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Rev. Martha Spong

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Old Husbands' Tales

Posted: 08/25/2012 8:19 am

I've been speechless for the past couple of days.

I've been thinking quite a lot about the words Todd Akin used to describe rape. I've been thinking and reading the words of others in their responses to him.

On religious websites, the comments devolve immediately into an argument over a woman's right to choose. I recognize that I know a lot of people, some of them reading this perhaps, who would disagree with my pro-choice position and others who would not share my philosophy that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

But we get distracted at our peril, because no matter where you stand on abortion, Akin is spouting "Old Husband's Tales" as fact, showing an ignorance about and disdain for women that is appalling.

Women form more than half the population. We are not children. We are equally created human beings. Unfortunately we are also sexually vulnerable.

Men are, too, of course. They can be assaulted and invaded, and it's happened historically and it happens all the time.

But women can be willfully entered and impregnated, an act that has lifelong consequences for the woman and also for a potential child. To suggest that some sort of voodoo hormones will protect women from conception is absurd, so ridiculous that I can't believe I'm having to write it down or think about it.

Old Husbands' Tales are based in a belief that women are unequal to men, that they are in effect property to be used at will. What's a "legitimate" rape? An attack by a stranger on an innocent virgin? It's an Old Husbands' Tale that there can be no rape in marriage, because a man has the right to do what he wants with his wife. It's an Old Husbands' Tale that a woman can run faster with her skirt up than a man with his pants down. (Yes, some people call that a joke.) It's an Old Husbands' Tale that "men have needs," and that takes us down other roads that show a disregard for women as a class. It's an Old Husbands' Tale that women don't even know if they've been raped.

The violent attack of a stranger is a terrible thing. The intentional and non-consensual act of a partner you have trusted is also a terrible thing. Neither one comes with a Magic Diaphragm of Holy Conception Preventing Power.

Some women who are raped by strangers and impregnated carry the children and even raise them.

But I don't need a survey to tell me that more women are impregnated by spouses and partners who did not bother to be sure "the female body," as Akin calls us, was actually willing.

I'm the mother of three, two sons and a daughter. I've been teaching all of them, for years, to practice a Love Ethic where sex is concerned. When the time comes, I said, remember what Jesus wanted from us, to love God and love others as ourselves. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Please. Remember that the other person is also a human being, created by God and loved by God.

I don't hear that from the Christian right. I hear a fear that men will lose the power to put their seed wherever they want it to go. I hear a fear that some people, men and women, will honor women's experience and value them equally. I hear a fear that Old Husbands' Tales will be dismissed for the ignorant prattle they are.

The fear of people who are losing their power is dangerous.

So please, don't let us be distracted by arguments over abortion. The issue is half the human race. The issue is the value of living women. We are being called liars and fools, told we are weak and need everything clarified for us. I'll tell you, if I had that Magic Diaphragm, I would use it like a shield to hold off the violation by words that goes on every day in our public discourse, where people are free to say anything they like and no one has to accept that facts contradict opinion and people believe the loudest voice wins.

My voice is soft, but I am ready to speak now.

I have had my own moments in which trust was broken. I have been violated, but the details matter less than the larger, sadder truth. There are men and some women, too, who will continue to defend hetero-normative patriarchy by any means necessary. They will wrap it in Jesus, or the Trinity, or the American flag. They would wrap it in Zeus if anyone still worshiped him. They will make a mockery of my faith in a loving God and my belief in a nation where freedom and equality matter. They will do their best to break my heart.

I believe their numbers are in decline, but I can also see that they will fight to the end, ruthlessly. We who are gentle must find our strength. We who speak softly must raise our voices. We who know better must give the lie to Old Husbands' Tales.

 
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