The Republican War on Women: A Red Herring

Anthony Wiener. Eliot Spitzer. John Edwards. Even Bill Clinton. Republicans are now saying that the misogynistic proof is in the pudding, attempting to flip the Democratically coined "War on Women" right back on the party that brought it into the political vernacular during the mid-term elections of 2010. Republicans claim the idiom, describing what liberals saw to be a conservative attack on women's rights, actually more aptly explains these men's pattern of treatment towards the opposite sex.

The truth is: they're right. There have been Democrats who have gone on the record as womanizers, the majority of which have left office in disgrace. What the Grand Old Party has seemed to forget is that they have quite a history of womanizing, as well. Not only is there the example of Mark Sanford (R-SC), who conducted what may have been as long as an eight-year affair, was off the grid for six days with his mistress in Argentina and then kept his job -- for Republicans, the hypocrisy runs much deeper.

Bob Barr (R-GA), the first lawmaker to call for Bill Clinton's resignation, also had an affair while married and even agreed to and paid for the termination of his then-wife's pregnancy. This is the same Bob Barr who sponsored the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, saying, "The flames of hedonism, the flames of narcissism, the flames of self-centered morality are licking at the very foundation of our society, the family unit." Senator John Ensign (R-NV), who also called for Clinton's resignation, resigned, himself, in 2009 after admitting he had an affair with the wife of a close friend, both of whom were working on his campaign. And Newt Gingrich, for a short time the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, famously had an affair with his aide while married to his second wife (he's had a total of three) and leading Clinton's impeachment.

However, the "War on Women" goes much further than misogynistic tendencies. Since the large ideological shift in the Republican Party around the 1980s, women's rights -- and the legislation that has accompanied the advancement of those rights -- have been under undeniable attack by the GOP.

After the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, the first response of the anti-abortion movement was to introduce the Hyde Amendment, legislation that prohibited the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortions. Exceptions for rape and incest were eventually included, though not until 1993, during the Clinton presidency. More recently, Conservatives have attempted to severely regulate abortion providers with the House's symbolic passage of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (2011), which would have, essentially, made permanent the federal funding restrictions laid out in the Hyde Amendment.

But the repeals of women's rights extend well past reproductive health and privacy. The quest for equal pay regardless of gender is well-known issue for which we've all seen the stats; 77 cents to the dollar is simply absurd, especially since we're aware of it (that's the difference between a man and woman in the same position making $50,000 and $38,500, respectively). However, in April 2012, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law an act repealing the state's Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed workplace discrimination victims redress in state courts. Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman said, in support of the repeal, "You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious." This, even though both the New York Times and New Yorker reported in May of this year that, according to the Pew Research Center, women are now either the primary or sole breadwinner in 40 percent of American households.

Retribution for the victims of domestic violence is another issue Republicans vehemently opposed, calling the 2012 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act a "distraction". In addition, in a dismissal of the movement to reform the military in order to better prosecute sexual assaults, Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said that the assaults -- which were estimated to be 19,000 in 2012 and 26,000 in 2013, according to Pentagon statistics -- weren't the result of male power-mongering or perverted sexual impulses but, instead, young officers' "hormone level created by nature." Those statements by Chambliss, akin to former Republican House Representative Todd Akin's views on rape and pregnancy, are not only factually wrong but also display the Republican Party's general disregard for the "legitimacy" of the challenges many women face every day.

Current Conservatives have a clear record of being anti-progress and-equality but even though many of these efforts have been aimed at America's women we can look deeper, still. If we view this effort of oppression within its context, a slightly different story starts to take shape.

The Big Picture

The February 2011 introduction of a budget by Republicans that would have cut $758 million from WIC, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Yes, all of these measures are inherently anti-woman. However, I believe we can narrow down the intentions even further. Indulge me for a moment. WIC supports, exclusively, "low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five." In the case of the Hyde Amendment and No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, the ACLU, among others, argued that these measures effectively ended the provision for abortions among low-income women. And Planned Parenthood, though targeted by Republicans as an abortion-provider, is the nation's largest provider of reproductive health services, including cancer screening, contraception and HIV screening and counseling (abortion services account for only 3 percent of services provided). In addition, according to Planned Parenthood, 75 percent of their clients have incomes below or at 150 percent of the poverty line.

In recent years, Republicans have taken policy stances against abortion -- and, in some cases, even birth control -- against public programs and organizations that help low-income people and have fought tirelessly to de-fund public education, which happened in my home state of Wisconsin most recently with Scott Walker's 2011 budget. Take these actions together the light bulb starts to turn on. What do you get when you combine the absence -- or limited availability -- of birth control, limited (or no) access to the option of abortion, cuts to public programs and cuts to public education? You're left with a large, poor, uneducated under-class with no opportunity to change their situation.

In reality, a system is being set up in order to subjugate those who are struggling in our society. Republicans have perpetrated a "war on women," based in policies that seek to roll back abortion rights and undermine their position in today's workforce. However, though this war is very real, it is only an aspect of the party's greater War on the Poor that seeks to undermine the ability for upward mobility by restricting access to high quality, affordable birth control, health care and services and public education. But women are the key. If you control the reproductive means of society, you are able to, essentially, control society, itself.

This nation was built on the ideals of equality and opportunity. And, though our ideals often conflict with our interests abroad, there is (or, should be) no real conflict, domestically. We will be better off as a country the more equal we are and the more opportunity we provide for the best and brightest to rise to the top, regardless of the economic station people are born into. Unfortunately, we've gotten away from this conviction over the last few decades. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this straying of stance (we can, specifically, point to the increase in corporate influence and money in politics) but I believe it to be, quite simply and overwhelmingly fueled by the fear and insecurity of those currently in power. A time-tested motif, we've seen over the course of history the reluctance of the "powerful" to relinquish that control. The wealthy, white men who still rule this country fear the dilution of their power and influence. And our political parties (specifically Republicans) feed off of, perpetuate and, in many ways, require a poor, uneducated populous in order to further their agenda of subsidizing business on the backs of the American public. We prey on the "weak", hoping they won't notice. We repeal rights and liberties, hoping no one will say anything. This crusade is unforgivable, yet we allow it to persist.

What will we, the American public, do? Will we sit and allow our livelihood and rights to be eroded or will we say "enough!"? We must not be afraid to fight for the rights we -- and our fellow citizens -- deserve, for, as Thomas Jefferson stated: "A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate." And, as Martin Luther King Jr. famously implores us, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."