So, I have been hesitant to say anything about Akingate because, up until this point, I wasn’t quite sure what I could say that wouldn’t just be an endless loop of “Seriously, America, WHAT THE FUCK?”
Indeed, I knew what everyone else did: Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo), responding to a question about whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, said of these pregnancies,”it seems to me 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.”
Here’s what else I knew: Commentators and pols from the entire American political spectrum rightfully slammed Akin, with some Republicans even calling for him to quit the Senate race.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, called Akin’s words “offensive” and “inexcusable.”
In addition, President Barack Obama essentially said that Akin’s statements underscore the Right’s war against women, saying the rep exemplified “why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women.”
Akin, responding to continued criticism, just released a TV ad titled “Forgiveness,” saying: “Rape is an evil act … I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize.”
And: “As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them … the fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims … the mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”
So far, it’s unclear — and unlikely — that Akin’s mea culpa will result in forgiveness from pols or the public, and rightfully so: Rape and its dire consequences are not the kind of things that should be downplayed or discussed with clunky verbiage, and doing so is wrong and offensive, especially when the error stems from a “faith-based” worldview.
But — and there’s always a but — it’s one thing for the country to band together against a prominent figure for saying something awful, BUT it’s another thing for us to actually address and maybe even correct the ideological roots of Akin’s gaffe, so that it doesn’t happen again.
And that’s what we need to be doing.
Don’t get me wrong: The many, many wonderful and powerful essays and op-eds and Tweets and status updates lambasting Akin might well keep a scientificlly ignorant misogynist out of prominent office.
Not only is this outright awesome — we CAN do it! — but it is an encouraging testament to the tremendous power of the press, be it professional or popular media.
However, if we are to teach or learn anything from Akingate, the lesson imparted shouldn’t just be that “open displays of ignorance are bad because people get mad about it.”
Rather, an additional goal of progressive-minded folk should be to get more of the American public to internalize beliefs about human dignity.
We shouldn’t be sending the message that sexism — or racism, or ableism, etc. — is wrong just because of others’ reactions, a la retributive justice.
We don’t want politicians to treat these groups with dignity just because they will face a PR shitstorm if they don’t.
Granted, backlash can be an effective tool — and a necessary strategy for preventing jerks form holding office — but it typically only addresses public displays of stupidity.
If pretty much anything that Republicans have EVER said about women is any indicator, it’s that many share Akin’s thought process but simply do a better job of keeping their mouths shut.
Paul Ryan, for example, might know when to hold his tongue on rape pregnancies, but he co-sponsored a “personhood” bill with Akin that would have made illegal terminations of these and all pregnancies.
So yes … we know we can mobilize to protest major infractions. And damn it, we should!
But let’s try for even more long-term change by addressing all adherents to flawed belief systems — not just the most obvious ones.