Women get a lot of lip service about being equal and fully valued members of society, although sometimes we have to wonder.
As we have advanced in the workplace, so have the fortunes of the men in our lives. “Mad Men” may be a popular TV drama, with its alluring evocation of the days when men were men and women were sexually available office underlings (or were at home wearing an apron). However, I doubt many married men would trade their wife’s income for a chance to relive that era. They couldn’t afford it.
Yet the Republican Party seems to live in a different reality. Here we are, smack in the middle of a presidential race, and the right is busy trying to undo everything the women’s movement has accomplished in the last 50 years — most notably reproductive rights, which were crucial in letting us pursue careers in the first place.
Mitt Romney, desperate to prove his conservative bona fides, has declared war on Planned Parenthood, vowing to strip the nation’s largest family planning service of federal funding. Opposition to abortion is the subtext of Romney’s attack, but the organization plays an even greater role in American society by helping to prevent unwanted pregnancies — and that bugs many conservatives, too. His vow to yank federal funding (which subsidizes Planned Parenhood’s reproductive health services, not abortions) is Romney’s way of showing the GOP base that he is hostile to everything Planned Parenthood stands for — including sex without the dangers of disease and accidental procreation.
Romney’s comments followed the ugly debate about a federal policy requiring employer health insurance plans to cover contraception without copays from employees. The proceedings in Congress were noteworthy for a certain, shall we say, gender imbalance, in which male politicians (and clerics) pontificated about women’s reproduction as if it was their issue alone to decide. There was an air of “Sit in the corner, honey, the men have things to discuss.”
In this climate, even the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is stirring GOP pots. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without a single Republican vote. It seems Republicans have a problem with new provisions having to do with Native American jurisdiction, and with the fact that the bill extends protection to immigrant women and same sex couples.
Heaven forbid that the law protect too many victims of domestic violence!
Sen. Dianne Feinstein nicely summed up the GOP’s strange behavior to the New York Times: “This is part of a larger effort, candidly, to cut back on rights and services to women. We’ve seen it go from discussions on Roe v. Wade, to partial birth abortion, to contraception, to preventive services for women. This seems to be one more thing.”
All of this is quite a shock for women of my generation, who were playing hopscotch during the struggles of the 1960s and ’70s.
The feminists of those heady years didn’t quite succeed in quashing male chauvinism. (I have had the pleasure of hearing an aging male editor say, “I’m not going to hire a woman.”) But they fought the epic battles. They paved my way — and I’m deeply grateful. Now it’s up to new generations of women to defend our ground.
The rebuke of Rush Limbaugh is a start. His vile sexual taunting of a Georgetown law school student who dared to speak up to Congress was so excessive that advertisers abandoned his show in droves. It was remarkable, considering that vileness is his brand.
What truly enraged women about the episode were the craven excuses for Limbaugh’s comments offered by leading Republicans, including three of the four remaining presidential candidates. They couldn’t muster the moral courage to stand up to Limbaugh — because they desperately need his approval.
It would be convenient to write off these affronts to women as the last gasps of male privilege. The forces of patriarchy have lost, and all they have left is their resentment.
But we should remember that resentment is powerful fuel for political movements, and the fires of backlash are still burning on the American right. The challenge for women (and their male allies) is to hold up a mirror to the real America — where the vast majority of women want and, at key points in their lives, use birth control — and to expose the phoney arguments and bogus values of the party that would deny them that right.