**Trigger Warning: mentions of sexual abuse, sexual assault, abortions, child abuse**
A Utah GOP State Representative named Karianne Lisonbee made an awkwardly worded rebuttal to a text she received in late June. The text informed Lisonbee – who is in the “it should be illegal for practitioners to perform abortions except in cases of threats to health or rape/incest” camp (pay attention to this wording, it will matter again later) – she should control men’s ejaculations rather than women’s pregnancies. Her response was outrageously awkward as she confidently announced she trusted women to control their “intake of semen.” A comment that brings to mind Missouri Republican former state Representative Todd Akin’s “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” That whole thing being rape.
While the internet went bonkers over how on its sound byte face it seemed Representative Lisonbee’s understanding was that if women flex their pelvic floor some magical way, or activate our secret vagina control lever (the same one that lets us hold in period blood, probably) we can manually eject semen from our bodies or at the very least close it off from reaching our uterus! The comment was truly excellent viral pie-throwing comedy.
However, I think it is important to acknowledge that what she said, how she said it, and the defenses she has used since highlight a very common mentality in the LDS church. Now, whether or not Representative Lisonbee identifies as LDS (the crumbs are there, though I cannot confirm) but I believe (I know?!) based on my own upbringing as an LDS girl in Utah, that this is her saying, “Women control men ejaculating in them by not putting themselves in positions where men can ejaculate in them.”
Now, this is the internet world so please let me make myself clear, I am not referring to sexual positions (insert eighth-grade snicker all the same though). So, even more straightforward, the message is, “Women can control semen coming into them by not having penetrative sex with men, unless they want to get pregnant.” To which the obvious pushback (and follow-up clarification from Representative Lisonbee) is except rape and incest, of course (or not “of course” depending on the individual state right now … I will pause while we all scream into the ether and then donate time or dollars to our local Planned Parenthood chapter).
What I think is very sinister is that this government official, while emphatically claiming her desire to limit abortion access can still be compatible with supporting women’s choice (with the transparent sidestep language of saying her stance is to punish abortion providers, and not women seeking abortion) glosses over her state’s ruling religion’s culture with words that we all kind of are meant to assume we understand the same way. Which is not true.
The proclaimed testimony-building justification of LDS sexual “purity” education (and other “purity” culture proponents) is that if you are a girl or woman (or boy or man) living your life in a Godly way then you can avoid both sexual impurity, but also (if you ‘do it right’) pretty much all forms of unwanted penis penetration or inappropriate touch entirely. The article linked above and my own observed and lived experiences confirm that the opposite is true. The unwillingness to grapple with the lived culture and reality of the state you lead is inexcusable.
Sidenote here: it is inexcusable in every politician. I am not missing the shitty reality that in a state where women-identifying politicians are already sparse and are required to exist in spaces that are likely demeaning, if not actively abusive, it is one of the few who is getting dragged through the mud for things her male counterparts have neglected since the inception of the state. I see the injustice of it, I do.
However, with that a, it is because she is a woman with experiences in her own life in a woman’s body, and with intimate knowledge of other women that is not as freely shared with men, that it feels like a deeper neglect to not have better language and nuance for her positions.
The logic of her state’s dominant religion is that God-following men and boys always respect God-following women and girls OR that God-following women and girls will be able to discern which men are “safe” men and which men are not. And perhaps I am wrong, perhaps this logic is her perceived lived experience. But also, perhaps she has gone through life like so many of the LDS women I was raised around in UT, with blinders and cultural conditioning around how to interpret the actions of men that quite literally gloss over emotional, physical, and sexual abuse with either denial, ‘forgiveness,’ or a nearly complete lack of equitable relationships between genders.
She is also quite blatantly ignoring a growing and devastating body of cases and evidence that the LDS church, which has always had deep roots in pedophilia – something she has strong opinions on the prevention of - continues to be rife with it in her state. See the case of multiple UT high schools where seminary teachers and LDS coaches groomed and raped teenage girls. See the Protect LDS Children campaign headed by Sam Young. See the deep and ever-growing files of hush cases settled by the LDS law firm every single year, or if that is too much conjecture, research the hotline the LDS church created as the alternate option for male church leaders to call when sexual abuse is reported to them. A line that is monitored by LDS church lawyers.
See uncles, fathers, babysitters, bishops, and home teachers who use their positions within the LDS hierarchy structure of Priesthood holders, counselors, teachers, and overall, the only ones who are explicitly given “God’s power on earth” to gaslight, coerce, intimidate, and overwhelm girl children and teenagers into being isolated and asked to account for their purity, molested, raped and who are learning to interpret these things by handfuls of other names:
Do these make you squirm? Is it because they are familiar?
They are effective because that is the cost of brainwashing folks into purity culture, a education, and the belief that if you can justify feeling righteous, then you must be righteous. That by being able to project the markers of faith you must be a faithful person.
It’s the logic of the abused, it’s the logic of the indoctrinated. Bodily autonomy is a human right, and fundamentalist religious sexual “purity” logic is a public health crisis, and in a country or a state that did care about the health and safety of babies and women, would be legislated as such.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Engage with us in the comments section below!
**While Pride and Joy Foundation is proud to host this opinion piece by the author, this does not mean that each individual board member shares the same views. We respect the right of every person in our community to hold individual perspectives on current events, as well as the right to speak up and be heard. For questions or concerns, please email [email protected]
About the Author: Lauren McMullan is a millennial lesbian art librarian. She is a recovering emotional stuffer and mother of three. She was raised in Utah, but rebirthed in Michigan where she is lucky enough to be nurtured by a community bursting with artists, activists, and the most generous, and heartfelt folk ever.