Have you heard? The Republican war on women is over! Well, the “Republican war on women” is over. The trope, if not the actual phenomenon, has joined the ranks of retired political euphemisms.
At least according to Republicans.
The GOP victories in the midterm elections have been attributed to any number of factors, Obama’s new status as Undecider-in-Chief high among them. But Republicans have been patting themselves on the back especially hard for finally making headway with the group that purportedly loathed them more than any other: that monolith known as women.
In Texas, working-class Democratic heroine Wendy Davis was slaughtered in her bid for governor against Republican Greg Abbott, getting just 45% of women’s votes to her opponent’s 54%. In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, whose emphasis on abortion rights got him dubbed Mark Uterus, lost his seat to a Republican challenger framed as staunchly pro-life. Here in Southern California, birth control crusader Sandra Fluke, whose career took off after Rush Limbaugh did her the great favor of calling her a slut, ran for a state senate seat and was trounced by a fellow Democrat. Though women’s health wasn’t a major campaign issue, it’s telling that liberal local voters weren’t sufficiently moved by Fluke’s story to choose her over her more seasoned opponent.
Meanwhile, the GOP made women’s history. Mia Love, a Haitian American Mormon from Utah, will become the first black female Republican ever to serve in Congress. Elise Stefanik, 30, of New York’s 21st district, became the youngest woman of any party to be elected to Congress. Iowa elected its first female senator, combat veteran Jodi Ernst, who talked in television ads about growing up castrating pigs.
In the up-and-comer category, there was Saira Blair, an 18-year-old college freshman and self-described “pro-gun, pro-life, fiscal conservative” who ran a campaign out of her dorm room and won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
In other words, ladies, it’s time to lay down our arms. Old white men are not coming after our birth control and legislating our bodies. Eighteen-year-old girls are! So shut up, already!
Of course, none of this changes the fact that 64% of white men voted for Republicans in last week’s elections. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of eligible voters didn’t bother to show up at the polls at all. Maybe that’s because some of them, including women who once believed Republicans were waging a war on them, were busier ranting at and fighting with each other on social media than actually getting involved with the political process.
It could be a coincidence, but I can’t help but notice that as the “war on women” recedes, women seem to be fighting a civil war among themselves.
Women everywhere — especially online — are having heated, often ugly debates about who counts as a feminist and who doesn’t. And too often, the conversation devolves into righteous condemnation of those who don’t hew to a particular — sometimes impossible — standard of inclusiveness.
Question affirmative consent on campus and you risk being called a rape apologist. Chuckle at a celebrity’s overzealous plastic surgery or prolific romantic history and you’re a body shamer or slut shamer. Engage in reasoned debate over women’s sexuality, creative expression or place in the world and you’re likely to be schooled by a sisterhood whose members are admirably passionate but somehow unable to get their heads around the idea that people who agree on the big issues can respectfully disagree on lots of smaller ones.
In other words, you’re likely to encounter progressive women who think that all women, especially all progressive ones, should be a monolithic entity — which is even more exasperating than conservative men who think the same thing.
Last week, women were arguing over a viral YouTube video showing a woman being harassed by men on the street. It was a healthy, lively — if also occasionally annoying and shortsighted — debate. But how many actually walked down their own street on election day and voted for lawmakers who could possibly make life better for women like them? Not nearly enough.
If that’s because too many internal skirmishes are diverting their attention from the war on women to a war between women, it would be a shameful thing indeed. Because only one of those wars is worth fighting. And it rages on.