Sisterhood Blog

The Enduring Rape Myth Created by Nazis

By Sarah Seltzer

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Usually on the internet when Nazi analogies come into play, it means Godwin’s Law—the theory that all online arguments will eventually devolve into a Hitler comparison—has been invoked and the conversation is over.

But in the case of the “women who are raped can’t get pregnant” myth, a myth Republicans love to perpetuate, there’s actually truth in the comparison. This is because the myth originated with a “study” that was actually, gruesomely conducted in a concentration camp. As Emily Bazelon reminded us during the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” hullabaloo, this lie originates in part from an Nazi experiment.

Women were told they were on their way to die in the gas chambers—and then were allowed to live, so that doctors could check whether they would still ovulate. Since few did, Mecklenburg claimed that women exposed to the emotional trauma of rape wouldn’t be able to become pregnant, either.

The reason this is back in the news, and Bazelon had to remind readers about the original connection, is because another Republican, Trent Franks, perpetuated the medically inaccurate rumor as the GOP tried to push a 20-week abortion ban through the House, saying, “my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject—because, you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”

Though the comments weren’t exactly the same as Akin’s, they were disturbing as part of a trend of thoughtless, untrue, sexist remarks from politicians on the subject of rape and abortion and female anatomy in general.

The Tumblr “It’s Not Just Akin” is keeping track of all these absurd, cringe-worthy statements made by politicians about women’s bodies, comments that have been matched by a continual stream of legislation to not only end abortions, but discount and trivialize the experiences of rape victims. See also: Democratic and GOP men’s intransigence on the issue of moving military rape adjudication outside the “chain of command.”

So why, after the 2012 elections are these anti-choice, anti-woman bills still passing, these comments that, let’s note again, harken back to Nazi experiments, still coming down?

Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan has some thoughts:

Why would the GOP, a party that was open palm spanked in the 2012 elections and that admitted its continued existence depended on “get(ting) with the times” (not saying dumb crap about rape) regress to the same old rhetoric that got them in trouble in the first place? Because they think no one’s paying attention, and the ones that are won’t remember when it counts.

She’s right. There’s a level of numbness that sets in when you scroll through the Tumblr and realize how pervasive this kind of talk is. Yet we have to take note: as disturbing as reports of the government spying on our phones and our computers, the government getting into our bodies and our reproduction—old story that it is—should be provoking protest, too. We can’t succumb to outrage fatigue, because they’re not succumbing to misogyny fatigue.


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