Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is there a War on Women?

Reading Hanna Rosin's The End of Men this week, I wanted to spend some time thinking about the onslaught of articles reporting the continued politicization and diminution of women's issues.

Firstly, is there a war on women?

Democrats say yes - and it's Republicans setting the land mines.  Republicans say no - and have uncovered a slew of female faithful (Mary Kate Cary, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Sabrina Schaefffer to name a few) to get the message out.  But more importantly to women - how have the rights of 51% of the electorate become so politicized? 

The proof is in the pandering.  What do our representatives say and do about women's rights and the issues that particularly impact women? 

The majority of the legislation and rhetoric targeted at women's rights have centered on abortion and contraception, which may also be linked to a reported drop in pro-choice identification among Americans.  These bills have been numerous and unrelenting - including bills to mandate transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, seeking to give private employers control over their female employees access to contraception, seeking a personhood amendment to the constitution, seeking to redefine rape as limited to 'forcible rape' to prevent funding for abortions in cases of acquaintance rape, seeking to criminalize abortion even in cases of rape or incest, and even attempts to limit access to the HPV vaccine for minors.   

But the hoopla over reproductive control has obscured some equally disturbing trends from the GOP in relation to equal treatment for women. For instance, the GOP party platform includes avoiding "social experimentation" in the military - including denying women the right to serve in ground combat. The right to be placed in extreme danger for little compensation may seem like a hollow victory to some, but for many top leadership positions, both within the military and in the federal government, experience in combat service is a necessary career move

The GOP has also obstructed efforts to achieve and protect equitable income between the sexes: Democrats drafted a Paycheck Fairness Act, which would shift the burden of proof on employers to justify facially inequitable pay for women, as well as permit compensatory and punitive damage awards. The bill was filibustered by Senate Republicans. Democrats also sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - only 8 of 219 Senate Republicans voted in favor of the bill. In defense, many prominent GOP lawmakers now deny the existence of a gender pay gap, thus explaining why they refuse to take action to address the problem.  

Is the war on women also a war on moms? Working moms? 

It seems counterintuitive, being that the GOP have evinced such a fervid investment in our fruitfulness, to think that they would oppose the systemic protections that make it possible for most Americans to afford parenthood. However, vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has proposed cutting Medicaid, a program insuring 28 million children, by $770 billion. A move which harms all poor and working class Americans, but single mothers in particular. Head Start and pre-school programs across the country have likewise been among the first programs to see their funding slashed.  Lawmakers in Frederick County, Maryland, went so far as to say women should get married and stay home with their pre-schoolers in lieu of formal schooling anyway, as justification for funding cuts. Even the federal school lunch program has been targeted for defunding by Republican senate candidates, such as Todd Akin and Jeff Flake. Really? Feeding tater-tots to poor kids is what's holding our economy back fellas?  
One area where both parties are leaving us in the lurch? Paid maternity and family leave

In case you didn't know already, we are behind Pakistan in paid maternity leave, in that we don't have any! So yes, I conclude that we women are suffering and have suffered many blows in our march towards equality - and whether we call it a war is inconsequential. Because I can't help but think, that when the rights of one gender - the gender which has struggled and has not yet achieved equality - are even subject to debate, we have already lost. And when one side of that debate disputes the science, the math, the polling, the data, the statistics which support the inequality in the first instance, who treat as greedy the necessities for life, autonomy and dignity, we have lost no matter what our male proxies ultimately compromise that we should be 'given'. What is earned is precious, and what is gifted can be taken away. So I reiterate my battle cry of last week - and say we need to sponsor more strong women candidates to truly represent us in this battle. 


Patricija said...

Here, here, sister! Sign me up for this battle!

The fact that the GOP seeks to prevent women from serving in ground combat not only hinders military women professionally, but it reinforces the stereotype that women are the weaker sex.

In high school, I had a teacher who proudly proclaimed that women should not be fire fighters because we simply do not have the strength capability to do so. MALARKEY! The fact that male athletes are stronger and faster than their female counterparts in no way translates to men always being stronger than women. If you train a woman to do ground combat, her ability to do well at it is not based on her gender, but on the individual. The character in Captain America was initially a feeble man with a good heart. No amount of working out would have changed his body. (It took Marvel magic to do that.)

Like you mentioned, maybe some think being spared from this task is beneficial. But I think that type of benevolent sexism is simply a wolf disguised in sheep's clothing. Do we still say women and children first? I sure hope not. I say, children first, and then ever human for themselves.

Jihan A. Kahssay said...

I completely agree: a war has been waged against women – and it began long long ago.

I have been reading Manhood in America (3rd ed.), where masculinities historian Michael Kimmel writes the history of American manliness. He theorizes that after the American Revolution, white working-class men waged a social and symbolic “war” against women (and blacks, immigrants, and native Americans) as they struggled to secure their place in the public sphere of society. Their aim was to define themselves in relation to (and more superiorly than) the aristocratic men of their day whose lineage and great wealth was often tied to (or otherwise associated with) a European heritage. American men broke away from their European ancestry by repeatedly demonstrating they were manlier than European men. The easiest way to demonstrate manliness, however, is to exert dominance over feminine things and women.

I don’t mean to suggest that today’s war on women is some manifestation of the American man’s fear of a European take over. But, I do think that history has a lesson to teach staunch proponents of the war on women. That lesson is that the war on femininities once sprung unjustly from masculine insecurities – and who is to say it hasn’t do so again.