Friday, October 26, 2012

The one who mounts

In Eumenides, the final play of his Oresteia trilogy, Aeschylus brings on the god Apollo to free Orestes from the burden of guilt he has carried since killing his mother Klytemnestra.  (He had no choice after she killed his father, her husband Agamemnon.)  Apollo drives off the Furies with these words:

Here is the truth, I tell you -- see how right I am.
The woman you call the mother of the child
is not the parent, just a nurse to the seed,
the new-sown seed that grows and swells inside her.
The man is the source of life -- the one who mounts.
She, like a stranger for a stranger, keeps
the shoot alive unless god hurts the roots.

   (translated by Robert Fagles)

It's easy to understand why this theory of procreation obtained in the ancient world:  Semen is visible to the naked eye, but centuries would pass before anyone saw a human ovum.  Now we know that men and women are equal contributors to the genetic makeup of their children, knowledge which brings a thicket of legal issues from viability to parental rights to the odd notion that women should control their own bodies just as men do.  This last seems to be particularly frightening to fundamentalists of all kinds.

Last summer the experts predicted that the 2012 presidential election would be a referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage, still legal in only a handful of states and the District of Columbia, one of those Kulturkampf bugle-calls that have the power to stir up voters.  By way of illustration, the television "news" showed video of citizens lining up to participate in a homophobic promotion announced by a chain of chicken restaurants, patiently waiting to sample the Buffalo hate wings.  This was meant to spell doom for Barack Obama, who supports same-sex marriage, and the inevitable election of anyone who doesn't.   Well, it's late October and no one has even mentioned same-sex marriage for at least two months, partly because the Republicans, with incomparable stupidity, have turned the election into a referendum on rape.

I thought this had been settled long ago.  Rape is illegal in all the states and the District of Columbia, and in such outposts of the empire as Guam and American Samoa.  Rape is also illegal in every country in the world.  Nobody is in favor of rape except rapists,. who must have been bemused to find themselves getting support from the family values party.   I know I was.  "Bemused" may not be the right word.

The latest chapter in the GOP's long divorce from reality began a few weeks ago, when their Senate candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin, explained why his party's platform has a "no abortions-no exceptions" plank.  Republican "moderates" believe abortion should be allowed in cases of incest or rape, or when the health of the woman would be endangered, but not Akin, who has enriched our language with the phrase "legitimate rape."  In such cases, he says, pregnancy cannot occur because "the woman's body has ways of shutting that whole thing down" (that he was quoting some doctor is even more disturbing).  The only women who need abortions are not victims at all, but sluts who allege rape in order to force their insurance companies to pay for abortions, or for the "morning after" pill if they can find a pharmacist enlightened enough to fill the prescription.  (Many refuse, and guess what?  The Roberts Court says that's just fine.)  False rape reporting, like voter fraud, is one of those phantom menaces that only Rightzi paranoids can perceive; in the real world, rape is under-reported because most victims are unwilling to face the ordeal they know they will be put through, especially if the case comes to trial.

It turns out that Akin represents the lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe.  His fellow Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana is willing to concede that rape can result in pregnancy, but when it does it's "god's will" and the victim can just lump it.  Again, no abortion, no exception, amen.  A soundbite that outrageous was guaranteed  more airplay than Prince William's wedding, but I'm still waiting for someone to ask Mourdock (and Mitt Romney, who filmed an enthusiastic commercial for him) the obvious questions -- the place, if you like, where issues of economy and taxation slam into notions of morality..  What are your plans for the unwanted babies who will result from these rapes?  A few women may choose to raise these constant reminders of the crime, but I suspect most will not.  Will your Department of Health establish a chain of orphanages, hiring thousands of people to care for the children while thousands of others investigate prospective adoptive parents?  What will the additional expense do to your promise to liquidate the Cheney-Bush deficit?  Does this means the rich will have to pay taxes after all?  Have you checked with Grover Norquist, the Koch brothers, Donald Trump, and all the other moochers who think they should continue to fatten off this country without paying for its functions?  Why am I talking to the insane as if their answers would make sense?  And Akin and Mourdock are only the beginning:  there are dozens of Republican candidates (and some Democrats, and even some women) who share their views on "personhood," the granting of Constitutional rights to zygotes.  We're through the looking glass, people, which is not surprising when you remember that we're dealing with the Mad Tea Party.  How about enforced ultrasounds for women seeking abortions?  From the party that wants to get the government off our backs and into our wombs.*

If these troglodytes are elected -- at the national level, they already control many of the states -- we will return not to the good old days before Roe .v. Wade, but to Athens in the fifth century BCE.  Women will be flowerpots where men plant their seed, with or without consent, and the Uterine Police will make sure they remember to water and weed until the little miracle is born.  After that, I'm willing to bet, the state will lose interest.  It's the will of god (Apollo?), so let him take care of them.

*In Communist Romania, women of child-bearing age were required to report for monthly medical exams to determine if they were, or had been, pregnant.  This was not for religious reasons, obviously, but because the state made money selling unwanted babies to adoptive parents in other countries.  Not all of them, unfortunately -- thousands led wretched lives in Dickensian orphanages.  It is grimly amusing to contemplate right-wing Christians walking in the footsteps of a Communist dictatorship.     




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