While gender is generally understood as part of the larger culture wars, it often seems swallowed by a focus on the religious dimension. The recent brouhaha over the incredibly stupid remarks of Senate Candidate Todd Akin’s is only the most recent in a never-ending series of remarks that reveal just how central gender is to the culture wars.
As a historian I first thought, did Akin not learn about the widespread rape of enslaved women in the United States [which is why curriculum matters! The irony of Akin representing Missouri is almost too rich]. That a person seeking entree in the elite club that controls everything from American foreign policy to women’s reproductive rights could be so ignorant is frightening.
However, Akin’s remarks reflect more than ignorance. The residual notion remains that “down there” doesn’t bear too much close scrutiny by men [cf Vagina dentata] and that women’s bodies contain scary magical powers [like giving life to men]. Women’s bodies have minds of their own, and summarily reject or accept fertilization (one wonders what women suffering from infertility thought of Akin’s remarks. If raped women’s bodies reject conception, what does that say about their bodies?).
Remarks like Akin’s perpetuate what feminists labeled decades ago as a rape culture. Akin’s misguided interpretation of conception during rape resonates with what used to be called the “moving target” defense, the idea that no woman could be raped unless she “let herself” since how could a man penetrate a moving target?
In the current incarnation of our culture wars, the conjoining of rape and abortion, contribute to the mythology that depicts s women’s bodies as something to be controlled and regulated, whether through acts of physical assault or the legislative manifestation of the same impulse. Perhaps the most frightening thing about Akin’s remarks is that so many people will find them consistent with their beliefs.