A Republican War on Women?

Is it fair to claim that the Republican Party is waging a "war on women?"

Let's look at the facts. Although the phrase in question only regained its political fashionability within the last few months, the sad truth is that the Republican Party's hostility to women's rights traces back much longer than that. The days when Senator Margaret Chase Smith electrified Congress with her eloquence and sharp logic subsided long ago; in their place is the party whose much-heralded "Reagan Revolution" was ushered in by a former California governor who proudly made good on his 1980 presidential campaign promise to quash the Equal Rights Amendment.

That spirit is still evident today. With four examples from 2012 alone, one can see it:

- Rush Limbaugh's reference to Sandra Fluke, and by implication any woman who supports federal guarantees of insurance coverage for female contraception, as being "a slut" and "a prostitute" for supposedly wanting other people to pay for her sex (Limbaugh initially refused to apologize but changed his tune when advertisers began to pull out of his program).

- The passage of a Texas law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion, one accompanied by tentative counterparts in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

- The proposal in Wisconsin of a particularly misogynistic law that would brand single mothers as child abusers for not being married, one put forward by a legislator who later admitted that he opposed divorce for any reason, even arguing that women in abusive relationships should just remember what they used to love about their husbands and "re-find those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place."

- The fact that the field of Republican presidential candidates includes: a man who wants to eliminate funding for Title X programs that would fund Planned Parenthood (sans abortion procedures) and help poor women receive everything from cancer screenings and pap smears to birth control and wellness checkups, a man who has based a large part of his condemnation of Obama's contraception insurance mandate on the grounds that "[sex] is supposed to be within marriage" and birth control is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be," a man who voted against the Family and Medical Leave Act, and a man who says victims of sexual harassment "can't escape some responsibility for the problem" by not just quitting their jobs.

Facts such as these dominate the public image of the Republican Party today, and they can't be scrubbed out simply because they're justified by sympathetic female cultural reactionaries, be they commentators like Phyllis Schlafly and Ann Coulter or politicians like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. On the one hand, it is quite hyperbolic to classify all of this as a literal "war on women," since that term more appropriately applies to the extreme atrocities facing the unfortunate female residents of nations like Afghanistan, Iran, and the Congo, even though it's worth noting that America - unlike nations such as Great Britain, Israel, and Germany - has never had a female head of state. At the same time, the hyperbole is one that Republicans have brought upon themselves. By opposing policies that will allow women full control over their own bodies, sexual choices, marital statuses, and workplace rights, they deny them the ability to fully control their own lives.

This makes me pine for the days of feminism. Not the militant caricature that was given a deliberately pejorative connotation by the likes of Rush Limbaugh (who, among other things, coined the phrase "feminazis"), but the feminism that simply insists that people shouldn't be allowed to discriminate against others because of biological differences (in this case related to gender) or attempt to impose their personal cultural views regarding sex on those who don't share them. That brand of feminism is very much needed today. As Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler put it best, "feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings."

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore