What We Can Learn From Republican Men
This is another post in our “WTF? No, Seriously. WTF?” feature — a place to express anger, horror, and disbelief at current news stories.
Listen up, people: Republican men have had A LOT to teach us this week about sexuality, reproduction, and abortion. For one thing, you can all breathe a deep sigh of relief about the possibility of rape leading to pregnancy; apparently, that happens only very rarely, so really, we should probably just overturn Roe v. Wade. Oh, and in case you need a second reason to ban abortion, here’s one: male fetuses masturbate! Also, not to be homophobic or anything, but it seems that gay people are likely to show up at work wearing tutus. Now what would you have done without all of this edifying information? You’re welcome.
Seriously, can we please have, say, a one-year moratorium on straight, white, middle-aged Republican men attempting to “educate” the public about issues related to women’s rights, reproductive justice, and/or gay rights?
It’s not like the problem is brand new. Last August, the Republican Representative Todd Akin claimed that “legitimate rape” would not result in pregnancy because “the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” The media picked up the story immediately, and journalists, activists, and virtually everyone with any sort of functional understanding of sex and reproduction reacted with a predictable mixture of outrage, ridicule, and contempt. In less than twenty-four hours, even the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had to condemn Akin publicly, characterizing his remarks as “insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong.”
Akin came across as so stunningly ignorant and out of touch that it was easy for many people to dismiss him as an inconsequential object of derision, but his statement mattered on a larger level. First of all, as Nursing Clio’s Ashley Baggett and Austin McCoy have already pointed out, comments like Akin’s serve to perpetuate a rape culture that continues to disbelieve and blame victims while minimizing the very real prevalence of “legitimate” rape and sexual assault. In addition, Akin exemplified the tendency of many anti-abortion politicians to use misleading or incorrect medical and scientific information to bolster their attempts to restrict or eliminate reproductive rights. Keep in mind, for example, that this whole “legitimate rape” thing happened just five months after New Hampshire passed a bill requiring doctors to tell patients that abortion causes breast cancer, despite the inconvenient fact that no actual scientific study ever verified that correlation. Finally, I suggest that Akin’s comments were also significant simply because they illustrated the potential disasters that can occur when old, straight, white guys, especially politicians, are allowed to play the role of the “experts” on issues that so deeply affect the health and well-being of people who are NOT old, white, straight, or male.
All of which brings me back to this week’s Republican life lessons. On Monday, Texas Representative Michael Burgess – who, terrifyingly, used to be an OB/GYN – argued in favor of a proposed abortion ban because male fetuses masturbate and therefore feel pleasure and pain. These are his exact words: “Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”
I have questions. For one thing, why does the fact that fetuses sometimes have their hands between their legs necessarily mean they are feeling pleasure? Oh, and also, why does this occur solely in MALE fetuses? What, female fetuses DON’T ever have their hands between their legs? Is this some weird modern-day version of the nineteenth-century notion of female passionlessness?
Two days later, Arizona Representative Trent Franks, also arguing in favor of a proposed abortion ban, claimed that exceptions for rape and incest were unnecessary “because, you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” Sigh. Did this guy learn NOTHING from Akin? Evidently, it needs repeating: experts agree that a woman’s odds of getting pregnant do not decrease when the sex is not consensual. A few doctors have argued differently – notably John C. Willke, who was president of the National Right to Life Committee – but these doctors in no way represent current medical opinion on the matter.
And women are not the only targets of this week’s Republican wisdom. Cornel Rasor, who is the chairman of the Idaho GOP resolutions committee, wants to overturn Idaho laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. He explained: “I’d hire a gay guy if I thought he was a good worker. But if he comes into work in a tutu . . . he’s not producing what I want in my office. If a guy has a particular predilection and keeps it to himself, that’s fine. But if he wants to use my business as a platform for his lifestyle, why should I have to subsidize that? And that’s what these anti-discrimination laws do.”
Let’s break that down. Cornel Rasor would “hire a gay guy” only if the hypothetical employee kept his sexuality – you know, that huge, important part of his personal identity and daily life – to himself. Being open about one’s sexual orientation (at least if one is not straight) is equivalent, in Rasor’s mind, to using the workplace “as a platform.” And as if that weren’t offensive enough, he also added that bit about the tutu, falling back on ridiculous stereotypes about what gay men are like.
I, for one, am sick of hearing homophobic politicians tell us all how gay people should behave. I am sick of hearing old men explain how women’s bodies work and decide what our reproductive choices should be. Here at Nursing Clio, we remind you constantly that “the personal is historical” as well as political. When it comes to these very personal political issues – sexual identity, sexual violence, reproductive rights – this same group of straight white men have, historically, had all the power. They’ve had the voices that mattered most. And the sad truth is that, though we’ve made important progress, this week’s news highlights the fact that we have not fixed that problem yet.
DISCLAIMER: Angry rant aside, I am fully aware that straight white politicians are not the only people who make idiotic comments about sex, rape, and reproductive rights — see, for example, Serena Williams’s “I’m not blaming the victim, but . . .” take on the Steubenville rape case. But this week, I am focused on a particular KIND of idiotic comment, the kind offered by the three politicians pictured here (and too many others like them) as men with at least some degree of power.