She’s Just an Easy-Bake Oven: How the GOP and the Anti-Choice Movement See Women


The good news about the Rep. Todd Akin situation is that it genuinely seems to have raised the public’s awareness of how much the anti-choice movement is rooted not in some love of fetal life, but in a profound misogyny that focuses heavily on fear of female sexuality. Akin’s ready assumption that women frequently lie about rape to cover up their sexual adventures was a perfect example of the demonized view of female sexual liberty driving the anti-choice movement, one that has very little relation to how women actually act in the world. But the exposure of the ugly, misogynist heart of the anti-choice movement might come at a price: Other dehumanizing, ugly attitudes towards women expressed by anti-choicers might seem more moderate by comparison.

For instance, Rep. Paul Ryan, now a nominee for Vice President, has a long history of using incredibly dehumanizing language towards women and speaking of women as if they non-sentient beings, while seemingly imbuing even fertilized eggs with the sentience he won’t grant women. Even though he’s no doubt been strongly coached to try to at least mimic compassion for women, the notion that women have internal lives and experiences that matter just doesn’t seem to factor into his discussion of reproductive rights. Instead, he just falls back on talking about women as if they’re nothing but flesh-bound ovens to cook male heirs. Which, naturally, led to the same kind of minimization of rape that Akin is accused of engaging in.

During an interview with WJHL this week, Ryan was asked his view about Rep. Todd Akin, who recently asserted that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”

“Specifically where you stand when it comes to rape, and when it comes to the issue of should it be legal for a woman to be able to get an abortion if she’s raped?” WJHL reporter Josh Smith wondered.

“I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan explained. “But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney-Ryan ticket. And the president makes policy.”

As usual, he struggles to even acknowledge women. Rape is just a “method of conception,” relegating women to the means of conception, instead of, you know, people whose experiences, hopes, and fears actually matter. He might as well be talking about cooking eggs. Some people scramble eggs and some people make omelets, but no matter the method of cooking, it’s still eggs! Ryan may accept that perhaps raping isn’t the preferred method of sperm delivery to the vessel, but at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is that the sperm got delivered and that the vessel not be allowed a say in the matter.

At least Todd Akin granted women enough agency to be considered liars. Ryan doesn’t seem to have even given that much thought to the proposition that women have minds working behind their eyeballs.

When talking about rape, the ugliness and dehumanization of women is much more obvious to the public, but it’s important to understand that this utter unwillingness to see women as people—instead of just Easy Bake ovens that make people–is shot throughout anti-choice sentiment.

Fundamentally, the debate over abortion is a debate over what we make of the fact that some of us in this world can have babies. For pro-choicers, “being able to make babies” is a nifty thing to be able to do, like being able to play the piano or being able to bake pies. It’s your skill, your ability. You should use it how you like. We would no more force a woman to make a baby because she can than insist that someone who can play the piano drop everything they’re doing at a moment’s notice to play because we want them to.

For anti-choicers, the fact that someone can make a baby means that making babies is what she is for. People mistake the term “objectification” to mean “looking at with lust,” but what it actually means is “reducing someone to an object to be used.” Sexual objectification is assuming that because women turn you on, they are for sex, instead of a person whose sexuality should be an expression of their agency. What anti-choicers engage in is reproductive objectification. Women are among an array of objects to be used. The refrigerator is for storing food. The bookshelf is for holding books. The woman is for making babies. You no more give her a choice in the matter than you would give your refrigerator veto power over what food it hold because it didn’t like your method of shopping.

What we need is for people to sit up and really listen to language like “method of conception,” and not just because it minimizes rape, but because it’s part of a larger way of perceiving women as nothing but vessels. We denounce the pseudo-science and magical thinking that led Akin to claim that rape can’t cause pregnancy, but this entire perception of women is also based in magical thinking. The unwillingness to see that women are fully present human beings, instead of baby factories that were unwittingly given the right to vote, also defies basic scientific understanding.

It’s not like the evidence is inconclusive to draw the conclusion that women are people with subjective experiences, just like men. Women have basically been telling the world this since the beginning of time, no matter how much pressure is put on them by patriarchy to instead act like compliant robots that shoot out heirs. Women have always expressed feelings, created art, and had dreams. Women communicate their personhood all the damn time. Anti-choicers just simply refuse to see the evidence in front of them, instead projecting all this sentience onto embryos that don’t actually have any feelings or thoughts. The inability of the anti-choice movement to see reality is about a lot more than their misunderstanding of how human reproduction works; it’s the very foundation of their entire worldview that relegates thinking, feeling, communicating women to the status of inanimate objects. 

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  • nico

    Akin and Ryan (et al) have truly exposed the religion-infested incoherent rot and raised public awareness in the last couple of weeks. This is good. And hopefully we will be able to look back on November 7 and thank them very much for their clammy-handed overreach. But I would like to have more than “gaff”-based hope when it comes to something as fundamental to full human existence as reproductive rights.

    I would love to hear the “anti-choice movement” and the “pro-life movement” referred to more often as the “anti-reproductive rights movement” or just the “anti-rights movement” or the “anti-repro rights movement.” Maybe it’s not as pithy or as character-count friendly but it’s also not as overly familiar so as to pass by like nothing at all. And why assent to their hijacking of the word life, especially when pro-life is anything but?

    I can’t help feel that “choice,” which is simultaneously vague, too diffuse, and over-identified specifically with “abortion,” has compromised the effectiveness of reproductive rights advocacy. There are no choices without rights, and the latter term has been downplayed in day to day “pro-choice” discourse, other than maybe the “right to choose” — except “choice” itself is problematic.

    The right wing Akinite and Ryanite assholes are able to get away with what they do because, while “choice” is a well-worn term, the full implications of what “choice” entails, and what the so-called pro-life movement would abolish, can no longer be conveyed through the language of “choice.” “Abortion” itself is just a decoy for the elimination of birth control and modern sexuality itself.

    As a rhetorical term, “Choice” trivializes the very thing it refers to.

    After decades of hiding behind the sanitized rhetoric of “choice,” which has left United States reproductive rights under assault like never before and heading for a 50-year low, it’s time to name it and call it what it is: A right. Reproductive Rights.

    The enemies of reproductive rights talk and proselytize and hoodwink fools and raise money under the banner of Rights, not Choice. (cf. how the NRA talks talks about the Right, not the Choice, to Bear Arms.)

    I am not suggesting that “choice” and “pro-choice” should be abolished from the lexicon. I am saying that it has stopped serving its purpose. Rhetoric matters. And the rhetoric of choice has passed its expiration date. The current state of repro rights in the United States is all the evidence we need of that.

  • veggietart

    …I will give him the benefit of the doubt that that was a poorly worded statement and what he meant to say is that whether a woman gets pregnant from rape or from consensual sex, that doesn’t change the definition of life.  Clearly to him, the zygote/embryo/fetus also more important than the woman carrying it, at least for the requisite nine months, after which he doesn’t care about that precious life.

    The hard question we should be asking everyone who talks about the sanctity of life is:  What have you done to protect the lives of those who have already been born?  We should point out the inconsistencies in their records (voted for war, voted to cut funding for health care, voted to cut funding for programs that help poor families) and ask just what lives they are defending.

  • amanda-marcotte

    In order to receive the benefit of the doubt, one must earn it by showing that the statement is uncharacteristic. If you follow the links in the piece, you’ll find that Ryan generally does everything he can to avoid speaking of women as people, and instead never strays far from describing them in terms that evoke appliances. 

  • douglas

    Great piece, Amanda.  It came across my desk unexpectedly and I registered here just to say, “right on.”

     

    “. . .relegating women to the means of conception, instead of, you know, people. . .”

     

    I’m afraid this is an all too-accurate description of this worldview, and typical of Ryan’s characterizations of women.  These folks are scary.

     

    Fine work.  I’ve found a new blog to follow.

     

      ~Doug

     

  • coralsea

    I happened to have heard from an old friend earlier today and the conversation took me back to my first job as an editor in a publishing company.  There were nine of us — four women and five men.  One of the men was not at all comfortable with women (he was of the opinion that we should all be secretaries, a thought he was fond of sharing; unfortunately for him, one of the four women was his boss, though, and she didn’t take kindly to his comments). 

     

    This fine gentleman one day decided to draw a diagram of the offices in which we worked, labeled with the name of each occupant so it could be hung on the wall to aid visitors in finding whomever they were there to visit.  These labels included Jim’s office, Chuck’s office, Ralph’s office, Jay’s office, and Don’s office.  The rest of the offices were labeled Nola’s room, Anne’s room, Linda’s room, and Carol’s room.  “Room” — unlike the men, who of course worked in offices, the women worked in “rooms.”

     

    We had a good laugh about this — it was 1980, and it was annoying, but it was also just stupid (and Nola, who was his boss, made him take the thing down off the wall where he had hung it up for all to see).  I remember thinking some years later, after I had obtained my MBA and had a bunch of industry clients of my own, how quaint and backward the whole “room” versus “office” diagram had been.  Women had traveled so far past that point – even if our incomes and representation in the executive ranks still lagged.

     

    I look at these guys now (and some of the enabling females who hang with them) and realize that rights can never be taken for granted.  I never thought that I would have to wonder if, indeed, women would be in serious peril of having our most fundamental rights stripped from us.

  • lisakaz

    In my mind, the problem is that women, for many men, have not transcended being equated to the functions they perform. For a wife, there are a lot of chores in addition to sex but for a politician looking at society, all they care about is sex. Make soldiers. Make workers (who are grateful for whatever they get).

     

    This relates perfectly to candidate Tom Smith’s view that rape is akin to a daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Neither involved HIS consent (like giving away a bride), which matters more apparently than her consent or bodily integrity. Yet Rush et al. love to deride feminists when what they say does everything to justify feminist criticism of their positions.