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Dic[k]tating how our vaginas should behave: On Akin and White Male Power Structure

Image of Marion Sims 

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As soon as I had heard what he had said, I felt my stomach tighten and nausea came several seconds later.


““The female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.

Todd Akin’s words really hit me deep when he decided to become an “expert” on “legitimate rape” the other week. I know there have been tremendous responses against the ridiculous claims that Akin has made, but I wanted to offer what his words did to me; where it sent my mind.

Even though Akin apologized, I personally do not buy it. His initial “claim” about rape made me think about what men of his ilk have done, since European colonialism, to Black female bodies; to their reproductive gifts that were commoditized and sold on the auction block…and raped.

But back then, during an antebellum era of institutionalized chattel slavery, it wasn’t “legitimate rape” when the white slave-master raped Black female slaves (as well as ones that were “free”). As their “property” they could do whatever they wanted to them. The white male power structure literally created its own logical system that justified whose suffering counted, and whose suffering did not (Fett 2002). Constructed as 3/5’s of a human, we barely hit the radars of their compassion meter. As a matter of fact, through scientific racism and twisted interpretation of the Christian Bible, these men were able to convince themselves that not only were African people “enslavable”, our people had a “naturally” high tolerance for both physical and emotional pain. This included the pain of raping us; of selling our loved ones and tearing apart our families (Robert 1997; Washington 2006)

I began thinking about a piece that Petra Kuppers wrote about black women in the mid 19th-century. These women had been victims of experimentation by a man named Marion Sims. In Western medical schools Sims is taught as being the “father of gynecology” (Washington 2006). In Petra Kuppers’ piece about the Anarcha project, she talks about how this man experimented on many Black women slaves. He experimented on them to benefit white middle-class women who would use his gynecological services. What he did was really disgusting and very cruel. Sims was trying to solve the problem of fistula amongst white middle-class women clientele. A fistula is a condition in which there is a tear in the bladder that happens during a long labor sometimes, or the improper use of forceps during labor that tears the bladder. The consequence of this ailment is that women are constantly leaking urine.  Sims was using black women’s bodies to solve this “problem.” And he did this without anesthesia. One of the women that he did this on experienced this experimentation over 30 times. He cut up their vaginas and cut into their wombs without….I repeat, without anesthesia.

But Sims was the “expert”; whether he had an MD degree or not. By simply being a white male of that era, he could dic[k]tate “facts” about whose vaginas were worth experimenting on and whose vaginas were worth putting on a pedestal (“white ladies” of a privileged socio-economic class).

Sims represents an ontological perspective that would continue into today, that dic[k]tate such “facts” about certain female bodies as long as it suits their own possessive investments in what bell hooks refers to as white supremacist capitalist patriarchal system (hooks 1992). These “experts” on [black] female bodies chose to rape hundreds of black female slaves because it is not ‘legitimate rape.’ Within this twisted logic, the violent act must not have been ‘legitimate rape’ since tens of thousands of black female slaves gave birth to babies who were products of never-ending unnamed racial-sexual abuse. In the logic of Akin, had it been “legitimate”, than their bodies would have had a way of “shutting it down.” And what perfect logic to fit the needs of a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that could only acquire capital and property through the labor of enslaved Africans and their continuation of “black” offspring.

Todd Akin, your comments did not surprise me. They disappointed me, but they did not surprise me. They fit perfectly within the socio-historical context of how white elite male power structure over the past 400 + years has viciously tried to control and restrict what particular females can and cannot do with their bodies.

Works Cited

Fett, Sharla M. Working Cures : Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Hooks, Bell. Black Looks : Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992.

Roberts, Dorothy E. Killing the Black Body : Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997.

Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid : The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 2006.

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