The “War on Women” Narrative Isn’t Going Away


Republicans don’t want the “war on women” narrative to take hold, but can’t seem to stop it. Doctor Nerdlove stops in to talk about geeks, sex, and dating.

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Raging Grannies have a song for Todd Akin

Method of conception

Bob McDonnell just straight up lies about a Human Life Amendment

Mary Matalin dissembles on the women’s vote

Jeb Bush imagines it’s a “tone” issue

Tom Smith’s garbled rape minimization

On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be interviewing advice columnist Harris O’Malley about getting nerds laid. The rest is about politics, people. The election is coming in a couple of months and the attention being paid in the campaign season to reproductive rights is unusually intense. 

The Todd Akin “legitimate rape” comment sparked a bazillion online parodies, but for my money, the Renegade Raging Grannies are the clear winners.

  • grannies *

And here I’ve been told that my generation invented feminism through women using a lot of curse words. Clearly not.

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The seeming result of the Todd Akin blow-up in August is that it means any hopes that the Republicans had of keeping women’s issues from being central to the election discourse have been dashed. Not that the Akin thing was the only factor. The Obama campaign clearly wants to make reproductive health a central issue in the campaign, so they were going to put it on the table no matter what. But Republicans running for office had a choice in how to react to that. The logical choice, if they actually wanted the “war on women” narrative to go away, would be to elevate more centrist members of the party, stop resisting things like the contraception mandate, and tell the anti-choice fanatics in the party to slow their roll. The other option is to issue half-hearted denials of misogyny while mounting an incredible attack on women’s rights, and hope people take you at your word instead of your deeds. Or some times your other words. This appears to be the strategy that’s been chosen by the Romney campaign and the larger Republican Party.

For instance, Romney’s VP pick, Paul Ryan, is known for not only being an absolutist on the abortion issue, but his long history of trying to reduce access to contraception and of speaking about these issues in tone-deaf ways that make it clear that he keeps forgetting that women are people.

  • election 1 *

As I’ve noted before on this show, rape exceptions are nonsense, but that doesn’t really excuse Ryan minimizing a violent crime that can cause injury, trauma, infection, and, if you get HIV, death. “Method of conception”. It’s frustrating, because this kind of dehumanizing language is what really gets a lot of interest going, in part because on shows like this, you can quote them directly. Needless to say, Ryan’s policies back up this view of women as mere instruments, instead of people who matter. He supported legislation that would give fertilized eggs more rights to a woman’s body than she has. Ryan tries to distance himself from Akin in this interview, but they agree on the primary issue, which is that a fertilized egg, and in many cases, sperm deserve more consideration than full-grown women.

Republicans know they have a gender problem, but their continued attempts to deal with it just keep falling apart. For instance, Bob McDonnell, who came up in the party because he’s so firmly anti-woman, tried to deny that the GOP’s platform, which basically calls for an amendment giving the quote-unquote unborn more rights than women to women’s bodies, would have any implications for abortion exceptions in the case of rape or incest.

  • election 2 *

There’s no way around that: He’s lying. The notion that a so-called Human Life Amendment to the Constitution could somehow give states the space to carve out exceptions for rape is silly. Maybe for a couple of weeks, until someone sues, but if it’s in the Constitution, the Supreme Court can basically force states to ban abortion. Indeed, that’s the intention behind amending the Constitution. A constitutional amendment is about putting this issue out of the court’s hands. That’s why they want it!

The sense that Republicans resent reproductive health care like contraception and abortion isn’t doing much to help the case, especially with female voters, that their opposition to the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t be mistaken for opposition to increasing access to health care generally. In an effort to assure voters he does care about the un- or under-insured, Romney released this ad.

  • election 3 *

Yep, they did. By passing nearly the same  bill in Massachusetts that Obama signed on the federal level. He’s not technically lying when he says they did it without cutting Medicare. But he’s implying that Obamacare does that, which it does not do. They are nearly the same legislation. In fact, one of the few differences is, wait for it, Romneycare covers abortion and Obamacare has all these restrictions eliminating abortion coverage.

I sincerely don’t know what Republicans are trying to pull this election, but I don’t think it’s going to work.

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insert interview

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Since Republicans have determined that they can’t rein in the rabidly misogynist elements, call off the attacks on contraception access, or get Paul Ryan to utter the word “woman” out loud, what are they doing in order to counteract the Democratic claim that Republicans are waging a war on women? Well, the strategy that seems to be emerging is to just keep on doing their thing while waving their hands a lot and denying basic realities. For instance, we’re beginning to see some of the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” arguments coming out, which is what Mary Matalin decided to try on ABC.

  • gender 1 *

I’m not sure what her point really is with this. Single women, liberals, and women under 30? Their votes spend as good as other votes. As for the “well, there’s a gender gap going the other way” thing, to the extent that it is true, it’s not as big a deal. The reason the women’s vote is a thing is because women vote more than men, to such a degree that it ends up being millions of votes. So, Matalin’s assumption that it all evens out doesn’t really play.

Jeb Bush is a little bit more honest in acknowledging the issue in play, but still can’t quite admit that it’s a deep problem that can’t be fixed with a few pink banners.

  • gender 2 *

To an extent, he’s not wrong that one can actually get away with say, believing that female sexuality is a sin that should be punished with forced childbirth. They have gotten away with that, precisely by monitoring language and never stating those views directly. Or at least not to the larger public, but keeping it within conservative circles. But as this last election shows, that strategy is untenable. Eventually you get enough of your policy goals passed that people start to notice, which is what is happening with the attacks on abortion rights and contraception access. The other thing that happens, and I think we’re seeing that now, is that if you start recruiting a base that’s motivated by rock solid misogyny, eventually they grow and start taking leadership positions instead of just always being foot soldiers. That’s really what this Tea Party thing is about: All the people who’ve been pulled into politics through over-the-top talk radio and Bible-thumping about abortion have amassed some power and are calling the shots. And they don’t see the point of speaking in code, not when they can make the direct, misogynist arguments that brought them into the fold. I think that’s the direction this is headed.

The other problem is that if you sincerely  have sexist beliefs, it can be hard to get into the heads of people who aren’t sexist so that you can talk in ways that a non-sexist person might talk. Thus, tripping up is a common problem, as happened with Republican Tom Smith, who is challenging Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

  • gender 3 *

Notice, also how close he got to saying he was lucky he didn’t have to…..what? Force her? With whose army? Anyway, the rest of it is the sort of thing that’s just not good. He basically said that single motherhood is the same as rape, and when given a chance to clarify, he just said, from the father’s perspective. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but the closest I can get is that hey, either way, the father doesn’t get to move the woman into his house and have her on hand to clean up after him as well as the baby. 

All of which is a long way of saying that if you’re trying to shake the image of sexism, the easiest way is to not be sexist. Why that option seems off the table is up for listeners to decide.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, please stop insinuating you don’t use birth control, ladies of Fox News edition. I mean, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but snottily implying that birth control is for only certain women harrumph harrumph has become a daily thing on Fox. Like Megan Kelly here.

  • fox news *

Not true in the slightest. Your insurance will cover your contraception without co-pay whether or not you agree with Sandra Fluke. The only way that swipe makes sense is if you’re implying that conservative women don’t use contraception. But they do; it’s statistically impossible for them not to. And I’m sick of the near-daily insinuations on Fox that it’s only something Other Women do. She also claimed that the “government” is paying for “free contraception”. That’s a lie. Insurance companies are required to offer it with no co-pay. Very different. 

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte

  • leftcoaster

    I *LOVE* your redesign !!!!!!!!!!!!!