Wednesday, September 26, 2012

VIDEO: 3 Minutes That'll Horrify You, Then Make You Want To Dance

One billion women across the globe will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes. That's a really depressing statistic. So on the 15th anniversary of V-Day, Feb. 14, 2013, the One Billion Rising campaign is inviting one billion women (and those who love them) to stand up and dance — to DEMAND an end to violence against women. It's an invitation to woman and men to put an end to the status quo, it's an act of solidarity, and it's a refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given. On Feb. 14, I'll be dancing with a billion other people. Will you?
Trigger Warning: Uh, pretty much all of them in the first minute and a half. Jump to 1:30 for the inspirational, wonderful, chill-inducing, and empowering stuff.

I am Tired of Competing with Other Women


It’s exhausting. I wish there were a more complex way to phrase the sense of drained sadness that I feel about the biting competition that is palpable between women, a word that would perhaps do more nuanced justice to all of the social dynamics at play, but there isn’t. The truth is, being ground down daily by the claustrophobic feeling of intense, permanent, ugly competition with every woman around me leaves me feeling like I just want to lay down and stop acknowledging the world — like it isn’t worth my time or effort. More than almost anything else in my daily life, this competition fatigues my spirit and makes me long, in the face of bitter jealousy or judgment, to crumple up and give another woman a resigned hug of “It’s okay, we don’t have to fight.”

There is no secret about how tough women can be on one another. The viciousness we reserve for judgment about each other’s lifestyles, views, manner of dress, or mere existence is well-catalogued, echoed by every woman who ever proudly stated that she has “more guy friends, because they don’t start drama.” I think most women can safely say that, though they have likely experienced criticism or disdain from people of all gender presentations in their lives, it was usually another woman who let forth the most damaging venom. Speaking personally, while I have fielded nasty comments from a variety of people about my work (comments that often strangely tiptoe into a personal life about which they know nothing), there was a certain note of glee in many of my fellow women who seemed eager, almost giddy, to be taking me down. Women who, from across Twitter, or in my email, would call me things like “gross,” “ugly,” “a cunt,” or simply “#ewww.” Aside from the strict criticism of my writing, or my mere existence, there was a sense of placing me lower on some invisible ladder so as to push themselves farther up by comparison.

And I am far from innocent in this department. I know, if I am being honest with myself, that my harshest judgments and strictest standards are almost always reserved for other women, by reflex that I often cannot realize until I am mid-snark. Over the past year or so, I have made an active decision to be less critical of other women, and to never involve things like their physical appearance or manner of dress into analyses of their work or personality. But the removal of the knee-jerk “good woman/bad woman” is just that: an active un-learning every day of the kind of viciousness we are imbued with, this false idea that we are all competing for some kind of perfection of which we can only have a certain amount — that a woman doing better than us means we are inherently doing worse.

This idea that a woman is meant to represent all women to some degree, that another woman doing something I personally disagree with immediately means that the entire world now looks at me through the prism of her actions, is something that simply colors the world we live in. Few things make me cringe harder than a feminist article that goes in ruthlessly on another woman, seeming to take a hand-wringing kind of satisfaction in denigrating her in as public a forum as possible — all under the guise of “doing this for other women.” It’s the premise that, because she has somehow “betrayed” other women by doing or saying something that you don’t like, it is now your duty to “take her down” or “call her out,” making sure to deride not just her statements or actions, but her existence as a person daring to share the same world as you. Luckily, in the article I linked, many women in the comment section took issue with some of the more “middle-school bathroom” language used to put the subject of the article down, but reading the piece alone, one is left feeling as though Regina George herself might have left it on the cutting room floor of her Burn Book.

The feeling of competition — for jobs, for men, for good apartments, for a relative judgment of “success” by your peers — is one that invades every space we have, sometimes even ones that are meant to be “feminist.” It is clear that, because our opportunities are still somewhat limited in certain arenas, it is ingrained in us to feel as though we are gladiators in some kind of colosseum of young adulthood, fighting for the positions that are open to us. It is hard to break free of what we have been taught and begin to view success and happiness as something that we can expand in achieving it for ourselves. Instead, we are all perpetually fighting for the last slice of an invisible pie, ready to throw one another under the bus at a moment’s notice to move up a single space in the line.

Our physical appearances, and the premium placed on them by society, are surely an enormous part of this fight, too. We are taught since we can begin to comprehend the world around us that a huge part of our success and worth in life is based on how beautiful we are and — perhaps more importantly — how beautiful we are in comparison to other women. Although it is sad to consider, it’s relevant to note that since I have begun writing for public consumption, almost every single negative comment I have received about my looks have been from other women. One young woman even told me that I “needed to use moisturizer,” a comment I found strangely productive for an insult. (Though it was still hard to swallow, given the problems I’ve had with my skin since I was a little girl.) It seemed as though, because was now some kind of “fair game” based on an opinion or piece of work I had done, all of the vicious things that we women harbor against one another are free to come flowing out, no longer restrained under the guise of “being polite” or “supportive.” And I, too, have had to fight back judgments about other women’s appearances. I constantly struggle with the instinct to place a certain amount of their worth on how they present themselves physically. It’s a game that none of us are immune too, that only shows its full sting and absurdity when inflicted upon you.

I have hate-read women’s blogs before, I have felt deeply angry that a woman I didn’t feel was “talented” or “worthy” enough was getting success or recognition. Sure, there are male hacks who I think aren’t deserving of their achievements, but they don’t fundamentally bother me the way a woman doing the same thing might. I feel a wave of guilt after watching a show like The Real Housewives or Gallery Girls because so much of their interest is in finding a woman to hate, in putting their worst qualities under a magnifying glass, and exploiting their already-crippling pressure to feel in competition with each other in order to extract a juicy fight or venomous insult. These women — thin, wealthy, conventionally attractive — are reduced to animals in a cage when put in such direct comparison with one another, told they have to hate one another to be relevant, and plied with alcohol and cameras. There is a very clear taunting of the women on the programs, and yet I often feel that I can’t look away, that I cannot help but fall in line with whoever Andy Cohen clearly wants me to think is a “bitch” this week.

That caged feeling, the feeling that we’re all confined to a small space in which we have to fight for attention, for approval, for love, for recognition — it is that, more than anything, which is so exhausting. It is having to navigate a smaller world within the actual world, an entire universe filled with nothing but the barely-veneered bitterness women are almost required to hold against one another. It is as though the only real survival mechanism is creating a small circle of women with whom you are entirely comfortable, open, and yourself — a circle from within which you can view the rest of the world. Sure, we have our best girlfriends, but how many nights with them have been peppered with gossip or judgments about women who were not a part of that small circle? How many nasty things have we allowed ourselves to say, to think, to wish? And, more importantly, why? Why do we give into a system which we know is so unhealthy?

The only thing I can really think to say on the issue is that I’m sorry. I wish, sometimes, that I could take every other woman in the world and give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek and tell her that she is beautiful, that she has nothing to prove to me. I have held women to standards that were unreasonable or unfair, and I have disliked them for failing to live up to them. But, in all honesty, nearly everything I’ve ever disliked in another woman is, to some degree, something I dislike in myself. And even if there is a fair criticism to make about another woman (and there are plenty, we are not perfect), the nails that dug in just perhaps a centimeter deeper than they would have on a man were petty, and bitter, and motivated only by that cage we are all somewhat stuck in. We all know what that cage looks like, and why we’re in it. If we could only start edging towards the door, where there is enough room for every woman to be her own person without impinging on another woman’s existence, we might never have to feel this exhausted again.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Not Wanting Kids Is Entirely Normal

Why the ingrained expectation that women should desire to become parents is unhealthy


In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off at a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.

Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.

The Nebraska state government, realizing the tremendous mistake it had made, held a special session of the legislature to rewrite the law in order to add an age limitation. Governor Dave Heineman said the change would "put the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services."

One father dropped off his entire family.

On November 21, 2008, the last day that the safe haven law was in effect for children of all ages, a mother from Yolo County, California, drove over 1,200 miles to the Kimball County Hospital in Nebraska where she left her 14-year-old son.

What happened in Nebraska raises the question: If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids? After all, child abandonment is nothing new and it's certainly not rare in the United States. Over 400,000 children are in the foster care system waiting to be placed in homes, thousands of parents relinquish their children every year. One woman even sent her adopted child back to his home country with an apology letter pinned like a grocery list to his chest. Whether it's because of hardship or not, many Americans are giving up on parenthood.

In February 2009, someone calling herself Ann logged onto the website Secret Confessions and wrote three sentences: "I am depressed. I hate being a mom. I also hate being a stay at home mom too!" Over three years later, the thread of comments is still going strong with thousands of responses -- the site usually garners only 10 or so comments for every "confession." Our anonymous Ann had hit a nerve.

One woman who got pregnant at 42 wrote, "I hate being a mother too. Every day is the same. And to think I won't be free of it until I am like 60 and then my life will be over." Another, identifying herself only as k'smom, said, "I feel so trapped, anxious, and overwhelmed. I love my daughter and she's well taken care of but this is not the path I would have taken given a second chance."

Gianna wrote, "I love my son, but I hate being a mother. It has been a thankless, monotonous, exhausting, irritating and oppressive job. Motherhood feels like a prison sentence. I can't wait until I am paroled when my son turns 18 and hopefully goes far away to college." One D.C.-based mom even said that although she was against abortion before having her son, now she would "run to the abortion clinic" if she got pregnant again.

The responses -- largely from women who identify themselves as financially stable -- spell out something less explicit than well-worn reasons for parental unhappiness such as poverty and a lack of support. These women simply don't feel that motherhood is all it's cracked up to be, and if given a second chance, they wouldn't do it again.

Some cited the boredom of stay-at-home momism. Many complained of partners who didn't shoulder their share of child care responsibilities. "Like most men, my husband doesn't do much -- if anything -- for baby care. I have to do and plan for everything," one mother wrote. A few got pregnant accidentally and were pressured by their husbands and boyfriends to carry through with the pregnancy, or knew they never wanted children but felt it was something they "should" do.

The overwhelming sentiment, however was the feeling of a loss of self, the terrifying reality that their lives had been subsumed into the needs of their child. DS wrote, "I feel like I have completely lost any thing that was me. I never imagined having children and putting myself aside would make me feel this bad." The expectation of total motherhood is bad enough, having to live it out every day is soul crushing. Everything that made us an individual, that made us unique, no longer matters. It's our role as a mother that defines us. Not much has changed.

"The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to ignore the question of their identity," wrote Betty Friedan. "The mystique says they can answer the question 'Who am I?' by saying 'Tom's wife ... Mary's mother.' The truth is -- and how long it's been true, I'm not sure, but it was true in my generation and it's true of girls growing up today -- an American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she is, or can be, or wants to be."

At the time she published The Feminine Mystique, Friedan argued that the public image of women was largely one of domesticity -- "washing machines, cake mixes ... detergents," all sold through commercials and magazine. Today, American women have more public images of themselves than that of a housewife. We see ourselves depicted in television, ads, movies, and magazines (not to mention relief!) as politicians, business owners, intellectuals, soldiers, and more. But that's what makes the public images of total motherhood so insidious. We see these diverse images of ourselves and believe that the oppressive standard Friedan wrote about is dead, when in fact it has simply shifted. Because no matter how many different kinds of public images women see of themselves, they're still limited. They're still largely white, straight upper-middle-class depictions, and they all still identify women as mothers or non-mothers.

American culture can't accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother. It goes against everything we've been taught to think about women and how desperately they want babies. If we're to believe the media and pop culture, women -- even teen girls -- are forever desperate for a baby. It's our greatest desire.

The truth is, most women spend the majority of their lives trying not to get pregnant. According to the Guttmacher Institute, by the time a woman with two children is in her mid-40s she will have spent only five years trying to become pregnant, being pregnant, and not being at risk for getting pregnant following a birth. But to avoid getting pregnant before or after those two births, she would had had to refrain from sex or use contraception for an average of 25 years. Almost all American women (99 percent), ages 15-44, who have had sexual intercourse use some form of birth control. The second most popular form of birth control after the Pill? Sterilization. And now, more than ever, women are increasingly choosing forms of contraception that are for long-term use. Since 2005, for example, IUD use has increased by a whopping 161 percent. That's a long part of life and a lot of effort to avoid parenthood!

Now, it may be that these statistics simply indicate that modern women are just exerting more control over when and under what circumstances they become mothers. To a large degree that's true. But it doesn't jibe with an even more shocking reality: that half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Once you factor in the abortion rate and pregnancies that end in miscarriage, we're left with the rather surprising fact that one-third of babies born in the United States were unplanned. Not so surprising, however, is that the intention to have children definitively impacts how parents feel about their children, and how those children are treated -- sometimes to terrifying results.

American culture can't accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother.

Jennifer Barber, a population researcher at the University of Michigan, studied more than 3,000 mothers and their close to 6,000 children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Barber and her colleagues asked women who had recently given birth, "Just before you became pregnant, did you want to become pregnant when you did?" Those who answered yes were categorized as "intended"; those who answered no were then asked, "Did you want a baby but not at that time, or did you want none at all?" Depending on their answer, they were classified as "mistimed" or "unwanted." Over 60 percent of the children studied were reported as planned, almost 30 per center were unplanned ("mistimed"), and 10 percent were unequivocally "unwanted."

The results of Barber's research showed that the children who were unintended -- both those who were mistimed and those who were unwanted -- got fewer parental resources than those children who were intended. Basically, children who were unplanned didn't get as much emotional and cognitive support as children who were planned -- as reported both by the researchers and the mothers themselves. Barber's research looked at things like the number of children's books in the home, and how often a parent read to a child or taught them skills like counting or the alphabet for the "cognitive" aspect. For the "emotional" support rating, they developed a scale measuring the "warmth" and "responsiveness" of the mother, how much time the family spent together, and how much time the father spent with the child. Across the board, children who were wanted got more from their parents than children who weren't. Children who were unplanned were also subject to harsher parenting and more punitive measures than a sibling who was intended.

Barber pointed out that this kind of pattern could be due to parental stress and a lack of patience that's "directed explicitly toward an unwanted child," and that a mistimed or unwanted birth could raise stress levels in the parents' interactions with their other children as well. She also says that in addition to benign emotional neglect, parenting unintended children is also associated with infant health problems and mortality, maternal depression, and sometimes child abuse.


When Torry Hansen of Shelbyville, Tennessee, sent her seven-year-old adopted son by himself on a plane back to his home country of Russia with nothing more than a note explaining she didn't want to parent him, she became one of the most reviled women in America. Russian officials were so incensed that they temporarily halted all adoption to the United States. We sometimes expect fathers to shirk their responsibility; but when mothers do it, it shakes the core of what we've been taught to believe about women and maternal instinct.

Anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy argued in a 2001 Utah lecture, for example, that being female is seen as synonymous with having and nurturing as many children as possible. So when mothers abandon their children, it's seen as unnatural. This simplistic, emotional response to parents -- mothers, in particular -- who give up their kids is part of the reason Americans have such a difficult time dealing with the issue. As Hrdy says, "No amount of legislation can ensure that mothers will love their babies."

That's why programs like safe haven laws -- age limitations or not -- will never truly get to the heart of the matter. As Mary Lee Allen, director of the Children's Defense Fund's child welfare and mental health division, has has, "These laws help women to drop their babies off but do nothing to provide supports to women and children before this happens."

Unfortunately, discussing the structural issues has never been an American strong suit. Hrdy notes that legislators are too afraid to focus on sensible solutions. "Talking about the source of the problem would require policymakers to discuss sex education and contraception, not to mention abortion, and they view even nonsensical social policies as preferable to the prospect of political suicide."

If policymakers and people who care about children want to reduce the number of abandoned kids, they need to address the systemic issues: poverty, maternity leave, access to resources, and health care. We need to encourage women to demand more help from their partners, if they have them. In a way, that's the easier fix, because we know what we have to do there; the issues have been the same for years. The less-obvious hurdle is that of preparing parents emotionally and putting forward realistic images of parenthood and motherhood. There also needs to be some sort of acknowledgement that not everyone should parent -- when parenting is a given, it's not fully considered or thought out, and it gives way too easily to parental ambivalence and unhappiness.

Take Trinity, one of the mothers who commented on the Secret Confessions board about hating parenthood. She wrote, "My pregnancy was totally planned and I thought it was a good idea at the time. Nobody tells you the negatives before you get pregnant -- they convince you it's a wonderful idea and you will love it. I think it's a secret shared among parents ... they're miserable so they want you to be too."

By having more honest conversations about parenting, we can avoid the kind of secret depressions so many mothers seem to be harboring. If what we want is deliberate, thought-out, planned, and expected parenthood -- and parenting that is healthy and happy for children -- then we have to speak out.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Jenifer’s Fear

Photo by Rosie Hardy

Jenifer' small body woke, feeling as if she were still in a dream.  She felt fingers move across her slit between her legs.  Her body froze in shock, in a state of shell-shock.  She feared to open her eyes, but so she did after the touch of fingers left her pink, sweet labia.  She got up off of her grandma’s sofa pull out bed, dazed and panicked.  She didn’t look back… she moved herself away from that spoiled bed in a fright.  She crept to the bathroom, only a few feet away, leaving the light off inside the bathroom in fear of him seeing her.  She vomited in the toilet, and sat on the toilet impulsively, but did not pee.  She tells herself she must be quiet now… Sit. Think. Don’t Move.  What happened? she asks herself, frightened and in complete despair.  Then, she realized for the first time that she was in a state of terror, something she’s only ever experienced while watching VHS movies while hidden in the dark with her cousins, in a fantasy.  Except this fantasy was real… Real?  Was it really real?  The phantasy mocked her for all her life thereafter.  She no longer felt safe.  And she never will again.
The pain set in like a nine-inch nail corked into her vagina.  She felt raw and slashed forever, never quite in a position to speak what happened to her as a child, never able to release her anger and hurt because she Knew it would cause more havoc to tell any of her family around her.  So she never did, and she never will.


If we do not start talking about how our bodies have been used without our consent, without a warrant, we will never begin to reach freedom.  For our freedom depends deeply on killing the war machine like cock.  We must speak up about our experiences in order to kill that old-aged fantasy of pure romance and cock.

We Must Challenge conventional ideas about how women are perceived; point in case below:

 Women are thought to seduce men through fear; we must point out that we are not totalized by our sexuality. 

What's Up by Linda Perry

Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of
This brotherhood of man
For whatever that means
And so I cry sometimes
When I'm lying in bed
Just to get it all out
What's in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning
And I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What's going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I said hey, what's going on?
Ooh, ooh ooh
And I try, oh my god do I try
I try all the time, in this institution
And I pray, oh my god do I pray
I pray every single day
For a revolution.
And so I cry sometimes
When I'm lying in bed
Just to get it all out
What's in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning
And I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What's going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I said hey, what's going on?
Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination

What could be more powerful than a woman who sings in pain the reality she is set within and never allowed to escape from?

Thursday, August 30, 2012


      Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Felicia H. Stewart and Dr. James Trussell have estimated that there are twenty-five thousand rape-related pregnancies each year in the United States. While these numbers make up only a small part of this country’s annual three million unwanted pregnancies, the numbers are still extremely high. Nonetheless, the relationship between rape and pregnancy has been a topic of highly politicized debate since long before Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape,” Paul Ryan’s bill with its category of “forcible rape,” and Sharron Angle’s suggestion, two years ago, that women pregnant through rape make “a lemon situation into lemonade.” There is a veritable war of statistics about rape and pregnancy, and the confusion is exacerbated by the competing agendas of the pro-choice and anti-abortion movements. It has been argued that fear promotes ovulation, and that women who are raped have a ten-per-cent risk of pregnancy; there are estimates of as little as one per cent. Numbers are also skewed when they are adjusted to include or exclude women not of reproductive age; for sodomy and other forms of rape that cannot cause pregnancy; for rape victims who may be using oral birth control or I.U.D.s; and for women who are raped and become or are pregnant as a result of consensual sex with a husband or partner who is not the rapist, before or after the rape. Women who are being abused on an ongoing basis are particularly likely to conceive in rape. Catherine MacKinnon has written, “Forced pregnancy is familiar, beginning in rape and proceeding through the denial of abortions; this occurred during slavery and still happens to women who cannot afford abortions.”
I have been researching a book, “Far from the Tree,” that deals in part with women raising children conceived in rape, and have therefore met the living reproof to Akin’s remark. Life for these children may be extremely difficult. One of the few groups founded to address this population, Stigma Inc., took as its motto, “Rape survivors are the victims … their children are the forgotten victims.”
And yet there’s a lot of history behind their experience, and that of their mothers. Augustine saw a noble purpose in rape; while promising women that “savage lust perpetuated against them will be punished,” he also praises rape for keeping women humble, letting them know “whether previously they were arrogant with regard to their virginity or over-fond of praise, or whether they would have become proud had they not suffered violation.” The Roman physician Galen claimed that women could not conceive in rape—could not, in fact, conceive without an orgasm based in pleasure and consent. Classical mythology is full of rape, usually seen as a positive event for the rapist, who is often a god; Zeus so took Europa and Leda; Dionysus raped Aura; Poseidon, Aethra; Apollo, Euadne. It is noteworthy that every one of these rapes produces children. The rape of a vestal virgin by Mars produced Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome. Romulus organized the rape of the Sabine women to populate his new city. In much later civilizations, the rape of the Sabines was considered a noble story; in the Renaissance, it often graced marriage chests. The hostility such children inspired due to their origins has also long been acknowledged. In both the ancient and the medieval world, women who bore children conceived in rape were permitted to let them die of exposure—although in medieval Europe a few weeks’ penance was deemed necessary for doing so.
Historically, rape has been seen less as a violation of a woman than as a theft from a man to whom that woman belonged, either her husband or her father, who suffered an economic loss (a woman’s marriageability spoiled) and an insult to his honor. There was also the problem of bastard children, who were considered a social burden; the Athenian state, for example, was primarily occupied with protecting bloodlines, and so treated rape and adultery the same way. Hammurabi’s code describes rape victims as adulterers; English law of the seventeenth century takes a similar position. In Puritan Massachusetts, any woman pregnant through rape was prosecuted for fornication. In the nineteenth century, the American courts remained biased toward protecting men who might be falsely accused. In order to prove that an encounter was a rape, the woman had to demonstrate that she had resisted and been overcome; she usually had to show bodily harm as evidence of her struggle; and she had somehow to prove that the man had ejaculated inside her.
In the early and mid-twentieth century, rape remained underreported because women feared adverse consequences if they spoke out about what had happened to them. In 1938, Dr. Aleck Bourne was put on trial in England for performing an abortion on a fourteen-year-old rape victim, and his acquittal reflected a populist movement to liberalize abortion, especially for rape victims. The trial was widely covered in the U.S. and led to open debate about the validity of abortion; the following year, the first hospital abortion committee in the United States was formed, and by the nineteen-fifties these committees were ubiquitous. Although they approved only “therapeutic” abortions, they increasingly accepted the recommendations of psychiatrists who said a woman’s mental health was endangered by her pregnancy. Well-connected and well-to-do women could obtain psychiatric diagnoses fairly easily, and so abortions became the province of the privileged. Ordinary rape victims often had to prove that they were nearly deranged. Some were diagnosed as licentious, and had to consent to sterilization to obtain abortions. Here is a typical caseworker report about a woman who had been raped in the postwar, pre-Roe era:
She became a passive object and could not say “no.” Here we see a girl who having lost parental love, continues to search for love and her primary motivation became centered in getting her dependent needs met. She took the man’s sexual interest as love and an opportunity to be loved by somebody.

That is to say, mentally stable people are not the kind who get raped. The emerging field of psychoanalysis did not help matters. Though Freud himself wrote little about rape, Freudians in the early and mid-twentieth century saw the rapist as someone suffering a perverse, uncontrolled sexual appetite, who fed into women’s natural masochism. This position seemed to exonerate the rapist; in 1971, the psychoanalyst Menachem Amir called rape a “victim-motivated crime.” A rapist was the embodiment of virility, while those who were raped were utterly abject; the aggression was deplored less than the disenfranchisement was pitied.
Appalled at such positions, feminists of the nineteen-seventies began the reclassification of rape as an act of violence and aggression rather than of sexuality. Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 landmark “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape” maintained that rape had very little to do with desire and everything to do with domination. She proposed that rape was a much more frequent occurrence than had previously been acknowledged, that it was not the obscure behavior of a very occasional person with severe mental illness but rather a common result of the power differential between men and women. She also tied the problem of rape to the issues of pregnancy, writing, “Men began to rape women when they discovered that sexual intercourse led to pregnancy.”
For several of the women I interviewed, the crisis was exacerbated by the question of what rape means, by the idea that some rape is not forcible or legitimate. Men who have gotten away with rape seldom retreat in shame or repentance; they often play out their ghoulish exuberance by claiming their reproductive successes. Among the women I interviewed, such men’s bids for custody or visitation rights felt far more like acts of further aggression than expressions of care. Nevertheless, in instances where rape cannot be proven or charges were never filed, the threat of joint custody is real. Many women who cannot cope with prosecuting their assailant are then left without any proof of assault. In a time when DNA evidence can establish biological ties scientifically, this lack of evidence as to the social circumstances of conception can be a serious problem. Stigma Inc. had a posting that read, “The father/rapist is thus deemed ineligible for visitation or custody of the minor child. However, as in the case of rape victims in general, the burden of proof that a rape took place is often placed upon the woman who has suffered the crime. Often it comes down to a ‘he said/she said’ issue.”
The aftermath of rape is always complicated. Many victims are simply in denial that they are pregnant in the first place: a full third of the pregnancies resulting from rape are not discovered until the second trimester. Any delay in detection reduces women’s options, especially outside major urban centers, but many women struggle with the speed of the decision; they are still recovering from being raped when they are called on to make up their minds about an abortion. The decision of whether or not to carry through with such a pregnancy is nearly always an ordeal that can lead, no matter which choice is ultimately made, to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and P.T.S.D. Rape is a permanent damage; it leaves not scars, but open wounds. As one woman I saw said, “You can abort the child, but not the experience.”
Even women who try to learn their child’s blamelessness can find it desperately difficult. The British psychoanalyst Joan Raphael-Leff writes of women bearing children conceived in rape, “The woman feels she has growing inside her part of a hateful or distasteful Other. Unless this feeling can be resolved, the fÅ“tus who takes on these characteristics is liable to remain an internal foreigner, barely tolerated or in constant danger of expulsion, and the baby will emerge part-stranger, likely to be ostracized or punished.” One rape survivor, in testimony before the Louisiana Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, described her son as “a living, breathing torture mechanism that replayed in my mind over and over the rape.” Another woman described having a rape-conceived son as “entrapment beyond description” and felt “the child was cursed from birth”; the child ultimately had severe psychological challenges and was removed from the family by social services concerned about his mental well-being. One of the women I interviewed said, “While most mothers just go with their natural instincts, my instincts are horrifying. It’s a constant, conscious effort that my instincts not take over.”
The rape exception in abortion law is so much the rule that many women who wish to keep children conceived in rape describe an intense social pressure to abort them, and the pressure to abort can be as sinister as the restriction of access to abortion. There can be no question that, for some women, an abortion would be far more traumatic than having a rape-conceived child. I read the harrowing autobiography of a girl who was put under involuntary anesthesia to have an abortion of the pregnancy that had occurred when her father raped her, so that her parents could keep their reputation intact. It’s a horrifying story because the abortion clearly constitutes yet another assault: it is about a lack of choice. But ready access to a safe abortion facility allows a woman who keeps a child conceived in rape to feel that she is making a conscious decision, while having the baby because she has no choice perpetuates the trauma and is bad for the child. Rape is, above all other things, non-volitional for the victim, and the first thing to provide a victim is control. Raped women require unfettered choice in this arena: to abort or to carry to term, and, if they do carry to term, to keep the children so conceived or to give them up for adoption. These women, like the parents of disabled children, are choosing the child over the challenging identity attached to that child. The key word in that sentence is “choosing.”
One sees the problem abroad, where the Helms Amendment is taken to mean that no agency receiving U.S. funding can mention abortion even to women who have been systematically raped as part of a genocidal campaign. The journalist Helena Smith wrote the story of a woman named Mirveta, who gave birth to a child conceived in rape in Kosovo. Mirveta was twenty years old, and illiterate; her husband had abandoned her because of the pregnancy. “He was a healthy little boy and Mirveta had produced him,” Smith writes. “But birth, the fifth in her short lifetime, had not brought joy, only dread. As he was pulled from her loins, as the nurses at Kosovo’s British-administered university hospital handed her the baby, as the young Albanian mother took the child, she prepared to do the deed. She cradled him to her chest, she looked into her boy’s eyes, she stroked his face, and she snapped his neck. They say it was a fairly clean business. Mirveta had used her bare hands. It is said that, in tears, she handed her baby back to the nurses, holding his snapped, limp neck. In Pristina, in her psychiatric detention cell, she has been weeping ever since.” The aid worker taking care of Mirveta said, “Who knows? She may have looked into the baby’s face and seen the eyes of the Serb who raped her. She is a victim, too. Psychologically raped a second time.”
In working on my book, I went to Rwanda in 2004 to interview women who had borne children of rape conceived during the genocide. At the end of my interviews, I asked interviewees whether they had any questions for me, in hopes that the reversal would help them to feel less disenfranchised in the microcosmic world of our interview. The questions tended to be the same: How long are you spending in the country? How many people are you interviewing? When will your research be published? Who will read these stories? Why are you interested in me? At the end of my final interview, I asked the woman I was interviewing whether she had any questions. She paused shyly for a moment. “Well,” she said, a little hesitantly. “You work in this field of psychology.” I nodded. She took a deep breath. “Can you tell me how to love my daughter more?” she asked. “I want to love her so much, and I try my best, but when I look at her I see what happened to me and it interferes.” A tear rolled down her cheek, but her tone turned almost fierce, challenging. “Can you tell me how to love my daughter more?” she repeated.
Perhaps Todd Akin has an answer for her.