Gabby Douglas had me at the first release move. The gymnast who would become the breakout star of the 2012 Olympics wasn’t even officially part of the American Cup all-around competition in March. She was an alternate beside the more accomplished Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman, only allowed to show her routines to gain experience. But when I saw Gabby perform on bars, she launched herself into the air, higher than any woman has ever done, her ponytail sticking straight up as though reaching for the sky. By the time she came back to earth, I was a fan.
While the British and Ecuadorian governments continue to maneuver around each other over how to deal with Julian Assange—with each detail breathlessly described by journalists all over the world—one question continues to haunt me: Would any of this be happening if Assange faced charges of any other violent crime besides rape? Would Ecuador be offering him asylum if the Swedish government sought Assange for allegedly stabbing two men? Would so many liberal pundits be rushing to defend Assange if he was accused of getting drunk and running someone over with his car? Despite the deep abhorrence of rape all participants in this dispute claim to have, it doesn’t seem likely that they’d be defending Assange were he wanted for any violent crime other than rape.
Last night, I realized that God invented Twitter specifically so that political conventions would be entertaining to watch. Listening to the speeches last night while watching my Twitter feed was like watching it with a ballroom full of snarky friends, all rolling their eyes and emitting their one-liners.
So it’s the last week of the summer, and you’re one of the few in the office who hasn’t escaped for vacation, and the Republicans are failing their God-given duty to offer you some entertainment while you wait for things to speed up again? Some nerve they have! Here are some things to read, and not to read, while we wait for the balloons to start dropping.
(AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain)
Three days from now, in the hurricane-lashed hull of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, at the temporal cross coordinates of Congressman Todd Akin’s confession and the Republican Party’s communion, we’re finally going to see what’s truly mesmerized this white, middle-aged, male political conglomerate for the last two generations, and that’s the sexual freedom of women. The language has always been there, but until this presidential election it’s been lip service; next Monday, however, when the Republican platform is approved by the party’s convention, all the fear and loathing that women’s sexuality engenders will be splayed in the aisles before an electorate newly alerted to the party’s unforgiving position on abortion courtesy of Akin’s imprudence. The Akin vocabulary, and the platform’s, may be one of “abortion” and “rape,” but those words are symptoms of what really afflicts the party, which is the intolerable vision of women having sex on their own terms with impunity. This is what much of the anti-abortion movement detests and always has detested in the name of “life.”
Is marriage, at its heart, an institution that confines heterosexual sex and ensures that every child is born firmly tied to its biological parents, legally, economically, emotionally, and socially? Or is it an ever-changing institution, constantly battled over, whose rules change dramatically over the centuries? Do same-sex couples belong in the Western vision, because of the revolution in marriage law and philosophy over the past 150 years? Or would adding same-sex couples violate its core purpose? What is the purpose of sex? What's the purpose of civil marriage, as opposed to religious marriage?
About a month ago, news outlets reported on a truly horrific crime. Charlie Rogers, a former women’s basketball star with the University of Nebraska, told police that three masked men entered her home, tied her up, and carved anti-gay slurs into her skin.
I didn’t say anything about it then. Neither did other LGBT bloggers, like AmericaBlog's John Aravosis, who wrote, “It smelled funny to me.” Sure enough, it now appears that she faked the attack. FromUSA Today:
If you've ever read an article about a gay marriage ballot initiative, you've almost certainly seen an anti-marriage-equality advocate proclaim confidently that every time the question has been on the ballot, "traditional marriage" has won, and this time will be no different. That isn't precisely true—in 2006, Arizona voters rejected an initiative that would have banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions—but very nearly so. Ballot initiatives have banned same-sex marriage in 32 states over the last 15 years, so the "traditional" marriage side has some reason to gloat. But this fall, that run of success could come to a screeching halt. There are four marriage initiatives on the ballot in November, and at the moment it looks very possible, even likely, that on election night three more states will allow all their citizens to marry. We may well have reached an electoral turning point.
It has been a very good couple of years for advocates of gay rights. The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was repealed in 2011 (and the resulting catastrophe of morale predicted by conservatives failed to materialize, to no one's surprise). After a long period of "evolving," President Obama came out in support of marriage equality in May. This year's Democratic Party platform will for the first time include a provision pledging support for marriage equality. Nevertheless, 32 states still have discrimination written into their laws or state constitutions.
Oh, what excitement we’re having for a slow August! (One of my editors, frustrated that no one would return his calls, once called these two weeks “the dead of summer.”) First we learned that Representative Todd Akin believes women have magical powers to repel a rapist's sperm from our uteri—and the underlying ideas that, as Lindsay Beyerstein yesterday delineated so crisply, "forcible rape is the only real rape" and "women habitually lie about rape," which she notes are two sides of the same coin.
(AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove)
If you haven't been worn down reading about Todd Akin's bizarre and ignorant views about the female reproductive system, now turn to Texas, where women's uteruses may soon have to move out of state to find health care. Late Tuesday night, a federal court of appeals ruled that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which provides basic preventative care—like birth control and cancer screenings—for low-income women. The decision has terrifying implications in a state where women's access to health care is already poor.
Honestly, some days I can’t tell real news from The Onion. Representative Todd Akin’s staggering comment on Sunday about the female body’s amazing ability to reject unwanted sperm actually made my jaw drop. If only it didn’t represent what so many people believe, as Amanda Marcotte explained so clearly here yesterday. The good news is that it flushed those beliefs out into the open. As she said, it’s not a gaffe; it’s an insight into the anti-choice movement’s distrust of women and its ignorance of science.
The pragmatic Republican establishment (despite the Tea Party, there still is one) is frantic to jettison Representative Todd Akin’s toxic comments on conception and rape, and to quarantine the scientifically-challenged congressman.
Much of the commentary has been about how Akin’s clumsiness connects to Republican vulnerability on other issues important to women. But this raises a larger question: Why is the Republican lunatic position politically toxic only on this particular issue?
The recent attack on the conservative Family Research Council (FRC) by a man who volunteered at an LGBT center in Washington, D.C. has prompted renewed calls for civility in public discourse. A raft of conservative bloggers and the FRC itself have called on groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled the FRC as a "hate group," to tone down their rhetoric. Perhaps the most prominent voice trying to get the right and left to get along is the Washington Post's Dana Milbank:
Since yesterday morning, political conversation has been dominated by the comments of Todd Akin, a (formerly) obscure Missouri congressman and Republican candidate for Senate. "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told local reporters, explaining his absolute opposition to abortion, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
And if these natural defenses fail? “Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something,” Akin said. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
If you’re going to slander the estimated 32,000 women a year who become pregnant after being raped, it’s probably not wise to do it on a Sunday, when it will lead the next week’s news coverage. Republican nominee for Missouri Senate Todd Akin chose not to follow this bit of wisdom, instead declaring in a television interview yesterday that women can’t get pregnant from rape.
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”