Sunday, October 10, 2010

Remembering the "W Effect"

Does anybody remember the Hillary Clinton/Barbara Bush Cookie Bake-Off of 1992?  If so, do you feel the shock, the outrage, like this blogger?  Or are you rather entertained and curious for more First Lady Cookie Recipes? But the cookie bake-off controversy is just the tip of the iceberg of how conservatives -- and a complacent, sensationalist media -- have reshaped the feminist landscape.

As Laura Flanders shows in her book: The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, the conservatives took the helm in the '80s and largely did away with what the feminists of yore have achieved.  Not even the supposedly liberal Clinton years could undo the damage; in many ways, Clinton's fiscal conservatism hurt the feminist agenda just as much as Reagan's.  But with George W. Bush, an onslaught of anti-feminist policies came to finish the job and wage a virtual war on women's rights.

The book is a collection of essays, interviews, and blog posts by investigative journalists, social critics, scholars and activists. It is divided to chapters with titles beginning with the letter W: World; War; Wages and Well-Being.  Especially illustrative is the title of the chapter on the Bush Administration's incessant attempt to control women's bodies and reproductive choices: "Weddings, Wombs, and Whoopee."

The essays range from lightweight to heavy-duty, the authors from Gail Sheehan to Gloria Steinem.  The range of emotion it provoked in me oscillated between desperation to outrage, including astonishment and vigorous head-shaking.  For example, I was surprised to find out that in 2003(!) we were already talking about this "current" Recession.  (After living through 2008, your memories of the recession of 2003 aren't that bad, are they?)  I was also jolted by the number of ultra-right wing, incompetent cronies Bush has placed in powerful positions, like naming John Klink, formerly the Vatican's representative to the U.N., as leader of our country's delegation to U.N. conferences on children's rights, population, and development.  (Mr. Klink went on to oppose emergency contraception and abortion even for victims of troop rape in the former Yugoslavia.) Or the infamous appointment of anti-contraceptive crusader Dr. Hager to lead the FDA's commission on reproductive health, another fox to guard the hen house, in a very literal sense.

Don't misunderestimate me: I am well aware that Barack Obama is now in the White House.  It seems the raging wildfire of anti-women's-rights policies is extinguished.  But I also know that it will take at least several years for President Obama to undo this damage.  It was all the more fitting that the first legislation he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  I am looking forward to many more similar initiatives, policies, and signings of progressive legislation, in the years to come.


Rebecca said...

I read this book and am still outraged!

It will take Obama two terms as President to undo just the damage that “W” did to women. The massive assault on programs that support needy women will take generations to repair.

What is even more disturbing is the “framing” that was done by Bush and his republican cronies as it relates to what it is to be a good woman in America. This is the unseen damage.

One of Bush’s “accomplishments” was the Successful Marriage Initiative. This was highlighted in The “W” Effect in the chapter called Wedding Bells and Welfare Bucks. This wholesale modification of the welfare system eliminated poor women’s option, not to marry if they wanted to continue to seek government assistance to survive. This spurred a rash of state marriage initiatives such as the one in Arizona.

Below are two links that I think are useful.
The first one talks about the effects of the initiative and the second one demonstrates how the Republican think tanks “reframing” cast unmarried women as “bad” and “married women” as the ideal.

N.P. said...

While we have spent much time discussing how law can fill many gaps and how it needs to fill many gaps, this post illuminates how law can dictate how we view things. This type of legislation is steering us to how we should view men and women, and how we should view marriage, and finally how we should view conception. What it fails to do is acknowledge the individual perspective and more importantly feminist issues that had previously been part of the law.

Personally, for me, initiatives such as abstinence and sex education, that were implemented during the Bush administration failed our country. Not only did this set the tone for how men and women interact in relationships and understood sex, but it also failed in terms of education. For all the strides that had been taken in educating the public after the AIDS epidemic, after birth control, and "the sexual revolution," we failed our future by ensuring that the only safe way of having sex is to not have sex until you are married. Forget the issues of rape, domestic abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases - for this administration and the abstinence proponents - all that matters is that sex is left to a heterosexual marriage and nothing exists else exists in this spectrum.