Yesterday on this blog I celebrated Trinity’s 115th birthday, remembering the founding of Trinity on August 20, 1897 and saluting the courage and vision of the Sisters of Notre Dame who understood women’s right to education and equality in an age when women were treated as lesser beings, as the property of men, as incapable of great intellectual or physical feats.
We might think the biases against women and social prejudices of the 19th century are long over, completely refuted, buried in the graveyard of obvious historic mistakes.
Yesterday’s headlines are a painful reminder that women continue to suffer the most outrageous forms of discrimination, prejudice and downright mean-spirited oppression at the hands of arrogant, ignorant men who still wield considerable power over the lives, health and full human potential of women.
Representative Todd Akin’s comments about rape cannot be dismissed as a mere mistake, a simple slip of the tongue when he really meant to say something else. He said in a televised news interview in Missouri, where he is running against Claire McKaskill for the U.S. Senate seat, in reference to whether abortion should be permissible for a rape victim, “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.”
This was no mere malapropism. Sometimes people really do say what they really are thinking. Akin’s comments tore a gaping hole in the veil of deceit and obfuscation that masks so much of the political debates on women’s health issues and women’s rights. Appalling arrogance skips across oceans of ignorance about women’s physiology, psychology, responsibilities and fundamental liberties. Should men who apparently know nothing about women’s bodies be allowed to legislate the most intimate details of our physical being?
Even the most ardent pro-life advocates instantly recognized the dangerous nature of Akin’s ignorant remarks. Ignorance undermines the legislative agenda. The political quagmire of pro-life v. pro-choice is a struggle for power and control of decisions, a battle about rights and freedoms and who may ultimately exercise moral responsibilities. The pro-life side says that law should dictate moral choice when it comes to abortion. The pro-choice side says that law must respect the right of women to make the moral choice for themselves. Many people who are pro-choice still believe ardently that women should never choose abortion, but politicians should stay out of the decision. Many people who are pro-life reject the extremism that some anti-abortion advocates demonstrate. People of good will on both sides can find a great deal of common ground in the imperative of teaching about moral responsibility and the protection of life.
People of good will, however, rarely make headlines. Instead, politicians who have little respect for or understanding of the people for whom they are making decisions wield legislative power in ignorance and with arrogance. Akin’s comments might be dismissed as sheer nonsense but for the fact that he is standing for election for a U.S. Senate seat that could possibly alter the political balance of Congress for a long time. His responsibility, like that of all politicians, is to get the facts straight before he makes political decisions. His comments crystallize Americans’ skepticism about the ability of politicians to get it right.
Meanwhile, to the south, the solons of the Augusta National Golf Club are congratulating themselves mightily over their generosity and sheer modernity in “allowing” two women to join the formerly all-male golf club. How nice of them! We gals sure are grateful! Or are we?
Seriously, ladies, why should we be happy that men deign to “allow” just two carefully chosen women of power and wealth to play golf with them? Golf, itself, is blissful nonsense, but what goes on out on the links is very serious business. We should not be so quick to celebrate “victory” for simple justice. We can be happy and glad for Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore who are the trailblazers — the first women to wear the green jackets at Augusta. But let’s not forget that they are only there because men “allowed” them in.
Women still have a long way to go before equal rights are embedded in our culture and men’s consciousness not simply as a privilege to extend but as a fundamental way of life for all people throughout our society.