Santorum Satire Gone Wild

Hoooooold up, everybody. As you know, I’m no Santorum booster. (Er, as an aside… I would like just to note that Rick Santorum’s Google problem coincides with the my not-wanting-to-use-double-entendre-in-a-story-about-Rick-Santorum-but-finding-it-difficult-to-avoid-doing-so-unintentionally problem. If a bad pun arises, I apologize in advance.) But even we who are not Santorum boosters would be well-advised, I think, to do two things:

1) Leave his wife’s medical history out of it

2) Try not to get punked by satire.

If you haven’t received your copy of Internet Drama Daily today, here’s the background: this post from HuffPo (proclaiming that Rick Santorum’s wife had an abortion which he endorsed, that hypocrite!) didn’t pass the smell test, provided you click through to the source it’s based on. That source, from a blog called Early Onset of Night, written by Michael Kindt, reads almost like a believable (and heartrending) story about Karen Santorum’s abortion. That is, until you get to this bit:

Mr. Santorum is opposed to any and all forms of abortion. Incest? Too bad. Rape? Too bad. Twelve years old? Too bad. Wife, mother, daughter, lover, friend dying? Too bad.

This hypocrite needs to be kept out of all elective offices for the rest of his life.

“Abortion in any form is wrong,” said Santorum in 2000, three years after the tragedy. “Except for my wife. If your wife’s life was at stake and the only thing that could save her was an abortion, well, too bad. Your wife will have to die. It was different with my wife. You see, I love her. I don’t even know your wife’s name.”

It’s that bit that probably makes us all say: Riiight. And it’s not been thrown back at him so often, by feminists and rival Republican candidates alike, that we could all recite it in our sleep? And nobody can find that quote anywhere except on Kindt’s own blog post—a fact which prompted Dan Savage to pull the story from The Stranger? Mmkay, sure, whatever.

In fairness, it looks to me like Kindt intended this as satire, but the satirical element didn’t announce itself early enough in the piece for everyone to clue in before just reblogging and retweeting. After all, the first two-thirds of the post seem to have some basis in verifiable fact: Karen Santorum did fall gravely ill during pregnancy, resulting in a miscarriage. This we can verify in the book she wrote on the subject.

Perhaps Kindt was arguing that Karen Santorum’s miscarriage, if it involved the artificial induction of labor before fetal viability, was arguably an abortion—or at least, that it was equivalent to the very procedures Rick Santorum has said he would like to prosecute a doctor for performing. And the fictitious, over-the-top quote at the end was just an instance of satire that didn’t quite work. Hey, I get it. Sometimes when you write a spoof, people mistakenly read it as genuine. It happens. But: now that the misunderstanding is cleared up, it’s time for the rest of us to stop passing the story along as though it’s for real. Cool? Cool.

But I suppose I have other problems with this fake story, which at the time of this writing is still live on HuffPo and still being reblogged and tweeted as though it’s genuine.

I get a hinky feeling when we’re invited to leer at a woman’s body in order to derive righteously indignant moral lessons therefrom. And pregnant women’s bodies are among the most popular objects of this strategy. Other objects of creepy misogynist leering include “sluts,” virgins, “welfare queens,” women who’ve had more children than the onlooker finds suitable, women who’ve had fewer children than the onlooker finds suitable, transgender women, fat women, women in positions of power… I could go on but it’s too depressing.

Anyway, that move—that peering at a woman’s body and saying, “Ah, what might this SAY about the DIRTINESS OF SEX? Or about SACRIFICE? Or about THESE DEPRAVED TIMES IN WHICH WE LIVE?”—is, ahem, rather well-attested in the Christian theological tradition. I’m thinking, for example, about all the theological ink that has been expended on the question of whether Mary’s hymen was left intact after she gave birth to Jesus. Yes, many Very Theologically Serious Men believed that that was a question of consequence, with profound implications for Christology. (Imagine if Mary had been told, a few days postpartum, that her hymen would one day be the subject of serious theological debate. I like to think she’d roll her eyes and say something like, “Look, do you want to help? Here’s some laundry that needs doing. I’m going to take a nap.”)

And surely there are now secular variants to this strategy. My point is, I do not think it’s been helpful, this peering and leering at parturition in order to derive some sort of Moral of the Story. I don’t. I don’t think it’s worked out well for women. Because what happens is that reproduction, maternity, pregnancy, miscarriage, and childbirth (which, incidentally, carry burdens enough on their own) are now recruited for the task of proclaiming deep truths about Sin/A Mother’s Love/Sacrifice/Nature/God’s Design/the Virtue of Pain/The Selfishness of Some Women/the Trinity/etc. Or, here, The Hypocrisy of Pro-Lifers.

I don’t think that’s fair to impose on someone, to leer at them in that way, to demand that they obligingly produce an object lesson that you find personally useful. I don’t think it helps make a world where actual women are respected as actual adult human beings. If Karen Santorum wants to tell her miscarriage story (which she did), that’s her business. But her miscarriage is not there for the world at large to leer at and derive lessons therefrom.

“But shall we not even point out the hypocrisy, if it were to turn out to be an elective abortion? I mean, the hypocrisy!” Yeah, look, I mean, I’m asking myself this too. And I guess my answer is: Well, first, I think the original post is clearly wrong on the facts. But, fine, in that pretend world where it isn’t. Could we point out hypocrisy without leering at a particular family’s struggle—the fever, the infection, and what must have been one of the most heartbreaking days of their lives—and saying “AH HA! I knew it! Aren’t I a smarty? I swear, these people.” I don’t know if we could. Maybe. It sure seems like a worthwhile goal.

(And it’s not like there aren’t plenty of other things to criticize Rick Santorum for. Good grief.)

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