A few months ago, I was at a bookstore and a conversation started between myself and another woman who was probably in her 60s. Discussion turned to the already divisive political scene, especially with regard to women’s issues. “I marched for the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] and there were a lot of people who did not agree with me, but I have never felt as under-attack as a women as I do right now.”
Listening to politicians discuss rape, abortion, and equal pay in the months since that conversation has given me sad insight to what it must have been like for women over forty years ago. An all too real joke has been going around this weekend with our time change: “Remember on Sunday to set your clocks back one hour. On Tuesday, be careful you don’t set the country back 50 years.”
Locally, I have been doing my part for the past three months giving much of my free time campaigning for a female Democrat candidate for State Representative here in Michigan. She is running on Campaign Reform- so no special interest or PAC money helping her out. In other words, she is a long shot. What saddens me even more than seeing a principled female fighting so hard for every vote is knowing her opponent has not been held accountable for his chauvinistic behavior.
In Michigan, where the Legislative branch and Governor are Republican, a lot of legislation has been fast tracked with little or no debate. Back in June, the House was doing just that with a set of bills which would have made it virtually impossible for any abortion clinic in the state to stay open. Democrats in the House spoke up and forced a debate on the issue. At one point during discussion on the floor, Brown commented, “I’m flattered you’re all so concerned about my vagina, but no means no.”
Representative Lisa Brown and her colleague, Representative Barb Byrum, were censured and told they would not be recognized on the House floor the next day for throwing “a temper tantrum”.
When asked about the incident on a radio show that week, Representative Wayne Schmidt said, on more than one occasion, “It’s like giving a kid a timeout for a day.” That’s right, my Representative in the Michigan House referred to his two female colleagues as one would refer to children.
Of course, anyone following the U.S. elections even passively has surely heard one of any number of candidates’ rants about women and rape. Todd Akin opened up this absurd and completely unscientific dialogue when he claimed abortion was not really an issue because victims of “legitimate rape” rarely became pregnant. A week ago, Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock said he does not support abortion for victims of rape because the resulting pregnancies are “something God intended.” Just this week, Washington Republican candidate John Koster was quoted as referring the the criminal act as “the rape thing”. When asked whether he would support abortion for rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life, he replied allowances should be made for a mother’s life, but “…on the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better?”
The truth is Akin, Mourdock, and Koster are not nearly as frightening to me as the other Republican candidates running for national office who believe in the same no exceptions rules for rape. The three in the press sound absurd, these others are not even being scrutinized for their extreme views.
Yet, it really comes as no surprise considering the example being set at the national level. Governor Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. Many Americans have either forgotten or never knew Paul Ryan supported a bill in the US House that would redefine rape as “forcible” or not. In other words, if a woman wanted an abortion, she would have to prove the rape was forced. An unconscious woman, for whatever reason, would not qualify as a rape victim under the proposed new rules. The bill failed, but Ryan’s belief rape is only acceptable if the mother’s life is in danger lives on.
There is also a movement in some states here–Arizona and Colorado so far– to allow employers to deny women birth control coverage if said employer does not believe a woman should take The Pill. Women would have to present their case for birth control to their employer, not their doctor, reversing forty years of medical practice. Politicians are putting themselves between women and their doctors in the most personal decisions a woman can make. At the same time, many politicians are propose to trim budgets by de-funding Planned Parenthood, an organization which provides birth control, STD testing, and cancer screenings (among other medical care) for the poor and uninsured. More and more women are feeling cornered when it comes to their health care in some of these areas.
But it is not just about reproductive rights. Much has also been made of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women”. Romney’s response to a question during the second Presidential debate about whether he supports equal pay prompted his story about wanting to hire a woman for an open position and calling for his staff (presumably men) to bring him viable women candidates. They brought him binders of qualified women and he selected one.
The reality is, women are the majority of breadwinners in America now. If we are not paid fairly, this entire nation now suffers. President Obama answered this question by pointing to the fact he signed into law the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (a bill which allowed women to sue for discrepancy in wages when it was discovered, not in a limited time period as before) and his attempts to get the Fair Pay Act passed in Congress. Governor Romney’s response to the question of equal pay was to say he hired a couple women while in office and he wants to create more jobs in America, some of which will go to women. While the binders of women comment has become a punchline in many circles, the harsh reality of his answer has become lost.
I am in my early 30s and have been politically active (though on different sides of the aisle at times) since a fairly young age, but I find myself thinking more about my gender over the past couple years than I ever have before. In my life, women have been able to march forward towards equality. As I write this, we are hours away from our elections here in the U.S. I hope my nation is with me and we continue to go forward.