By Jessica Valenti, The Nation
Media coverage of the Republican “war on women” has largely focused on the attempted rollbacks of reproductive rights and the all-too-frequent sexist gaffes that are plaguing the GOP these days. (I, for one, will never tire of aspirin between the knees jokes.) While seeing so much ink spilled over feminist issues warms my heart, the focus on abortion and birth control has let Republicans off way too easily.
After all, this isn’t really a new war—the assault on women’s rights has been happening for as long as women have been demanding them. This systemic and structural hatred of women is basically politics as usual—we’re just paying better attention. While it makes sense to shine a light on the onslaught of anti-choice legislation and sentiment of late, we can’t forget that misogyny doesn’t stop there. Here are a few more battles (in no particular order) to think about, and take action on.
1. Lack of Paid Parental Leave. You would think given the Romney camp’s manufactured outrage over Hilary Rosen’s comments that Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life,” that issues of parenting and economics would be at the top of everyone’s political to-do list. Not so much. The United States is the only industrialized nation without mandated paid parental leave—leaving American parents, mothers especially, in a terrible financial bind. Parents spend tremendous portions of their income on childcare, so much that some women have found that it makes more financial sense to go on welfare and stay at home than to have a job in which the bulk of their income goes to childcare. If motherhood is a “real job” or “the most important job in the world”—let’s treat it as such.
2. Shackling of Pregnant Women. Giving birth is no walk in the park—now imagine doing it while in leg restraints and waist chains. Over thirty states still allow the shackling of pregnant women in prison during labor and delivery, despite numerous human rights campaigns to ban the practices. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association oppose shackling pregnant women, noting that is a danger to both women’s and fetal health. The practice has been particularly targeted and immigrant women and women of color.
3. Abstinence-Only Education (yes, it’s still around). Many Americans are under the mistaken impression that since Obama took office, abstinence-only education went the way of the dodo. Not so. While federal funding for misleading and dangerous abstinence-only education has been cut significantly, abstinence-only classes are still alive and well. Obama’s health bill allocated $250 million for abstinence-only education programs in 2010, and thirty states received funding for abstinence-only education programs the same year. Mother Jones also noted this week that “the HHS Office of Adolescent Health lists the Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education as one of the 31 ‘evidence-based programs’ that ‘met the effectiveness criteria’ for preventing teenage pregnancy” (first reported at RH Reality Check). Abstinence-only education isn’t just dangerous for young people’s health (a Congressional study found that the vast majority of programs teach false and misleading information) but is also incredibly sexist. Young women are taught that premarital sex makes them dirty, that boys can’t control themselves and that “good” and “natural” young women don’t like sex at all.
4. Poverty. Let’s say this once and for all—women are not “the richer sex.” Despite the current trend pieces suggesting that women are actually out-earning men (they’re not), women are actually much more likely to be poor than their male counterparts, and women over 65 are twice as likely to live in poverty as men. The latest Census numbers show that women’s poverty rate is at 14.5 percent, the highest its been in seventeen years. So please, no more arguing that the pay gap doesn’t exist.
5. The US War on Women Abroad. As news of the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia broke, I couldn’t help being frustrated at the never-ending stream of jokes and—even more baffling—the surprise over the incident. After all, women’s bodies and sexuality have long been a part of the way the United States—American men, in particular—functions abroad. But instead of looking at how women’s sexuality is used in international politics or the way in which racism and the hypersexualization of certain women impacts how US men behave abroad, the most gendered mainstream media analysis was a shallow “we need more women in the Secret Service” argument. Perhaps the worst offense US treatment of women internationally, however, is the way the United States has continually used rhetoric of freeing oppressed women in certain countries to justify bombing and killing these women and their families. (Not to mention the incidents of sexual violence perpetrated by some in the military.)
The war on women is real, but it doesn’t stop with abortion and it doesn’t stop at home. It’s not a flash in the pan or a particular political moment—it’s a central part of the way the United States functions. And until we own that misogyny is as American as apple pie, women around the world will continue to suffer.