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.