I’ve never been one of those feminists who sees patriarchy in every corner of the culture, or a sexist leer in every male smile. While I certainly consider myself a feminist–defined as one who believes that men and women should be entitled to equal legal rights and judged on our individual abilities–I’ve always assumed that resistance to a fuller role for women in society is mostly a product of the more general resistance to change and nostalgia for a bygone (largely imaginary) past.
But I’m beginning to think that “the war on women” may not be hyperbole.
Yesterday, Slate Magazine had an article on the now infamous attack on Girl Scouts by Indiana Representative Morris. That article included the following paragraph:
“The escalating hysteria around modern Girl Scouts is due to the increasing polarization in this country around the concept of women’s equality. In an era where the right is putting contraception back on the table as a controversial topic, girls getting together to build self-esteem and learn skills that might make them competitive with boys and men in school and the workplace is bound to get the right wing freak-out treatment. We’re talking about the same movement perpetuating the argument that the purpose of sex education is to get teenagers and young adults “hooked” on sex so that the non-profit Planned Parenthood can rake in the big bucks. Of course they look at little girls gathered around the campfire and fill in lurid fantasies bordering on the Satanic. We’re watching the death throes of male dominance, and no one should expect such a thing to look pretty.”
Before this year, I would have dismissed this as an over-the-top reaction to an attack by one clearly disturbed lawmaker. But I have to concede that this bizarre incident can’t be viewed in a vacuum.
There’s the effort in Texas and Virginia to condition a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy on her submission to an invasive, medically unnecessary “transvaginal” probe. In the twilight zone we currently inhabit, this requirement is being voted on at the same time that Republicans like Rick Santorum are on record opposing funding for prenatal testing. (They’re willing to invade my body to punish me for wanting an abortion, but ensuring the health of my fetus is too expensive??)
The assault on Planned Parenthood has been ferocious, and despite the predictable rhetoric, it can’t be attributed to abortions, which are 3% of what the organization does. Republicans have been vicious in their efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood entirely, despite the fact that thousands of poor women depend upon it for reproductive health services, breast exams and family planning.
Irrational and improbable as it seems, it is now clear that “family planning” (aka birth control) is actually what they are attacking.
The so-called “Personhood” bills being introduced in several state legislatures would classify a fertilized egg as a “person,” making the most-used methods of contraception “abortions,” and thus illegal under most circumstances. The manufactured hysteria about requiring insurance companies to cover contraception–portrayed as an affront to the “religious liberty” of employers–confirmed that there really is a concerted effort to deny women the right to control their own reproduction. (I’ll admit to being stunned that there really are people living in the United States in the 21st century who believe that “religious liberty” means they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on women who do not share those beliefs. Shades of the Taliban…)
In 1971, I was one of a small handful of women in my law school class. I was the first woman hired by the law firm I joined, and thanks to a progressive mayor, the first woman to be Corporation Counsel of a major American city. I was the only skirt in the room more times than I can remember, for more years than I can now count. But during that time–despite the patronizing behavior of male colleagues, despite the female “friends” who warned me that children of working mothers all turn out to be drug addicts, despite snide remarks about castrating females or offensive suggestions that the only way I could have gotten these jobs was by “putting out” –I never doubted that women would continue to make progress. The old guys with the archaic attitudes would die off, the increasing participation of women in the workforce would make us less of an anomaly, and we would provide healthier, more capacious role models for our children, male and female.
Time and patience were our allies. Progress–however incremental–was inevitable.
I still believe in that progress. I still believe male privilege and domination are inevitably doomed. But I had no idea how hard the troglodytes would fight, and how ferocious the backlash would be.
Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney keep insisting that this year’s elections are about competing visions for America. They’re right. And one element of those competing visions is the role women will play. It’s becoming increasingly clear that when Romney and Santorum talk about “restoring” the future, they are talking about returning to a time when Father always knew best, and Mother played a decidedly second fiddle. (That retrograde vision is why so many male Republicans trash-talk Michelle Obama, while consigning their own wives to supporting roles as devoted and adoring props.)
I’ve been there and done that, and I’m not going back.