A small group of women, who call themselves Missouri Women Standing with Todd Akin (MWSTA), have banded together to support the embattled Republican senate candidate. The Guardian had an article about them last week, Todd Akin’s female army: “We want to stand with him.” (If I were in a more cynical mood, I’d say the “want” in that sentence is just proper feminine modesty and deference. To say “We stand with him” would be a bit unladylike, wouldn’t it? So aggressive.)
The Guardian says that “what [MWSTA] share the most with Akin is strong belief in God, and what unites them is their unshakable pro-life views.” One thing that struck me in this and other articles about MWSTA, and in a YouTube video they made, is the astounding amount of doublespeak and the acrobatic ways they have of saying nothing.
Linda Becker, a spokeswoman for MWSTA, provides the best example of doublespeak (here and below, all emphasis is mine):
Asked how she reconciles these beliefs [Akin's belief that the government doesn't have a right to interfere in healthcare] with Akin’s belief that the government should have a say in what women choose to do with their bodies, she said: “There is a real war on women today because of pornography and abuse. I don’t think anyone is trying to tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.”
The one solid issue I could find in these articles is their opposition to abortion. After that it very quickly gets muddled and hazy. They talk about “women’s issues” but struggle to define them in a realistic way; the video features women talking about their work or small businesses or their concerns for the economy, but they avoid anything concrete. They bring up issues and let them hang in our mind’s eye, hoping we will assume that Akin will help bring the national debt under control and do something about human trafficking. But they do no more than that.
They frequently resort to personal platitudes. “Such a nice family, his wife and his whole family” . . . “really liked Todd as a person” . . . “he has an understanding of [women's issues]” . . . “a man of principle, a man of faith” . . . “Todd is a defender of quality of life” . . . “he’s an honest person, highly respected in the community, a man of integrity.”
I do not doubt that they sincerely like him and support him. But they say almost nothing substantial, coherent, and logical in his defense.
The Back Handspring: Akin’s Support for Women
Heather Kesselring, MWSTA’s assistant director, who has known Akin for decades, says, “We know he supports women’s issues and we want to stand with him.”
Kelly Burrell follows the same line:
“Knowing him and knowing his two daughters, he absolutely has a heart for women. I know him and his family. You get a glimpse into someone’s soul. He is a man of principle, a man of faith.”
Burrell, who has two daughters, once had an abortion, which she now deeply regrets.
Asked about whether, having had the choice herself, [Burrell] would vote to remove that choice for others, she said she wished the choice had not been there at the time. . . .
“I have spent the past few years regretting that the choice was in existence,” she said. Burrell insists Akin wants the best for women.
MWSTA posted a YouTube video featuring a number of women praising Akin and explaining why they support him. At around 4:36 Kelly Burrell begins speaking about Akin’s anti-abortion stance. She says:
Having had an abortion, I realize that Todd is advocating for women. And it breaks my heart that women think that choice is the answer, because it was such a temporary situation—my emotions and my thoughts and my feelings at the time—and it’s a permanent solution that I can’t take back. And Todd is advocating for women, so that in the future, women don’t have to do what I have to do, and that’s grieve every year.
These are strange and wonderful acrobatics.
Akin and his ilk frequently argue that life begins at conception and that, regardless of how a woman (or girl) gets pregnant, the embryo/fetus should have full human rights. (In the Guardian article, regarding a pregnancy resulting from rape, Kesselring says, “Often the focus has been in terms of the life of the victim. But if there is an abortion, the baby is a victim too.”)
But after a clever back handspring with a double twist, eliminating the option of an abortion is now “what’s best for women.” Forget the fetus—they’re concerned about the welfare of the woman. Presumably this is alluding to the so-called post-abortion syndrome, the supposed psychological damage abortion does to women—despite the fact that the American Psychological Association has found no increase in mental health problems in women who have an abortion. (No one doubts that some women regret having an abortion; that is not a reason to deny all women the choice.)
But despite all of their concern for the mental health of women who might have abortions, they vault ever so lightly over is what would happen to the mental health of those women who don’t want to be pregnant, but who would be forced to carry the fetuses to term if abortion were outlawed. Any of those women (and teenaged and preteen girls) might suffer depression, distress, and even (especially if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest) sheer psychological torment during and after the pregnancy. But there is not a word said about how the lack of a choice to end the pregnancy is “best” for them.
Probably because the main point is not what is best for women. It’s about preserving the life of the fetus–regardless of the woman’s experience.
What’s “Best for Women” Redux
Since Akin and his supporters are intentionally vague about how unwanted pregnancy and childbirth is “best for women,” we get to speculate. If they want to come clean and speak honestly, they’re welcome to do so.
Personally, I wonder if there is–close to the heart of Akin’s “what’s best for women”—the belief that you see in some forms of Christianity that women are made to be mothers, period. Anything that pulls women away from motherhood is “harmful to women.”
In a Fort Wayne News-Sentinel article, one woman has the guts to be specific about it.
Judy Shaw, who was praying at the Fort Wayne abortion clinic on a recent Thursday morning, would agree with the statement that there is a “war on women,” but not as that phrase is commonly perceived.
“I believe that a woman’s gift from God is to be a mother and caretaker,” she said. “I think it’s just in us, the need to nurture.”
Shaw believes President Obama “has evil intentions against women” because he is pro-choice and pro-birth control. To Shaw, the president is pushing things on women that are harmful to their very being.
Is this part of it? When they say that Akin “has a heart for women,” “wants the best for women,” and “supports women’s issues,” is it partly just that he wants to eliminate abortion so more of us will have more kids. Is it because he believes women = mothers?
The Conservative Triple Pike
Another popular move in the talk about the “war on women” is the introduction of pornography and such issues:
“As women we have a message, in this ‘war on women’ that has been declared,” said Heather Kesselring, of St. Louis, one of the speakers at the event. . . . The real war on women “is pornography, it is sex trafficking, it is abortion.”
In the YouTube video linked to above, Robyn Hessing says
And there are a lot of women’s issues where women are under attack. One of those areas would be pornography, one would be sex trafficking, depression in women, there are a lot of things that take away from a woman’s dignity, and Todd understands that, he has an understanding of that.
Unfortunately, Todd Akin’s congressional website shows very little action on either pornography or human trafficking. There are likely a number of reasons for this. First, there is the fact that most porn is legal in the United States. And human trafficking is notoriously difficult to address. It is indeed a horrific thing, and we should do what we can to eliminate it, but it’s difficult to get any solid information on the scope of human trafficking, let alone combat it successfully.
But this raises a problem: Two of the major “women’s issues” in a US senatorial election are porn and human trafficking? Really?
No. Of course not. But Akin and his acolytes cannot say what they really mean by any of this. There’s only so much they can say about banning abortion and many forms of contraceptives. They likely have enough sense to know they can’t dwell on women being forced to continue pregnancies they do not want, forced to go through childbirth against their will. But they have to say something.
So Akin and his hangers-on twist and leap and shimmy around the issue, dragging out anything they hope will distract us from whatever it is they are avoiding.
Miscellaneous Other Wobbly Backflips and Clumsy Landings
First: Falls off Balance Beam
In the YouTube video linked to above, the first two speakers, who both work in medical fields, complain about the paperwork and bureaucracy of healthcare. This seems to be a swipe at Obamacare (one mentions the threat of “more government control”), but since vast stacks of paperwork have been a problem for decades, their argument isn’t clear. Are they suggesting that Akin will somehow do away with paperwork? Do they want us to believe that the paperwork at hospitals and private health insurance companies will magically go away if Obamacare is destroyed? Are they saying that the Affordable Care Act will exponentially increase the paperwork associated with treating an individual patient? Do they really believe that it is better to deny affordable insurance to people with preexisting conditions (though I guess that would cut down on paperwork)?
Second: Steps Outside the Boundary of the Floor Exercise
Another speaker, a young woman looking forward to casting her first vote this November, explains that she grew up mostly in a Russian orphanage and was adopted by an American family seven years ago. She says:
In Russia, you weren’t able to get your groceries. You had to tell the person behind the—there was like a big window—and you had to tell them what you wanted, and you would pay, and they would give it to you. . . . [unintelligible] seen what it’s like to be in a socialist country and have nothing and not being able to make your own choices and have government do everything for you.
Now, first of all, if she was adopted seven years ago, that would have been around 2005, over a decade after the end of communism in Russia. After watching the video, I checked out the Google Images page for “supermarkets in Russia.” They look a lot like American supermarkets. This young woman seems to be talking about what was like under the old Soviet Union in the 1970s or 1980s or something. What has that got to do with anything? Does anyone with a working brain actually believe that the United States is going to turn into a version of the 1970s Soviet Union?
Third: Lands on Ass
Other speakers in the video mention the economy and the national debt. Mentioning this seems to imply that Akin will help fix it. But Akin has been in Congress since 2001, during which time he “brought back earmarks to his district, voted to raise the debt ceiling, voted for off-balance-sheet wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and voted to create the unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit.” He also voted in favor of making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
Two of the devastating blows to the national debt were the war in Iraq and the Bush tax cuts, both which Akin voted for. Akin helped create the debt we’re saddled with. Or, as some people like to say these days: “he built that.” And now they want people to trust him to fix it?
Bonus Round: Misses the Vault Entirely, but the Glittery Costume Is Fantatic
In the photo in Guardian article, the women (with one exception) are dressed entirely or partly in white. This was intentional. They chose to wear white because white “shows who you are.”
That pretty much sums up the problem. White “shows who you are.” What the hell does that mean? They want to support Akin, they want to say something that will bring others over to Akin’s side, and they end up saying . . . something.
Is the white clothing supposed to symbolize purity? Virtue? Does yellow or green or red or black clothing somehow not “show who you are”? Are polka dots or stripes somehow deceptive? Or is this a Christian dog whistle: Does it have something to do with white’s association with the “righteous deeds of saints” in the New Testament (e.g., Rev. 19:8)? Is this one of those things they want to talk about but can’t say out loud? I really don’t know. Because they aren’t speaking honestly and openly about it. (Or, perhaps, they’re just blathering mindlessly.)
Interesting Acrobatic Moves, but They Say Nothing
In the end, the Missouri Women Standing with Todd Akin have virtually nothing coherent and substantial to say.
Akin wants to eliminate abortion. They’re for that, and they ignore the problems that that would entail for many women and girls.
I have yet to find anything they say in favor of Akin that does not fall flat.