ancestryink fisherman

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are Women to Blame?

Senatorial candidate Todd Akin put his foot in his mouth, right? To put it mildly.  The Republican party is reeling.  There goes the female vote.  Somebody left a body in the road, Romney's carriage has hit it and is heading for a ditch.

In a few days, it will all be forgotten, as usual.

One of the more disturbing implications of this whole brouhaha is the darker current that still flows below Akin's statement.  A woman's right to her own body is still political fodder - and still apparently not really her own jurisdiction.  When Akin implies something to the effect that during a rape - "a woman's body can just shut that thing down," there lurks that age-old shadow of shame and blame.  Somehow, if a woman's body does NOT 'shut that thing down' during rape, this attitude subtly implies that once again, a woman is solely responsible for preventing pregnancy, even when brought about violently and against her will!   And if she fails at that, she has to physically and emotionally just ride out the consequences.

We really haven't made much progress here.

Once again, I wondered what the general language surrounding abortion and more importantly, women's rights, would be in the 1860's.  I figured this was far enough back to present some real contrasts between then and now.

In the 1860's the topic of abortion usually surrounded the untimely death of a young woman, and whether the doctor who may have performed the abortion was culpable.  Okay, so that makes sense.

Here is an excerpt of a short article dated August 23, 1860, from the Boston Herald, addressing just such a case.  Read it carefully.  That underlying shadow of blame overrides any criminal investigation.  Though this is not about rape, by the end of the article what is left is really just a not so thinly veiled assignation on a woman's character.  She died, by the way.  Unsupported by friends, and barely assisted by doctors.  They even imply that it was a "woman" who performed the abortion.  Blame, again.  The fetus is referred to as "her shame." Instead of sympathy towards her situation,  her case just ends up being a "sad warning to humanity" that she somehow deserved her fate due to her indiscretions.

From the Boston Herald, August 23, 1860

And again, the really uncomfortable notion that Akin implies this week is not all that different from the tone of the 1860 article.  If a woman's body does not "shut that thing down," - then what?  Oh well - it is her responsibility in the end. A woman is raped and the refusal to condone abortion in a case like this - the refusal to support a woman in taking care of herself and choosing her own future - just somehow hints that it was "her fault." 

To end on a totally different note, Diana Nyad quoted this lovely verse from a Mary Oliver poem, when asked how she felt about her recent failed attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida.  This is a woman who definitely defies the odds, makes her own decisions, and lives her life to the fullest.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

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