Monday, August 20, 2012

Todd Aken: Ignorant and Unfit for Public Office or Aristotelian Philosopher?

by Sam Thomas

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news of late, you doubtless heard about Todd Aken, the Republican nominee for Senate candidate from Missouri. In an interview in which he defended his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape, Aken made the remarkable claim that it is extremely rare for a woman who is raped to become pregnant. (Ezra Klein makes the disheartening point that others, mostly pro-life politicians and activists, agree.)

“If it’s a legitimate rape,” he explained, presumably to any OB/GYNs who might be watching, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

To sane people, this smacked of sexism, misogyny, or ignorance. Some lawyer types wondered how a “legitimate” rape might differ from an “illegitimate” rape. And the biologists wondered what “that whole thing” might be.

They might be right, but I’d like to offer a different interpretation of Mr. Aken’s argument. Rather than being misogynistic, grossly ignorant, and manifestly unfit for public office, I think he’s just relying on a somewhat outdated conception of the human body. Aken is a closet Aristotelian.  

According to Aristotle (and medial experts for over a thousand years after), a woman could not become pregnant if she didn’t have an orgasm.

Why? It’s complicated, but kind of fun, and if you trot this out at your next cocktail party, you’ll be awesome.

According to ancient and medieval medical thought, there were not two sexes as we now think of it. Yes, there were men and women, but women were simply imperfect versions of men. They had the same sexual organs as men did, but because women lacked the vital heat inherent in men, these organs were on the inside rather than the outside.

The vagina? A penis turned outside-in. Ovaries? Testicles, but on the inside. Logically enough, since they had the same organs, both men and women produced the same fluids. Conception took place when male sperm met female sperm.

This is the “one-sex model” made famous by Thomas Lacquer in his book Making Sex.

(Before you disparage this as the stupidest idea ever, it’s worth noting that our obviously true “two sex model” is, in fact, demonstrably false. It ignores individuals who are not clearly male or female, or who have both male and female sexual organs. By some estimates, intersex people are about as common as redheads. See this awesome article by Anne Fausto-Sterling.)

So, if Aristotle (and Aken) are right, in order for conception to take place, both the man and woman must have an orgasm, or else the male and female sperm cannot meet and form a child. And since rape victims do not have orgasms (I think even Aken would agree to this), pregnancy can’t be the product of rape. The body keeps pregnancy from taking place. QED.

So, if Aken attended a European university before 1700 or so, we can be pretty sure that he was schooled in the Aristotelian conception of the human body, and then he’s off the hook.

Let’s check.

He went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, probably in the 1970s.

Never mind. I guess he’s just unfit for office.

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