He’s a soldier in the war on women
Ben Carson's misogyny may be a quieter version of sexism than Donald Trump, but it's still just as damaging to all women, writes.
ON OCTOBER 24, NBC's Chuck Todd interviewed Dr. Ben Carson, who is running for president and hopes to be the Republican nominee. As a sexual assault survivor, I was stunned while watching the interview at the lack of understanding, compassion or empathy for women in general, and for victims of sexual assault in particular.
Even more disturbing was the misogynistic way in which Carson discusses pregnancy and abortion. At times, it seems as if a doctor is equivalent to a God, with the right to decide for woman. That decision should be hers and hers alone. Dr. Carson spoke with the same sense of entitlement to have control over women's bodies as my rapist exhibited.
In order to understand why it was dismissive and insulting to women, especially woman who have experienced sexual assault, I am summarizing my own experience. Telling my story is not a cry for sympathy or validation, but to show that it is just not as simple as Dr. Carson and many other anti-abortion advocates try to portray.
For victims/survivors, I want to issue a trigger warning. After you have read my story, I will address some of the issues I had with Dr. Carson's interview.
IN THE fall of 1970, I entered Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green as a freshman. In the spring semester of 1971, I met a young man from a prominent local family at a campus dance. At the end of the dance, he asked me out, and I told him I wasn't interested. A couple of days later, he showed up at my dorm, convinced me to go out with him, and we began dating. On our first date, he told me he was a good boy, who lived at home and went to church every Sunday.
He was the ultimate Southern gentleman until one night at a party. He handed me a drink; it had a very bitter taste and made me violently ill. He took me away from the main party, and for a little while was taking care of me. I was dizzy and disoriented, and he convinced me to lay down with him. At first, he was just comforting me until I felt better, but soon, it turned to something else. I managed to get away from him, but he blocked me from leaving the room, locked the door and proceeded to rape me.
After the attack, I locked myself in the bathroom where I overheard his younger brother and friends talking. His brother was the one who made the drink. Their plan had been for me to pass out, and the other three would have sex with me also. Too frightened to leave the bathroom, I waited until one of my friends came looking for me to open the door.
His family, especially his grandfather who was a federal appeals court judge, had considerable influence in the community, so I did not report my attack. No one would have cared or done anything to protect me from the backlash.
My rape was not the end of the story. The semester ended shortly after the attack, and no sooner than I was safe at home, my worst nightmare came true--I was pregnant with his child. When our families found out about the pregnancy, they tried to force us to marry. Terrified of him, I convinced my family to call off the wedding. The deal I made with my grandfather (he raised me and my brother) was to put the baby up for adoption. Abortion was never an option since Roe v. Wade had not yet become the law of the land.
After giving birth, I decided not to go through with the adoption, and my grandfather made good on his promise to kick me out with nothing but the clothes on my back. My aunt, a nun and a social worker came to my rescue. Because I had to turn to public assistance to pay the medical bills and survive until I could work, the state forced me to file a paternity suit.
My rapist, who also was the biological father, asked for a jury of his peers. He had a high-paid lawyer. I had to rely on a court-appointed attorney who I only met a few minutes before the hearing. His lawyer summed up with "Don't sentence this poor boy to 18 years of child support." No empathy or concern for the child. An all-white male jury said they couldn't be sure he was the father. When my attorney informed me that he could come back and sue me for parental rights, I knew I had to do something to protect myself and my child.
In the lead-up to the paternity hearing, my rapist had been driving 240 miles round trip to put threatening notes in my mailbox. We lived in different cities 120 miles apart. The notes would arrive on different days at different times, just to let me know he could get to me and the baby any time he wanted to. My lawyer presented the notes to the judge, who severed his parental rights and gave me a no-contact order. Finally, my child and I were safe.
After the paternity hearing, I told my family that from that point forward, he was dead to me. No one was to ever speak his name in my presence. It was the only way I could go forward and raise my son.
TODAY, I am a 63-year-old survivor. My son is 43 years old, and, yes, I am very proud of the man he became. Still, it was anything but easy. The strength that got me through that night has kept me going.
With some help from friends, my aunt and great-grandmother that stood with me, I raised my son as an "unwed mother." My son was referred to as a "bastard child" on more than one occasion. Fortunately, as a society we have moved away from those derogatory terms. Last year, more children were born to single mothers than married woman and the world didn't come to an end.
A few months after the birth, I returned to school to complete my undergraduate degree. After college, I moved back to Louisville and had a successful career as a graphic designer. We struggled financially, and my son had anything but a charmed life. Nothing like the life of privilege his biological father experienced. Once my child was in college, I moved from Louisville to Brooklyn, where I earned my master's degree and have been working at a prominent art school for more than 20 years.
A happy ending, though not completely. Like many victims/survivors, I suffer from PTSD. Trust issues have prevented me from being able to completely connect to other people affecting my most personal and intimate relationships.
Nightmares still haunt me from time to time as I relive the rape and the subsequent months that my attacker terrorized me. More than four decades later, I am still struggling with the healing process. It has taken me my entire adult lifetime to rebuild myself and my life.
Rape is not a joke. It is not an opportunity to secure your voting base--it is very personal and painful. Like many survivors, I refused to let that one event define me or my life. Nor have I let my rapist take away my humanity and empathy. It is still my belief that there is good in everyone, including this predatory poor excuse for a human being, who could do such a vile thing to an innocent young girl.
That is my story, and it is not an isolated one. It is estimated that somewhere between 12 million and 18 million women currently alive in the U.S. have been sexually assaulted. Because many women suffer in silence and don't report, there is no way to really know. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds in the U.S. Of those, up to 5 percent may result in a pregnancy. Why is stopping sexual assault not a national priority?
NOW I want to address several issues with what Dr. Carson had to say in that interview. Also I want to stress that it is not just what was said, but the nonchalant and dismissive way in which he expressed his views.
Dr. Carson's misogyny may be a quieter version of overt sexism than Donald Trump, but it is still just as damaging to all women. Both, along with a choir of candidates in this election cycle, as well as previous cycles, help to normalize a sense of male entitlement to control women and their bodies. This sends a message to young men and women that destructive behaviors like sexual assault and violence against women are acceptable.
Dr. Carson makes it clear that he supports overturning Roe v. Wade. Abortion is a safe and legal medical procedure that should be made more available not less. Abortions happened when they were illegal; the difference is women died from complications of illegal of DIY abortions.
Due to draconian restrictions on abortion providers and women seeking abortions, the ability to access an abortion is almost as difficult as it was in the years before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Many states now have fewer than five clinics that perform abortions. For 90 percent of women (mostly in rural areas), abortion for all practical purposes is inaccessible.
Next, the interview turns to whether there should be exemptions. Dr. Carson addresses the life and health of the mother as no big deal. An extraordinarily rare situation--yet according the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 650 women in the U.S. die per year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that about 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal mortality tends to be higher in rural and poorer communities.
This next part is the most upsetting exchange of the entire interview for victims and survivors of sexual assault. Rape and incest are not a good enough reason for Dr. Carson because of the many stories of people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest.
Rapists have parental rights and can sue for custody in 31 states. The child ties the mother to her attacker biologically for life. The children of rape and incest become pawns that these predators can use to continue to exercise power and control over their victims. Often in cases of incest, young victims are unable to terminate the pregnancy because, thanks to parental consent requirements, they need permission from the person responsible for their condition.
MORE DISTURBING than what Dr. Carson said was the casual, unconcerned and trivializing way in which he spoke those words. He treats the victims as irrelevant as he discusses abortion and sexual assault, showing a lack of understanding or empathy for the trauma these women have experienced. In fact, he treats woman as if they are completely irrelevant to any discussion of their lives and their bodies.
Dr. Carson is only the latest soldier in the right wing's war against women's reproductive rights. State by state, restrictions have made abortions almost impossible to obtain, as well as unaffordable for the women who may need them the most. But the attack doesn't stop there. They want to restrict woman's access to affordable birth control. You can't have it both ways--the only way to reduce the need for abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Coinciding with the attack on reproductive rights is the criminalization of pregnancy. Last April, after delivering a stillborn infant, Purvi Patel became the first person in U.S. history sentenced to prison for feticide for what the state said was an attempt to end her own pregnancy. Patel says she had a miscarriage, delivering a stillborn fetus. In spite of the fact that no drugs were found in her system, prosecutors accused her of taking drugs to induce an abortion.
Dozens of other similar cases are still pending in multiple states. Women have been arrested and handcuffed to their hospital beds for refusing to have cesarean sections. Forget about it; test positive for drugs or alcohol, and you are going to jail, not treatment. The problem is that criminalizing pregnancy is going to discourage many women from seeking prenatal care. No surprise this new line of attack is aimed mostly at woman in communities of color.
Like many before him and many more to follow, Carson is willing to demean women and scorn half the population for a few votes. Reproductive rights and sexual assault are discussed as if women don't actually inhabit their own bodies. To treat women as if we and our bodies are separate things is to rob us of our humanity.
Corporations are people, but women are not under capitalism. Until society recognizes our personhood, women will continue to be treated as if we are only the sum of what our uteruses produce. We are much more than objects to be possessed or incubators for social reproduction. It is time to change the conversation and the system we live under. Until then, women will never be free and equal.