A few weeks ago, I was reading back over Alan Moore’s seminal take on the story of Jack the Ripper, the telephone book-size graphic novel, From Hell, when an odd news story came at me from over the interwebs. In the story, a Republican congressman named Todd Akin was quoted as telling television reporter Charles Jaco that even in cases of rape, abortion need not be resorted to. Akin’s reasoning for this, as he explained to the reporter, was that in the case of a “legitimate rape,” the female body has the ability to “shut down” the process of conception. In other words, according to Akin, only consensual females can get pregnant because the human body can immediately identify the circumstances surrounding a rape and know not to achieve fertilization, therefore anytime a woman says she is seeking an abortion because her pregnancy resulted from a rape, she is a liar.
So, okay, that’s pretty disgusting. First of all, anyone that can qualify rape as being legitimate or not needs to be castrated. Immediately. Secondly, of course we know that rape can lead to pregnancy, and in fact, the Washington Post recently wrote about a study in which instances of rape were shown to correlate with an increased likelihood of pregnancy. An increased likelihood does not equal reproductive shutdown, in case that’s not immediately obvious. As cool as it might sound, the uterus doesn’t actually have an “intruder alert” bat-cave alarm for when a man forces himself upon a woman.
What makes his statement even more galling is that this guy, Akin, actually serves on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. You’d think this would mean he’d know a thing or two about science, specifically human reproduction. But he clearly doesn’t. He also seems to hate the environment and love fossil fuels, so my only guess can be that he is on that committee to prevent science from happening at all costs. But I digress.
The reason I brought up “From Hell” at the beginning of all this was because one of the subplots in that story deals with the continued oppression of women within the patriarchal society that we’ve erected for ourselves. In the story, William Gull, who is clearly identified early on as the Ripper, unlike in the movie adaptation’s more “whodunnit” of a script, is tasked by the Queen of England to eliminate a number of prostitutes in White Chapel who are aware of her grandson’s coupling, and subsequent illegitimate siring of a daughter, with a lowly shop-girl, and who are trying to blackmail the throne with that information.
For Gull, a high-ranking member of the Freemasons secret society and student of occult symbology, this task would seem to be God’s purpose for him on Earth. In chapter 4 of the graphic novel, Gull guides his carriage driver on a tour of the occult symbolism embedded within the architecture, streets and history of London. He explains that in the last several thousand years, men and the male energy of logic and sanity have overtaken and oppressed women and the female energy of imagination and madness, and embedded throughout modern society are various male symbols and depictions of suns and stars (the male energy) imprisoning moons (the female energy) in order to reinforce this order. The obvious irony of how insane and decidedly illogical and un-male-energy-like a person would have to be to go on a state-sanctioned serial killing of prostitutes was clearly lost on him.
Whether or not the actual Jack the Ripper actually had these profound insights into modern society and shared these misogynistic occult motivations, I couldn’t tell you. But the premise made enough sense to me that I would totally believe that someone like the real Jack The Ripper could have had these thoughts and could see himself as having the divine task of preserving this great male-dominant society in which women are oppressed on a daily basis through Jungian symbolism and are taught to never step out of line and challenge authority.
And then I thought of Akin’s hair-brained remarks about rape pregnancy, and how easy it was for him to blow off the gaffe by saying that he misspoke and blaming the liberal media for making it such an issue. And I thought about the scores of other pro-life Christian fundamentalists and conservative Republicans who also believe that rape rarely, if ever, results in pregnancy. And then I thought of all the other appalling things that people on that side of the political divide have said about woman recently, such as Rick Santorum saying that wanting women and men to have equal opportunities in the workplace is “radical feminism,” and that a child created from rape is a gift. Or Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan and many other members of the House GOP co-sponsoring a bill that sought to limit the kind of rape that would justify a federally funded abortion as the “forcible” kind. Because, as any Republican probably can tell you, sometimes rape can be discreet and courteous.
I thought about this no-holds barred hatred from the GOP toward women and the female body in the context of having re-read the opening chapters to From Hell and reread William Gull deliver his frighteningly relevant diatribe, and I started to see how Gull’s work has been carried through to the present day. Not only did he give birth to the 20th century in the closing chapters of Alan Moore’s novel, his ideas have grown and matured into a fully-formed political party comprising more than half of the government of the most powerful nation in the world. Tyranny over women no longer has to be played out in the shadows of phallic architecture and occult symbolism, it can be elected into office and ostensibly written into law. Millions of people will trust its word over the word of science or reason, and the desecration of the female body can be excused if given the proper, legitimate circumstance. Gull would surely be proud of all his little rippers in government who continue to fight the good fight in the grand war on women.
My point is, Jack the Ripper got away with it. These guys, Akin and Ryan and the rest of them, they can’t. We can’t let them. We won’t let them. When the time comes, it’s up to us to vote these tyrannical bastards out of office. We need to tell them that women, and only women, can choose what happens to their own bodies, and we need to make sure that no one in a position of power can ever again decide for a woman when a rape is or isn’t “legitimate.”
I think this is a rather brilliant idea for an essay, and I agree wholeheartedly that the recent GOP “war on women” is repugnant and disgusting.
You’re right that the attempts constrain women’s bodies and minds, as articulated from a fictional Victorian point of view in From Hell, is related to the current wave of misogyny. The sad fact, unfortunately, is that the kinds of controls on women we’re currently seeing go back to antiquity. In human history, the sexual revolution is a recent blip. True, Victorian attitudes were especially repressive, in many ways (against men too, against masturbation, against homosexuality), and it’s this legacy which we are more directly struggling. I just don’t want anyone to think that women had equal rights, outside of the Victorian era and this recent business. We’re arguing over whether we keep the gains of the sexual revolution.
Of course, I think you’re completely right to be appalled by recent events — I am. And again, tying it back to Moore’s fictional history is damn sharp. (Moore’s non-fiction book on sex is excellent, and a lot more expansive than his version in Gull’s speeches.)
I just don’t want anyone to misread you and think all Republicans are the equivalent of Jack the Ripper! Or that the two are outliers from the rest of human history. I’m sure you weren’t saying either, of course, and I totally feel your frustration over these recent statements!