Although the R’s keep stressing that this election is about the economy, women’s reproductive rights and access to health care keep running out on the battlefield. As everyone has probably heard by now, Missouri U.S. Senate candidate, Todd Akin (R) expressed his belief in a bizarre bit of health news – at least it was news to us. He explained that he’d heard that women have a magical form of birth control that prevents a pregnancy when she is legitimately raped. Whatever the craziness of the biology, surely we can agree that a term that pairs the word “legitimate” with the word “rape” should be declared illegal or, at least, disqualify the utterer from ever running for public office. Thankfully, Missourians have an option to vote against him and for Clare McCaskill, a woman with a firm grasp on her own biology.
And the selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate can hard quell the concerns of many women in this country about the R stance on reproduction. He was the co-author with the previously-mentioned Akin of a bill that made a distinction between forcible rape and the rape of a non-forcible variety. Are they trying to say that rape can be consensual? I have to wonder about their English-speaking credentials since the definitions the dictionary lists are: 1) the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse; 2) any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person. In other words, non-forcible rape is an oxymoron. Rape minus force equals consensual intercourse or what many call, a roll in the hay.
Obviously, this public discourse on the subject of women and their bodies is going in a direction that R’s would rather not go. They continue stressing that this election is about the economy, jobs, jobs, and piles of jobs. The folly of this attempt was summed up well by a panel of women on a recent Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC: to divorce women’s reproductive rights and access to health care from the economy doesn’t make any sense. As Dr. Harris-Perry said: there is no way to get a job if you are constantly pregnant.
Taking the one divergent view, one of Melissa’s panelists, Monica Mehta, stated that she felt women should be more interested in jobs, her position being that once you have a good job, you can argue with your leadership to obtain reproductive rights. But wait, Ms. Mehta, we already did that. How many more times will we have to do that?
As another panelist, Rebecca Traister, pointed out, the R’s seem to be in a time machine, lost in the days before women and minorities had access to political and economic power, representing women at their convention as symbols of “we’ve got some of those,” rather than having them speak about how an R presidency would continue or increase opportunities for women. There wasn’t even a subtext that the government had worked for us before and it can continue to be a strong player in future efforts. They seemed to be in denial that they worked in government jobs and they stood before the world based on opportunities created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Title IX, the Minority Enterprise Development Commission, and the EEOC, to name a few. Of course, they would have to admit that these legislative efforts were all passed under D presidents, a fact they must avoid. About their success, the speeches of Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, and Condoleeza Rice suggested that “I built it,” or the tried and true “I pulled myself up by the bootstraps” dogma.
Ann Romney, of course, was an exception to the success in government/academia portrayed by the aforementioned female speakers. If the other women represented the brains of the R sisterhood, Mrs. Romney represented the heart, making her subject “love,” in particular, love of family, devotion to children, and the way women sigh a little harder than men, an issue that none of us doubted. I would have been interested in hearing just a note of self-awareness that she had it easier than most women in America, particularly the single parents, the working women, and those who didn’t marry as well as she.
In Dr. Rice’s defense, she did make a reference to surmounting her background in Jim Crow Birmingham, but she deftly sidestepped the issue of how government had paved her way by putting an end to legal racism and segregation. Instead, she explained her success by her good luck in having parents who believed she could grow up to be president! What I wonder is whether their belief was formed before or after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act? Doing the math, I see that she was born in 1954, and would have been 10 and 11, respectively. Could her parents really envision her ability to reach the highest levels of our government before either of those? But, she has to be coherent in a party that trumpets family values and ignore that its stated goal since inauguration day has been to rid the country of its first Black president, simply because he is black and believes that government creates opportunities for others like himself, along with women and other minorities.
Women aren’t needed on our national stages to be symbols that suggest other women can join them if they’d only work hard enough. They are needed to help engage us in some inter-connected thinking. As Irin Carmon of Salon.com noted during the panel discussion, these women should have pointed out that — while they can be role models — they are able to do this because of birth control and the ability to control when they start a family. At the very least, they need to at least acknowledge that women are affected differently by parenthood and that it’s in society’s interest to recognize that fact.
I recall an elderly woman whose best friend had died recently. I asked her when she and the deceased had become friends. She explained that she had met her through their kid’s school PTA and soon thereafter, her friend became pregnant with her fourth child. Her friend didn’t have to worry economically, but she didn’t know where she was going to get the energy to handle another child. Her friend lent her a shoulder to cry on and helped her cope with that pregnancy.
Just think how none of us, the female children and grandchildren of that generation have had to experience a body out of our control, instead, having the size of families we want, not what some angry white men want us to have. Simply put, keeping us in the pregnancy lottery devalues all women and our contributions to the world beyond procreation.
If only Ann Romney had borrowed Chris Christie’s speech when he reported what his mother had said to him: She told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected. She said to always pick being respected. As Aretha Franklin sings: R- E -S- P- E- C- T, find out what it means to me. You’ll find that it means one helluva lot to most women.