometimes that irritation will get vented, a little bit at a time, in the form of passive aggression. But I’m not one for big blow ups. I can’t remember the last time I raised my voice in anger.

I’m also a proponent of civility in public discourse. I think that reasonable people can disagree, and that they should do it politely. I think that if you’re going to argue with someone, you should attack their ideas, not their character. I think a step-by-step take-down of someone’s ideas is more productive than just calling them an asshole. Even when someone’s ideas make me roll my eyes, or drop my jaw in disbelief, I try my best to be civil and respectful. I don’t particularly enjoy being called stupid, or evil, or ugly, in the public square, and because I believe in treating other people the way you want to be treated, I don’t generally engage in ad hominem attacks.

That said, it’s taking all my self-control to say “thank you,” to Missouri Representative Todd Akin. Thank you, not fuck you.

For those of you who missed it over the weekend, Rep. Akin, who is running for Senate against the incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, was asked whether or not he believed abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest. He said:

Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. 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.

I want to thank Mr. Akin for his remarks.

I want to thank him for demonstrating that the anti-choice movement is so often divorced from scientific facts, like when they claim that the uterus contains a magical anti-rapist semen force field, or when they claim that there’s a causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer. It is not, in fact, “really rare” for rape to result in pregnancy, unless you think that something that happens 32, 000 times every year is “really rare.”

I also want to thank him for revealing the contempt and mistrust that lies at the heart of so much anti-choice rhetoric. The contempt for women who have sex for pleasure and accidentally get pregnant. The mistrust of women that feeds the belief that we lie about being raped so we can get abortions, and the mistrust of women that justifies the idea that we don’t know when we’ve been raped and that politicians get to decide that for us.

I want to thank him for demonstrating the complete disregard for women that is necessary for a person to want to ban abortion. Notice that in his response, he mentioned the hypothetical rapist, and the “child,” but he didn’t mention the woman. The woman who has been raped and is now pregnant and will now be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby because the government says so. Because what she wants isn’t relevant in this situation.

I want to thank Mr. Akin for highlighting the logical inconsistency of being anti-choice and anti-Affordable Care Act. You’ll rail all day long about how Obamacare infringes on the American citizen’s personal freedom to make healthcare decisions, but you’re happy to infringe on an American woman’s personal freedom to make reproductive healthcare decisions? How exactly do you hold both those ideas in your head without your head exploding?

I want to thank Mr. Akin for making it perfectly clear just how extreme and how anti-women the reproductive rights conversation has become in America. Opposition to rape and incest exceptions used to be a fringe position. Even the most proudly pro-life politicians would say that there should be an exception for rape, incest, and life of the mother. I don’t personally think a woman should have to prove she’s been raped before the government will let her make a private healthcare decision, but whatever, that’s where the dial used to be. The dial has moved now. People like Mr. Akin are now free to publicly state that they think the government should be able to force a teenage girl to give birth to her father’s baby. They get to say things like that out loud, because of how far right the dial has moved. Sure, they’ll later say they “misspoke” and got the facts wrong about the non-existent magical qualities of the mystical feminine crotchflower, but they won’t back down on that whole forcing-rape-survivors-to-give-birth thing.

For all this, Mr. Akin, I say thank you. Thank you for your illuminating comments, for making it clear to people who didn’t already realize that the anti-choice movement is about controlling women, about punishing them for being sexual beings, and treating them as less than full citizens. Thank you for – probably – driving tens of thousands of people into the waiting, welcoming arms of feminism and the pro-choice movement. Thank –

– OK, you know what, screw this. I’m all for civility. I’m all for treating other people the way you want to be treated. Ideas, not ad hominem attacks, all the way. But Mr. Akin, I believe, has forfeited his right to my civility. By publicly suggesting that I’m too stupid to know whether or not I’ve been raped, and that if I am raped and I get pregnant, I should still have to give birth but don’t worry the rapist will get a slap on the wrist, he has broken my resolve to treat others with the respect with which I would want to be treated. And if I ever say something as awful, as inhumane, as ignorant as what Mr. Akin said over the weekend, I don’t want people to be civil. I want them to respond exactly as I’m about to.

Fuck you.

Wow, OK, that is pretty uncivil. What I should probably say instead is, fuck you sir.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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