Rape, Patriarchy and the Bomb
Robert C. Koehler
"Every sperm is sacred . . ."
But wait, there's more. "But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something," the
This is where I heard the bell toll. He hypothesizes that the rape is "legitimate" but the woman manages to get pregnant anyway. So punish the rapist, he says, not "the child" (i.e., embryo) by, presumably, allowing it to be aborted. Who hovers in utter irrelevancy in this scenario? The woman. She's no more than a fertile medium for the rapist's "child" and has no say in what should happen next.
"Every sperm is great. If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate," goes the Monty Python send-up.
Akin's words brought the good old days -- that is, most of recorded history -- back to life. Rape was once a property crime. Under patriarchal law, the victim was the husband or father, who suffered a loss of value when his wife or daughter was sexually violated. "Given this entrenched historical and cultural legacy,"
This era is far from over. Only in the last few generations has patriarchal certitude about gender been seriously challenged. When I was growing up, the expression "it's a man's world" still masqueraded as common sense. Not only did males have more basic rights and privileges, but most of them thoughtlessly exuded an attitude that equated "female" qualities (nurturing, love, empathy) with weakness.
We still live in the world this mindset has created. The changes over the last 50 years have been largely on the surface; that is, women have more access to society's institutions -- politics, the military, the corporate boardroom -- but, for the most part, the institutions themselves haven't undergone the revolutionary transformation Whisnant spoke of. Their focus remains power and dominance. And in this realm, men rule.
For instance, women now constitute 14 percent of the U.S. military, the ultimate preserve of macho, phallus-centered culture.
A consciousness of power over others permeates military culture, and women who succeed in this culture must adapt to it. In a Bloomberg Businessweek story last month, retired Navy Rear Admiral
The instructors "have complete control over these kids," she said, adding: "and it's important that they do. But it's possible to get somebody in there who takes that too far."
It's not just possible. It's inevitable.
An extraordinary insight into this can be found in a 1987 essay by Dr.
Cohn, who spent a summer studying with nuclear weapons scientists, became fascinated with the sexual and reproductive imagery that permeated discussion of the bomb. The successful Trinity test in the
Most tellingly of all, Cohn explained that, to defense intellectuals, nuclear disarmament equaled "emasculation." Thus, "how could any real man even consider it?"
A patriarchal, dominance-obsessed sexuality permeates the most deeply entrenched institutions of American society. Values are changing, but opposition to it is fierce, because for many of those committed to the fixed beliefs of the past, change -- which includes women's rights, indeed, their full humanity -- is a loss of raw power. For some, the unconscious metaphor for this is emasculation.
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