Balancing Act

Lawmaker's remarks a reminder that women are still fighting for their bodies

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 Rep. Lawrence Lockman

Rep. Lawrence Lockman (Maine House Republicans photo)

It's tempting to ignore the ludicrous rape comment from lawmaker Lawrence Lockman, a Republican state representative from Maine.

The guy has said so many inflammatory, bigoted statements in his three decades of public service that he lost any and all credibility many moons ago.

But we shouldn't ignore it.

The comment, brought to light earlier this year by Bangor Daily News writer Mike Tipping in a piece outlining some of Lockman's more controversial remarks, equated a woman's right to an abortion to a man's right to be a rapist.

"If a woman has (the right to abortion), why shouldn't a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman?" Tipping reports that Lockman wrote in 1990, while serving as director of the Pro-Life Education Association. "At least the rapist's pursuit of sexual freedom doesn't (in most cases) result in anyone's death."

The quote, along with reports of Lockman's decades-late apology, made the social media rounds this week: a Salon.com story and an Issuehawk.com story about the remarks both popped up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds Tuesday — partly because we're embroiled in a national conversation about rape in light of George Will's controversial June 6 Washington Post column.

As tempting as it is to dismiss Lockman's remarks as the unhinged rantings of an extremist, his tortured logic lies at the root of our conflicted notions about sexual assault. By conflating a woman's reproductive rights with a man's freedom to rape whomever he pleases, Lockman perfectly distilled a point on which we remain stuck in this culture: We don't view women's bodies as their own.

They're objects by which to sell products, vessels in which to grow humans, places from which to derive pleasure. We learn early and often to have — and to voice — opinions about them: how much space they take up, how they're adorned, how they look on runways, on billboards, on awards shows. We get a say. We feel entitled.

We fail to drive home the point that each woman's body is hers and hers alone. So when a woman says an unequivocal "no" — or even a hesitant "OK," followed by a "wait, no," — a segment of our culture hears an invitation to press on. Weigh in. Take their fair share.

To that segment, I offer this completely inelegant analogy: If you are driving along in a sporty car, feeling fly, turning a few heads, are you kinda, sorta asking to get car-jacked? How about if you drive it around a college campus? Where a bunch of co-eds are drinking? Does that mean you want someone to take it from you?

Let's say you've built yourself a home. You take good care of it. You're proud of how it looks. Let's say you have some friends over for cocktails. Are you inviting them to steal your stuff? Are you sending mixed signals if you ask them to leave without burglarizing you?

Of course not. Your possessions are your possessions. And a woman's body is her possession. When she wants to share it with you, she'll let you know. When she doesn't, she'll let you know that too. It's truly that simple.

It's never OK to coerce a woman into sex. Not when she walked by you in a short skirt. Not when she said "yes" at first and then changed it to "no." Not when you feel like exercising your superior strength.

Lockman blurred that line, as do readers who send me notes like this one: "You and your sisterhood are sex objects. What else could you be? From the time the 'average' female is about 11 or 12 years old and has grown an alluring (expletive) she learns how to exploit that and other body parts, which males are intoxicated by."

Extreme examples, sure. Unique? Not really.

Earlier this week, obstetrician/gynecologist Jen Gunter wrote a soaringly powerful open letter to Will, speaking up for the first time about her rape 25 years ago. She recalled the terror of the night she was assaulted and noted that her scars, like those of many of her patients, linger for a lifetime.

"When a man who is much stronger than you holds you down — Hey baby don't fight, you know you want it — and forces your legs open, the violence and power of those movements is horrifically violating and utterly disempowering," she wrote.

It's not mutual. It's not intimate. It's not fun or pleasurable or passionate or any of the other things sex is supposed to be. It's an assault.

"(The) actions represent sexual aggression," Gunter wrote, "They have little to do with sex and everything to do with aggression."

A woman's body is nobody's for the taking. The fact that we haven't embraced that as an absolute truth is a disgrace.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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