As the “war on women” continues, my sole comfort has been watching dumbfounded Republicans try to explain away the misogyny that’s so foundational to their agenda.
In the midst of the fallout over Todd Akin’s comments claiming “legitimate” rape victims are unlikely to get pregnant, the science-whiz whined to Mike Huckabee in a radio interview that he “made a single error in one sentence.” He was frustrated that people “are upset over one word spoke in one day in one sentence.”
Bryan Fischer, a spokesperson from the American Family Association, complained about the Akin backlash, saying, “You talk about somebody being a victim of forcible assault, that would be Todd Akin.” Mitt Romney denounced Akin’s remarks as “insulting” and “inexcusable,” but accused the Obama campaign of trying to link Akin to the GOP as a whole, calling it “sad” and that the move stooped “to a low level.”
But what Romney, Akin, and their ilk don’t understand is that women’s anger isn’t about “one word” or one politician—it’s about an ethos, a Republican ideology steeped in misogyny and willful ignorance.
Akin’s remarks—a combination of cluelessness and sexism—were a reminder that it isn’t just disdain for women that directs the GOP agenda on all things female. Misogyny is part of it, but what’s more insidious than the clear-cut contempt embedded in qualifiers like “legitimate” or “forcible,” is the sly sexism of disinterest.
To Republicans, women exist parenthetically—pesky asides that occasionally require some lip service. It’s why Paul Ryan can describe rape as a “method of conception” without batting an eye, dismiss criticisms about the term “forcible rape” by saying it was “stock language,” or call a health exception to abortion legislation a “loophole.” It’s why Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith of Pennsylvania can say rape is “similar” to having a baby “out of wedlock.” It’s the thinking that led John McCain to put air quotes around “health of the mother” in a 2008 presidential debate with Obama, and why during a Republican primary debate earlier this year the candidates had a whole conversation about limiting birth control without even uttering the word “woman.”
Women simply don’t rate in the Republican imagination—our lives have been reduced to scare quotes and head pats.
It may sound hyperbolic to argue that Republicans deny women’s humanity, but there’s no exaggerating how their policies bear this out. Personhood initiatives, for example, legally give fertilized eggs more constitutional rights than women. As Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women has pointed out, “There’s no way to give embryos constitutional personhood without subtracting women from the community of constitutional persons.” Abortion legislation like the Republican sponsored HR 3 would have made it legal for hospitals to let women die rather than give them life-saving abortions. And how else do you justify demanding women get a paternal permission slip before obtaining an abortion if not to say that you don’t think her a full person capable of controlling her own life?
Republicans only bother to acknowledge women when they’re reasserting our status as second-class citizens. Sure, they occasionally feign outrage over supposed attacks on stay-at-home moms (while nary a word of paid parental leave is spoken) and they trot out their wives to assure us how much their hubby respects women. But we know the truth—that this “respect” is conditional. It’s not based on a belief that women are deserving of human rights, but on a very specific set of rules and roles we are expected to adhere by.
Republicans can spin all they like, but what they don’t understand is that women can recognize dehumanization from a mile away. We live it every day. We know what it is to talk to a person and suddenly realize they believe us stupid because of our gender. We listen while people mansplain topics we’re experts in. We watch media that presents us as little more than masturbation fodder and walk down the street feeling lecherous stares on our back. We know what you mean when you say “legitimate” rape. We know exactly what you’re thinking when you pretend to give a shit.
This weekend I went to a wedding where I sat next to a woman who was pregnant with her second child. Like me, her health and life were put at risk when she developed pre-eclampsia during her first pregnancy. She was livid. She could hardly contain her rage as she spoke about GOP policies on women’s health. She was fortunate—as I was—to have her wanted pregnancy go to term. But when Republicans mock the health exception, she told me, “they’re talking about me.”
“They’re saying it’s fine if I die.”
Women know exactly how little Republicans think of them. So please, guys, do us the favor of not acting so shocked when we call you on it.