Guest post from Deborah Newell Tornello aka @litbrit, cross-posted from LitBrit, where it first appeared.
On Friday evening, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul spoke to CNN’s Piers Morgan about his views on abortion.
Ron Paul does not, himself, have a uterus, and although he was once a practicing OB/Gyn, he cannot speak with any personal experience whatsoever when it comes to the matters of pregnancy and childbirth. Nonetheless, Paul held forth on what he feels we women should be permitted to do when faced with the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy. Specifically, an unplanned pregnancy resulting from rape.
I’m still having trouble getting my head around Paul’s jaw-dropping words, so let me just quote him directly, and then I’ll try my hand at parsing this utterly ridiculous statement:
“If it’s an honest rape, that individual should go immediately to the emergency room, I would give them a shot of estrogen.”
Setting aside the obvious sexism inherent in telling women what to do with their own bodies, one thing that jumped out at me was Paul’s exceedingly callous use of the term “that individual” and the ungrammatical use of the gender-neutral pronoun “them”. An individual who has been raped and who might then be concerned about having been impregnated by the rapist is by definition a woman. Yet Paul does not say “woman”; he says “that individual”, effectively disappearing an entire sex. The female sex. The very sex that goes through pregnancy and childbirth; the very sex that is disproportionately represented among rape victims (RAINN notes that in 2003, 9 of every 10 rape victims were female.) I’ll put on my English teacher’s hat for a moment and note that while the mistaken use of the neutral plural pronouns they, their, and them for a singular subject of unknown gender–as opposed to he or she, his or hers, and him or her–has become so commonplace in casual speaking as to be accepted in all but the most formal expressions of language, English does indeed provide gender-specific pronouns for use when the subject or object is unquestionably female. As a rape victim facing a potential pregnancy will invariably be.
Yes, it’s easily dismissed as a slip of the tongue, but I submit that this odd, distancing use of the words “that individual” and “them” is rather telling. It smacks of the phrase those people. In other words, not us, but them. The Others. The people who are not like me; the people to whom I do not relate.
Let’s look at the next telling part of Paul’s statement now. The part where he helpfully orders that individual–excuse me, the raped and possibly impregnated woman in question–to go directly to the emergency room. As rape victims will sadly confirm, when you’ve been raped, you’ll most likely be non compos mentis–not in a clear, organized state of mind (if indeed you are lucky to even be awake, as many rapes take place after the rapist drugs his victim or physically renders her unconscious). Does Paul truly believe that every rape victim can and will go straight to the hospital? As my friend Valerie so succinctly put it in our Facebook discussion yesterday:
“Yes, everybody who’s just been raped instantly feels fresh, energetic, and present of mind enough to haul ass down to the ER and ask for an ‘estrogen shot’.”
Again, Paul’s words display a staggering disregard for people who are not Ron Paul. And a complete lack of understanding and sympathy for victims of a crime that Paul, purely by dint of his gender and socioeconomic status, is unlikely to have experienced himself.
But the most abominable element of Paul’s statement about What We Raped Women Must Do–the bit that’s unsurprisingly garnering the most attention and negative press–is the phrase “honest rape”.
Again, I must turn to my love of language here, because I believe that by examining word choices and the manner in which a person frames a concept, we can discover a great deal about his or her character, motivation, and general goodness (or lack thereof).
What an extraordinarily awful phrase that is. Paul was probably trying to say something to the effect of “a bona fide case of rape, that is, sexual assault as opposed to consensual sex”–and this attitude is of course imbued with its own awfulness along with no small amount of definitional ambiguity–but that is not what he said. He said honest rape. Implying that there are rapes that aren’t honest, because women lie. Implying that some rapes, at least, are not “honest” ones–they’re dishonest rapes: fabrications, or else stories made up by women who had unprotected sex that they now regret. [Those dirty sluts.]
And it further implies that he, a white male conservative who’s apparently crowned himself King and Ruler of American Uteri (and knower of what’s best for us) will want you to meet his standard–his personal definition of having been Honestly Raped–if you show up in his emergency room. Will you need to be bruised and bleeding before he’ll let you have that “estrogen shot”? (Note to Dr. Paul: there is a safe, effective, simple-to-take medication available to women nowadays–it’s called Levonorgestrel, aka “the morning-after pill”, or Plan B.) What if your rapist drugged you, meaning you were unconscious during the crime and thus have no outer bruising or lacerations from trying to fight back? What if you couldn’t or wouldn’t fight back because, oh, I don’t know, perhaps you were threatened with being killed? Perhaps the rapist held a weapon to your head? Perhaps other rapists held you down?
What about cases of incest, where the victim not only knows her rapist but is related to him?
What about date rape, where the victim knows her rapist and was unfortunate to be in the near vicinity when he somehow forgot the meaning of the word NO? Is that an “honest rape” or not, Dr. Paul?
I keep coming to the same conclusion I always reach: anti-choicers simply do not see women as fully human–as people–and they do not trust us to make the right choice for our own health; our own private, personal bodies; our own futures.
If these obdurate, pandering, uterus-free politicians had any sense or sensibility, they would just say, “I’m a man, so it’s really not my decision to make, is it? Let’s leave it at that, Piers/Wolf/whoever,” and keep their opinions about abortion, sincere or not, to themselves.
Because–honestly–it really isn’t any business of theirs.