South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s now infamous dismissal, that “Women don’t care about contraception. They care about jobs and their families …” was significant. Of course they care about jobs and their families, as well as their rights as women. But her party has had nothing to offer on the jobs and families front for the past four decades, or on other economic issues. They have chosen a whole set of policies to make the rich richer and the majority of American women and men poorer: from union-busting to tax cuts to de-industrialization, and anti-stimulus policies during our worst recession since the Great Depression. And now they promise more of the same, with spending cuts for the poor and unemployed, and tax cuts for the rich.
It is for these reasons that Republican strategy for four decades has been focused on creating a false populist appeal to white swing voters – who are mostly working class — based on appeals to racism, religious extremism, anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-gay attitudes and other “cultural” issues. The current “war on women” is just another one of the ugly locations to which this strategy has taken them, as they build their bridge to the 17th century.
In the last few years this strategy has broken down, mostly because the Great Recession and weak recovery have focused voters’ attention on the economy. But this latest fight shows that Republicans are losing their “culture wars” even on their own terms.
Some have complained that Democrats are “politicizing” gender issues, but this is what democracy looks like: if one party carries out an assault on the majority of voters – in this case women – their political opposition is going to make an electoral issue out of it. As they should.
What Republicans and some pundits miss, is that women did not need the Democratic Party to tell them there was a war being waged on their reproductive rights. It has been women and their families who have depended on the healthcare provided by Planned Parenthood for years and who see that access under attack.
It was women who saw friends die from illegal abortions and who fought for abortion rights and who want that safety for their granddaughters who raised the alarm about states infringing on that right and noted that Republican legislators decided the had the right to dictate what a woman does with her own body. Like many others of my generation, I was calling my friends and my daughter and granddaughter warning of the need to push back every time any state moved to claim a fetus had more rights to personhood and a woman’s body than the woman herself.
Like most middle and lower class adult women, I’ve worked all my life. I’ve felt pay inequality and never forgot the lawsuits we had to file to gain access to many areas of employment from factories to law firms. I’ve had to support my family both while married and as a single mom. Women recognized these attacks on our progress all on our own.
We recognize that attacks on Medicare and Social Security are not simply attacks on faceless elders. They are attacks on families, elders who want to remain independent and families who might face providing a home for an elderly parent and may have to make up the difference between what was promised and what is delivered. We know how hard that can be on younger struggling families and we know it could sink a struggling single working mom.
Women understand that attacks on unions are attacks on communities and families having the opportunity to improve lives. We understand that most of us are part of a class that has always had to struggle for the inch, much less the mile.
So even if the right and the pundits get the Democratic Party to cower on fighting this particular war, women won’t. Even us grandmothers well passed the time of that need. We may not want our daughters and granddaughters to have an abortion, but we sure held don’t want them being harmed or even to die because a medically safe one from a trained medical professional is not available.
Women understand how tightly woven is the cloth that weaves our reproductive rights, the social safety nets and our economic prosperity together. We understand the connectiveness of the world and the issues we face in our daily lives. We know that attacks on unions and safety nets like attacks on our reproductive rights are directly connected to our personal and family economies. And we know when we are being attacked without any man or party telling us.
Republicans and the right may win a skirmish or two, but in the end, we will win the war.
The Democratic Party had best stand with us as we will not abandon the fight. We fight for ourselves and our futures, but also for our families, communities, the nation and the world our great, great grandchildren will inhabit.