“Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.” ~ Eve Ensler

Warning: Controversial content follows. Do not read if your sensitivities will be offended.

This is one Republican gaffe that I simply cannot, will not let pass. Last year, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin joined GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as two of the original co-sponsors of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill that introduced the country to the bizarre term forcible rape. I didn’t comment on that bill because I believed that the thought behind the wording had to be an anomaly, an extreme position held by two of Congress’s more conservative members who prefer rhetoric to facts. I was wrong.

So, so wrong. The renewed war on women—women’s political rights, and women’s medical rights—that has emerged in recent years is roaring on as witnessed by this incredibly ignorant comment made by Akin yesterday:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

I could write my own ranting response to this, but someone has already done a much better job than I ever could have, playwright, performer and activist Eve Ensler. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Akin, I Want You to Imagine…

Dear Todd Akin,

I am writing to you tonight about rape. It is 2 AM and I am unable to sleep here in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am in Bukavu at the City of Joy to serve and support and work with hundreds, thousands of women who have been raped and violated and tortured from this ceaseless war for minerals fought on their bodies.

I am in Congo but I could be writing this from anywhere in the United States, South Africa, Britain, Egypt, India, Philippines, most college campuses in America. I could be writing from any city or town or village where over half a billion women on the planet are raped in their lifetime.

Mr. Akin, your words have kept me awake.

As a rape survivor, I am reeling from your recent statement where you said you misspoke when you said that women do not get pregnant from legitimate rape, and that you were speaking “off the cuff.”

Clarification. You didn’t make some glib throw away remark. You made a very specific ignorant statement clearly indicating you have no awareness of what it means to be raped. And not a casual statement, but one made with the intention of legislating the experience of women who have been raped. Perhaps more terrifying: it was a window into the psyche of the GOP.

You used the expression “legitimate” rape as if to imply there were such a thing as “illegitimate” rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape. The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority. It delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced. It makes them feel as alone and powerless as they did at the moment of rape.

When you, Paul Ryan and 225 of your fellow co-sponsors play with words around rape suggesting only “forcible” rape be treated seriously as if all rapes weren’t forcible, it brings back a flood of memories of the way the rapists played with us in the act of being raped — intimidating us, threatening us,muting us. Your playing with words like “forcible” and “legitimate” is playing with our souls which have been shattered by unwanted penises shoving into us, ripping our flesh, our vaginas, our consciousness, our confidence, our pride, our futures.

Now you want to say that you misspoke when you said that a legitimate rape couldn’t get us pregnant. Did you honestly believe that rape sperm is different than love sperm, that some mysterious religious process occurs and rape sperm self-destructs due to its evilcontent? Or, were you implying that women and their bodies are somehow responsible for rejecting legitimate rape sperm, once again putting the onus on us? It would seem you were saying that getting pregnant after a rape would indicate it was not a “legitimate” rape.

Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you are on your bed or up against a wall or locked in a small suffocating space. Imagine being tied up there and imagine some aggressive, indifferent, insane stranger friend or relative ripping off your clothes and entering your body — the most personal, sacred, private part of your body — and violently, hatefully forcing themself into you so that you are ripped apart. Then imagine that stranger’s sperm shooting into you and filling you and you can’t get it out. It is growing something in you. Imagine you have no idea what that life will even consist of, spiritually made in hate, not knowing the mental or health background of the rapist.

Then imagine a person comes along, a person who has never had that experience of rape, and that person tells you, you have no choice but to keep that product of rape growing in you against your will and when it is born it has the face of your rapist, the face of the person who has essentially destroyed your being and you will have to look at the face every day of your life and you will be judged harshly if you cannot love that face.

I don’t know if you can imagine any of this (leadership actually requires this kind of compassion), but if you are willing to go to the depth of this darkness, you will quickly understand that there is NO ONE WHO CAN MAKE THAT CHOICE to have or not have the baby, but the person carrying that baby herself.

I have spent much time with mothers who have given birth to children who are the product of rape. I have watched how tortured they are wrestling with their hate and anger, trying not to project that onto their child.

I am asking you and the GOP to get out of my body, out of my vagina, my womb, to get out of all of our bodies. These are not your decisions to make. These are not your words to define.

Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.

And by the way you’ve just given millions of women a very good reason to make sure you never get elected again, and an insanely good reason to rise.

#ReasonToRise

Eve Ensler
Bukavu, Congo

                   

And here’s a little sidebar to support my contention that Akin is far from alone in his archaic, unscientific thinking:

Just before Idaho’s Senate passed a mandatory ultrasound bill in March, a Republican bill sponsor made some startling comments about abortion and rape.

“Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this,” said state Sen. Chuck Winder (R). “I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”

It wasn’t the first time a lawmaker has suggested that women seeking abortions may lie about rape. Some anti-abortion activists actually believe that rape cannot result in pregnancy. Buzzfeed dug up a series of bizarre statements Republicans have made about pregnancy, rape, juices not flowing and more. Here’s one:

The odds that a woman who is raped will get pregnant are “one in millions and millions and millions,” said state Rep. Stephen Freind, R-Delaware County, the Legislature’s leading abortion foe.

The reason, Freind said, is that the traumatic experience of rape causes a woman to “secrete a certain secretion” that tends to kill sperm.

Two Philadelphia doctors specializing in human reproduction characterized Freind’s contention as scientifically baseless.

According to Planned Parenthood, about 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy, and providing all rape victims with emergency contraception could prevent more than 22,000 unwanted pregnancies a year.

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” ~ Lawrence Clark Powell

Alley in Kayserberg, Alsace, France by Martien

                   

“Very jaded and tired and depressed and cross, and so take the liberty of expressing my feelings here . . . I’m brain fagged and must resist the desire to tear up and cross out—must fill my mind with air and light; and walk and blanket it in fog. Rubber boots help. I can flounder over the marsh.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated 30 November 1939

Saturday evening. Sunny and hot.

Locronan, Brittany, France

Of course because I wrote about how I’m sleeping better, I slept horribly last night. My head ached, and I was very sound sensitive, which meant that the AC in our bedroom began to make this lovely, loud grinding noise. So I couldn’t fall asleep. Then when I finally did around 4 a.m., I awoke frequently.

The Virginia Woolf quote is quite apropos as I am brain fagged and cross. I love the British usage of the word cross; it’s a much stronger way of saying angry, or mad, or perturbed. I am quite cross and have no particular reason for being so. I just am. Possibly it’s the tightness in my forehead. On days such as these it’s best to keep to myself so as not to pick fights unnecessarily. So I’ll write for a bit and then read or watch a movie.

Corey has to go in at 7 tonight and work until 7 in the morning—a long shift, but at least he’s getting better hours this week. In the past few weeks his shifts have been scarce. Currently, he’s filling out applications for city and state positions. Before he was a merchant marine he had very good training in the Coast Guard in acquisitions and reconciliation. If he can get a position that allows him to use this training, it might actually work out better for his planned return to school. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

“To be a strong woman, to be a fierce woman, to be a true woman, to be a leader, to be truly powerful, you have to get to place where you can tolerate people not liking you. And know that when you actually do that, you have to fall back on your own moral imperative in your own moral trunk and say, ‘I don’t care, this is what I believe. This is who I am.’” ~ Eve Ensler, Beautiful Daughters

Eus: One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France (Wikimedia Commons)

This quote showed up on my Tumblr dash, and I immediately grabbed it. I love it for several reasons:

  1. It talks about being a strong woman.
  2. It incorporates one of my favorite words: fierce.
  3. It speaks of moral imperatives.
  4. It references being able to move past the desire to have all people like you.

I’ve discussed all of these items before in other posts, but this particular quote takes four things in which I believe strongly and combines them into one perfect quote.

Even in my weakened physical state, I still consider myself to be a very strong woman. Most people who know me would agree. I’m not boasting; rather, I’m merely stating a fact. I have a steel backbone, metaphorically. I have withstood much, and I’m still here, still spouting my beliefs, still standing up for those things that I hold dear. In my mind, I am a fierce, powerful woman, a natural leader. I do not think that my beliefs are delusional.

Consider the word fierce:

mid-13c., “proud, noble, bold,” from O.Fr. fers, nom. form of fer, fier “strong, overwhelming, violent, fierce, wild; proud, mighty, great, impressive” (Mod.Fr. fier “proud, haughty”), from L. ferus “wild, untamed,” from PIE base *ghwer- “wild, wild animal” (cf. Gk. ther, O.C.S. zveri, Lith. zveris “wild beast”). Original English sense of “brave, proud” died out 16c., but caused the word at first to be commonly used as an epithet, which accounts for the rare instance of a French word entering English in the nominative case. Meaning “ferocious, wild, savage” is from c.1300. Related: Fiercely; fierceness. (from the Online Etymology Dictionary)

I love etymology, finding out exactly how a word came into the lexicon, what its origins are. Few people today would relate fierce to being proud, noble, or bold. I think that more people are familiar with the colloquial definition of fierce: savage, intense, ferocious. I also believe that fierce is not a word traditionally associated with women, but in reality, I think that it’s a very apt description of many women, especially mothers.

Most mothers are fierce protectors of their offspring, whether human or other. But how many women would actually describe themselves as fierce? Politicians? Perhaps. Although I cannot think of many female politicians who I view as being fierce, at least not in the true sense. I do think that there is a crop of young women who are coming into their own who would willingly take on the mantle of being fierce. These young women know what they want, and they aren’t afraid to do what it takes to get it. I only hope that they learn to temper that fierceness with compassion.

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up . . . This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.” ~ Terence McKenna

Farmhouse in Rural France, by Joose J. Bakker (FCC; can be downloaded as wallpaper)

But what about the phrase moral imperative? For some people, that would translate as morality as prescribed by a religion. Not so for me.

I view my moral imperatives in life as being rather simplistic, if you will. I believe that I should—

  • Do no harm to others.
  • Protect those who need protection.
  • Be honest, honorable, and forthright.
  • Love freely, truly, and completely.
  • Stay true to myself, my beliefs.
  • Blame less and forgive more.
  • Know glitter for what it is.
  • Keep my expectations realistic.
  • Fight for what is right.
  • Use the Golden Rule.

Even though I think that these elements of my moral compass are all fairly straightforward, they are not always easy to adhere to, and it has taken me years to get to this point. Perhaps you are wondering what I mean by glitter . . . those things that appear to be beautiful on the outside but which are not necessarily beautiful on the inside, whether that is in a person, a place, or a thing.

I know that when I was younger, I would be taken in by the shiny and pretty—beautiful people, for example—only to find that inside there existed a deep ugliness. When I worked in northern Virginia, I remember becoming friends very quickly with a young man who had the most disarming smile. At first, I found him to be intriguing. That is until I realized that there was nothing underneath. He was one of the most shallow individuals that I have ever met. When I told him that he strutted like a peacock, he was actually insulted.

Youth.

“Nobody is going to pour truth in your brain. It’s something you have to find out yourself.” ~ Noam Chomsky

Dieulefit, Francy, by sammydavisdog (FCC)

As I’ve said before, women are conditioned to believe that they should make themselves affable, that they need to be liked by everyone. I have mentioned how when we returned from England I had such a hard time in my grade school: proper British accent, almond-shaped eyes, olive skin, funny name.

Oh how I wanted to have blonde hair and blue eyes and to be named Patty. I hated who I was, and I thought that no one would ever like the person I was. Conformity—that was the answer.

How can a child of seven or eight understand that it is our very differences that make us who we are, our differences that make us strong, our differences that teach us how to understand others? At that age, all that matters is that we are not different, not in any way. Different is bad. Difference doesn’t get your name called at recess for kickball. Different does not get you invited to birthday parties.

But different I was, and I knew it. At my very core, I knew that I was different. I would ride my bike to the library in the summer and stay for hours, pulling books of the shelves, flipping through them, deciding which four I would take home with me, for four was the maximum allowed. And then I would ride home, and I would immediately immerse myself in the pages. Other young girls in the summer joined softball teams or went to camp. Not me.

Certainly I had my friends, and we did the things that kids do: we went roller skating, and we built forts, and we played with Barbies. We put on music and pretended to be in bands, and we brushed each other’s hair. My friends didn’t care that I wasn’t named Patty, and after a while, neither did I.

Perhaps I reached a point at which I used my very otherness to my advantage.

“The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth” ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

St. Paul-de-Vence, France

In the past few years, I have actually encountered more than my share of individuals for whom truth is not a constant but rather a variable. What I mean is that for these people, truth was subjective, was dependent upon circumstances, was malleable.

This way of thinking baffles me. One woman I worked with truly believed that she was a victim, even though she went behind my back to my boss constantly, told tall tales that may have initially had a basis in truth but that truth had become so skewed that it was unrecognizable. This woman always had a crisis—with her son, with her husband, with her lover, with her lover’s girlfriend, with her health.

When she told me that her cancer had returned, I was overwhelmed with sadness for her. I offered to drive her places, bought her little presents to cheer her. Tried to be a friend to her. She stopped eating. She lost so much weight that she looked skeletal. Everything focused on her. I become so embroiled in her life and all of its problems that I found myself not eating. It was strange, weird, and definitely, not healthy.

It was not until my boss actually told me who had been talking about me that I faced the truth, the real, verifiable truth. It never occurred to me that my friend, this woman with whom I spoke all of the time on the telephone when I was not at work, that she was actually the one sabotaging me.

Need I say that things ended badly? A few years removed, and Corey, ever the voice of reason, asked me a question: Did she really have cancer? Was it possible that she had made up the whole thing.

I know. It’s a horrible thing to think, but the fact is that this woman was so delusional and felt such a need to control every situation that it is entirely within the realm of possibility that she made up the whole thing. The very thought sickens me.

I vowed that once I was away from that situation that I would be more discerning, that I would not accept readily things that I was being spoon fed. This decision has served me well, especially in the last six months or so, when I find that I am once again at odds with someone whose reality is continually shifting.

Truth should not be subjective. Reality may be subjective, dependent upon our roots, our families, our communities. Civil wars are viable proof that one person’s reality can be another person’s lie. But truth? That my friends, should be constant.

Whether or not we can accept truth as reality is another story.

More later. Peace.

Music by Glass Pear, “Say it Once”

                   

Adam’s Complaint

Some people,
no matter what you give them,
still want the moon.

The bread,
the salt,
white meat and dark,
still hungry.

The marriage bed
and the cradle,
still empty arms.

You give them land,
their own earth under their feet,
still they take to the roads.

And water: dig them the deepest well,
still it’s not deep enough
to drink the moon from.

~ Denise Levertov