Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Other People's Problems

So by now, just about everyone has read and re-read this quote from Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.):

"From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy as a result of rape is] really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."

Red Foreman is not happy with you.
I weep. Sincerely. I weep that any grown man in a postion of responsibility could possibly refer to the biological consequences of rape as "that whole thing," as if it were some type of Rube Goldberg machine that is baffling and amusing in equal measure. I weep that he would hold in his diseased mind the twin concepts of "legitimate" rape and "she must have wanted it" rape and believe that the female reproductive system is wired to know the difference.

Oh my God, what an asshole.

Then this morning, I read a letter to the editor in my local deadtree newspaper on a completely different topic.  In response to a column about creating alternative classrooms for disruptive students, some person named Barbara A. Whitfield (whose address is 133 Private Road 193,Streetman, TX 75859-3273, should you want to send her a Hallmark card) wrote this:

"I know by first-hand experience that when you raise a child right, you don’t have these [discipline] problems. I raised four children who are great citizens, have paid off their own college loans and have good jobs, and I was never called to their school."

Also, they never played ball in the house.
Different words, same exact message.

If you are raped and get pregnant, you must have actually wanted it. If your kids get in trouble at school, you must have raised them wrong. Ditto if you lose your job or get hit by a bus or listen to dubstep.

Oh my God, what a bitch.

I'm glad that Rep. Akin has never been party to the agonizing decision of what to do about a rape pregnancy (or any kind of unwanted pregnancy, really). I'm glad that Ms. Whitfield has never had to bail out her kids because of debt or unemployment or simply bad choices. I can't wish those kinds of misfortune on anyone. But I don't agree with their pat generalizations about people who experience them, either.

I'm disturbed that there is a certain type of person whose world view is shaped by the concept of Other People's Problems. There's a real arrogance about people like Rep. Akin and Dowager Whitfield who believe that their good fortune is wholly deserved and therefore, others' misfortune must be equally deserved. This is not a simple faith in karma or reaping what you sow. This is a blind refusal to accept the validity of any experience outside their own.

To suggest that "when you raise a child right" that child will live a blameless existence is absurd, as is the flipside notion that kids who have rough upbringings are doomed to lead troubled lives. I have real trouble believing that someone as rigid and lacking in empathy as Old Lady Whitfield could have been the shining example of motherhood she holds herself out to be, in any case.

Similarly, the completely uninformed belief of Rep. Akins that becoming pregnant (or not) after a rape is a cosmic judgment on the woman's level of complicity suggests more than mere ignorance. It's the statement of a person who handles unfamiliar situations by substituting judgmental rationalizations for compassionate understanding. In both cases, it's because these individuals and people like them have decided these things are Other People's Problems.

I love feeling better about myself at the expense of others.
I hate to tell you folks, but the world is full of Other People, leading Other Lives. Some of them are criminals, sociopaths, or just plain morons. Some of them are upstanding citizens with impeccable records. We are all, to someone else, Other People. And most of us are doing the best we can with what we've got. Some of us will experience the rarefied combination of good intentions, good preparation, and good fortune that let us succeed in life. Some of us will be shut out. Some of us will fall victim to bad people, others to bad luck. And some of us will find ourselves in a position to be judged favorably by Other People who will welcome us as One of Them. If that's what we want.

But to the Akinses and the Whitfields of the world: I don't want to be One of You. Between your problems and mine, I'll take mine. And I'll own them.

Just promise me you'll own yours. The last thing I need is Other People's Problems.


  1. Talk about being spot on with your words. Infinite thumbs up here.

  2. Thanks for saying it better than I could.


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