‘Legitimate rape’ remark fuels women’s increasing skepticism about religion

AP Todd Akin, Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Missouri taking questions on Aug. 10, 2012 after speaking at the … Continued


Todd Akin, Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Missouri taking questions on Aug. 10, 2012 after speaking at the Missouri Farm Bureau candidate interview and endorsement meeting in Jefferson City, Mo.

A roar has erupted over the now-famous phrase “legitimate rape,” Rep. Todd Akin’s clumsy attempt to justify fundamentalists’ justification of strict anti-abortion measures. Echoing President Obama’s assessment that rape is rape, the Washington Post editorial board suggested that a code is in play, that “the remarks are not the first, nor are they likely to be the last, in a long-running effort to downplay the horror of rape as a way to restrict access to abortion” and what anti-abortion politicians suggest is “that not all rape victims are victims.”

I’d go a step further. The code from fundamentalists sends a message that good women are not raped.

Yet women, particularly the most vulnerable, have difficulty abandoning religion. They’re less likely to become nonbelievers, because the church, mosque, synagogue and other religious communities promise security that their families might not provide.

R. Elisabeth Cornwell works with Richard Dawkins at his Foundation for Reason and Science, and in her 2009 article “Why Women Are Bound to Religion: An Evolutionary Perspective,” she explains that religious organizations offer an instant support group, whether real or illusionary: “Why are women even more likely to be religious than men? The simple answer is that it is safe…. the fact that women are less likely to push the status quo for fear of social exclusion and even retribution makes a lot of evolutionary sense.”

Yet that safety factor could be in decline. Women can’t help but be skeptical about religious communities that resist women’s opinions on responsible family planning, education aspirations, career ambitions, and parenting goals – let alone parse the definition of rape. In competing for hearts and minds, religious leaders become strident, judgmental and exclusive, imposing rigid standards for good standing, not to mention a demand for financial support of such judgments.

The struggle to find security and religious perfection in a world of 7 billion people is leading to fragmentation and hyperdifferentation, suggest the editors of the Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology. The most powerful tend to benefit from the fragmentation, repeatedly convincing many of the overwhelmed, women and men, to act against their own best interests.

Feminism tends toward inclusiveness, community and communication. The Internet, cellphones, air travel as instruments of modern globalization ensure that every community must confront constant, rapid change. Other recent trends associated with globalization – rising inequality, declining birthrates, intense competition among businesses and special interests to control every aspect of human life from habits on eating, clothing and shelter to education, work or religious values – contribute to disagreements within social groups, including longstanding religious organizations, and these prompt members to withdraw.

Skepticism about religion surged in the 1990s and now about one in five U.S. adults do not identify with an organized religion, suggest Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, authors of “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population,” based on the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. Even Hispanics, the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, are also the fastest-growing minority group among Americans who don’t identify with organized religion, notes the report.

About 60 percent of the so-called Nones are male. “The most important and statistically significant finding is that American women are more religious and less secular than men in their belonging, belief and behavior,” report Kosmin and Keysar.

Religious leaders shouldn’t take women for granted. Whether it’s the Vatican scolding nuns for battling poverty rather than abortion, imans punishing women for running away from abusive homes or evangelists criticizing women for limiting family size during economic hard times, or fundamentalists questioning that pregnancy can result from rape, religious leaders are attacking their most dependable members. If religion no longer offers a safe haven, instead fiercely limiting interpretations and roles, women will walk away.

An early step toward disbelief is when an individual reconsiders religious beliefs held since childhood, trying a new congregation or religion. As religious leaders quarrel among themselves, new competition emerges, feeding into the discontent and offering alternatives.

Eventually, adults whose children are grown find it easier to drop formal worship altogether, taking up reading, bicycling, hiking, leisurely brunches and or a stroll to the local farmer’s market instead. For overworked Americans, some extra time during the weekend and one less financial obligation could become the bedrock of non-practice and disbelief. And these are reasons why atheists, agnostics and non-practicing theists may account for 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2040, as predicted by the American Nones report, a group that could outnumber the country’s Roman Catholics.

Competition among religions, inequality among men and women, both are contributing to searches for new possibilities. Women don’t have to rely on traditional organized religions or tough, male-dominated atheism for that matter. “Feminist ideologies and their connective practices, in short, may helpfully be described as vibrant and growing ‘imagined communities’ of justice for women, communities that will always reach out, will always receive from the other, and will always need to repent and start anew,” write Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Sheila Briggs, editors of the Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology.

Religions need women more than women need religion. The fast-moving trends of globalization present new possibilities. If organized religions fail to accommodate women’s highest aspirations or worst fears, then women will seek out alternatives.

Susan Froetschel is author of Fear of Beauty, set in Afghanistan, to be published by Prometheus/Seventh Street Books in January 2013.

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  • fish4

    I find it strange that hundreds of women are being lectured by a self righteous fool who claims he is smart enough to know gods opinion on everything. If he knew half as much as he thinks he does he would be smart of enough to shut up. Since you may be too stupid to figure this out on your own here is a clue Scott in VA

  • RedTornadoes77

    Republicans–the party of billionaires, segregation, McCarthyism, etc.–benefit from religion. Why would anyone who despises such things still continue to go to church. By contrast, no wonder the top one percent encourages them to do so. I hate to agree with Marx about anything but he was dead on about religion when he called it, “The opiate of the people.”

    Recall Pius XII’s nice deal with Hitler. Recall the reactionary, church-led Vendee movement during the French Revolution? Recall the close ties between bishops and brutal dictators in Latin America.

    If no one was religious today, would the GOP have a chance at the polls?

  • RedTornadoes77

    CBS 60 Minutes, in a report on the Irish Catholic church after mass exposure of pedophile priests and coverups, said that in some churches attendance has dropped from 90% in the early seventies from 2 percent now. Ireland used to import priests. Now it has a shortage and not just because so many have been arrested or kicked out. Hardly anyone wants to become a priest.

    I think it’s great, having put up with nasty, yardstick wielding nuns (no priests fortunately) in elementary school. In one case, they actually killed a kid whose mother made the mistake of having him wear jeans to school one day because all regular pants were dirty. His nun teacher went into a fit and beat him. She then called in another nun who said, pointing at the boy: “Do you see what I see? That boy is wearing jeans.”

    At the end of the day the victim, Eddie Savitski, was among students who attended an event the school encouraged at a local movie theater in Mount Carmel, Pa. When he was leaving the nuns saw him and ran after him–apparently intent on beating him again. Eddie, who was a friend of mine, ran into the street and got hit by a car.

    For years afterward, his mom would sit in a chapel across the street with a sad look on her face. You could see she never got over it. I’ve heard since that the driver was haunted as well, not knowing the real story. My sister, who was in Eddie’s class, says that the next day, the kids was warned not to tell anyone about what happened the previous day. A threat was implied but not stated.

  • wyograndfather

    Biologically he was wrong–he apologized forget it. We all know by “legitimate rape” he meant forcible as opposed to statuatory where it is consensual but one is underage

  • Delongl

    This is the most ridiculous idea and article I have read in years. The hate for religion just steeps out of this article.

  • Guest1000

    Be nice to see women seek out alternatives to the bigoted feminist secular ‘religion’ they have been brainwashed with. The Big Lie (gender feminism) is ideological hatred pure and simple…hatred which en-‘gender’s a cult following among the feebleminded sex. Vibrant growing communities of bigoted female supremacists who worship stupid feminist theology are no better than those which worship murderous Sky Daddies the world over.

  • joecalbear

    Is “legitimate rape” something only fundamentalists practice?

  • concerned citizen

    Can you believe that tax payers are footing the bill for this man’s salary? How can anyone in their right mind make a comment like he did?

    Go To: Robert A. Young’s Blog For Social Responsibility @ Blogspot.com for a retired Philadelphia Police Department’s Sex Crimes investigator’s view about a controversial comment made by a former Philadelphia prosecutor (D.A.), two term Philly Mayor and long time Pennsylvania Governor on a Scranton, Pa’s television show when questioned by a news anchor about the Penn State sex crimes scandal. This individual also served on the Penn State boare of trustees but, like others claimed no knowledge of the reported incidents allegedly occurring at that time.

  • useurcents

    WYOGRANDFATHER, RAPE IS RAPE. He was only voicing the
    convention platfore that all GOP’s approved. He is also a very
    stupid man. Apologies are only as good as the man and this man
    is a pox on ALL PEOPLE and should never be in the election process.

  • persiflage

    Guest – you just won the stupid comment award and have also place first in the ‘almost impossible to understand’ contest.

    You have bested the best – congratulations!

  • IntellectOne

    What does ‘Religion’ mean? Is is misunderstood just as the statement made by Akin? Is it purposely misunderstood or is it that the Democrat woman are surface thinkers and really do not know what they are talking about.? A religion is man’s/woman’s connection to God. God gave everyone a Will to Choose Him or not to Choose Him. God does not need the man or woman to believe in Him, but the man or woman will be lost without God. Especially, if the woman is raped, while she is intoxicated or otherwise.
    What Akin’s statement shows is that there are “legitimate Rapes” and then there are the ‘Rapes’ that women make-up, as they find themselves single and pregnant. If the Democrats try to say that that does not happen, they are liars. Akin’s statement was one that a doctor had told him at one time. (that a woman’s body may naturally fight off a pregnancy while being raped. Presumable, because of the ‘Violent’ and Terrifying” action of the rape, to the woman. That is a plausibility in some cases? The indignation and over-blown statements, by the Democrat women, against Akin are hysterical and not genuine at best and an absolute farce at worse.
    Either way the child in the mother’s womb is an innocent helpless child.
    Rape is Wrong and a horrific injustice to the woman.
    Abortion is ‘Wrong’ and an horrific injustice to the innocent helpless human-person in the mother’s womb.
    (2)Two ‘Wrongs’ can never make a ‘Right’!

  • alison8

    (Sorry for the double post–six minutes later, the first hadn’t gone through.)

  • jack711

    You must have provided a link to the wrong youtube. I never heard anything like that on this clip. You are being dishonest.

  • Marlowe28

    The atheist movement, as evidenced by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, is filled with men who disprespect women. It may be that most religious organizations support the patriarchy but so does “organized” atheism.

    A woman who spoke at an atheist convention blogged about feeling uncomfortable when a man came onto her in a hotel elevator in the early hours of the morning and refused to take no for an answer. Dawkins and many of his minions, mostly male, but some women, too, attacked her viciously for publicly recounting her experience. Their laundry list of objections could have been written by the Pope and Todd Akin.

  • IntellectOne

    What happened to Freedom of Speech? Are women the only ones that can say and act indecent? The filthy talk and all the pornography that they produce? Examples “Lady Gaga” and the “Fake Madonna” during half-time performance for the NFL and on the public waves. What a farce that the Democrat women are insulted by what Akin said. Akin should stay as a public servant because he seems to be one of the few decent elected officials..

  • IntellectOne

    How can anyone pay for Obama? After all, he was pushing birth-control pills at a High School.

  • claywillis

    Are there truly women out there smart enough to realize where Barack Obama and the Democrats (with the help of the media, including the Washington Post) are trying to take this country, and who are unwilling to throw a candidate under the bus who will help reverse that direction because of one misstatement for which he apologized? Are there really women out there who do not want their children and grandchildren to grow up in an America with a socialist system that will drastically limit their freedom and choices in life? Are there women out there smart enough to avoid letting the in-the-tank-for-Obama media tell them for whom to vote? Imagine that!