We want to believe the war is over.
Times have changed since the era of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who could not have imagined a nation in which women would have the right to vote, would serve in elected office, or would sit on the highest court in the land. Generations before us could not have imagined the phrase "Madame Speaker" or that three of the last four Secretaries of State would be women. They could not have imagined that both major political parties would feature women on presidential tickets.
Critics say there is no longer a need for a women's movement or for legislation that protects women from discrimination. They point to record numbers of women attending universities as evidence that, if anything, we need a men's movement. Women's equality is no longer a debatable point. The war is over, they say, and women have won.
Even the new Speaker of the House, not generally considered a friend to women, is working for women's equality in the House -- by building a new women's bathroom in a gesture of "respect for female members of the House.”
Of course, Boehner's "potty parity" is actually a self-serving land grab to appropriate prime real estate in the Capitol that includes "an extra hallway, storage area and kitchen as well as the spacious balcony." But that hasn't stopped Boehner and his fellow Republicans from claiming that they are promoting women's equality.
Boehner's equal rights bathroom may seem a silly and unimportant issue. But it represents a larger and more serious point: the fake concern for women's equality, even as Republicans attempt to pass further restrictions on women's rights. Republicans spent the better part of 2010 patting themselves on the back for the record number of Republican women running for political office, boasting of the new conservative feminist movement that was intended to persuade voters that the Republican Party supports equal rights for women.
But nothing could be further from the truth, and as Republicans have gained greater control of elected offices at the federal and state levels, we are witnessing the concerted effort to undo the very legislation intended to protect women's health, lives, and livelihood. Even as Republicans offer empty platitudes about equality and feminism, their agenda to legislate women into second-class citizenship has never been clearer.
One of the major battles for Republicans is equal pay. Last year, Senate Republicans voted to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have expanded and improved the protections of the 45-year-old Equal Pay Act. Republicans made clear at the time that they were far more concerned with protecting employers from costly litigation than with ensuring that employers are not allowed to discriminate against women.
Now, Republicans in Minnesota are taking this argument one step further, by proposing legislation to repeal existing laws to enforce equal pay for women because it’s just too expensive for small businesses and local governments to ensure that women are paid equally. And besides, they argue, such enforcement is no longer necessary because the pay gap has been all but eradicated.
It's a lie, of course. The pay gap still exists. In Minnesota, for example, in both the private and public sectors, the gap between men and women's pay ranges from 24 to 49 percent.
Critics of equity laws argue that the pay gap isn't real because women choose lower-paying jobs. That too is a lie. Even within the same professions, the pay gap between men and women is real and significant. An extensive new study found that in the medical field, female doctors earn nearly $17,000 less than their male counterparts. To compare, the pay gap for doctors in 1999 was $3,600. That pay gap is real, and it is getting worse.
As has been true for nearly four decades, women’s access to reproductive health care is under full assault. Despite claims to the contrary, this assault goes far beyond limiting access and funds for abortion. The new pet project so popular among Republicans is to strip funding of Planned Parenthood. But as Jed Lewison explained, abortion is a tiny sliver -- only 3 percent -- of the services Planned Parenthood provides. Many Planned Parenthood clinics don't even offer abortion services at all. The truth is that Planned Parenthood functions primarily as a health care provider for low-income women and men, providing contraception, STD testing and treatment, and cancer screening. Shutting down Planned Parenthood doesn't just mean limiting women's access to abortion; it means denying the full spectrum of health care to the very Americans who are least able to afford it.
One of the most heinous and dangerous fronts in the war on women is the movement to dismiss and decriminalize violence against women. This week, Republicans attempted to redefine rape, in H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion bill, proposed by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), which would draw a false distinction between rape and “forcible rape.”
Under the proposed language, however, rape becomes "forcible rape." Critics say the modifier could distinguish it from other kinds of sexual assault that are typically recognized as rape, including statutory rape and attacks that occur because of drugs or verbal threats.
It is a false and absurd distinction because rape is, by definition, forcible. But the outraged response to the proposed redefinition was so widespread that few were focused on other, equally egregious, provisions of the bill. As Digby explained:
But I suspect the heinousness of this latest attack is no accident. The conservatives understand the art of negotiation and I think they have put this provision in there for the express purpose of creating a firestorm, drawing the attention of the pro-choice groups and then "reluctantly" giving it up in exchange for the Democrats giving in on all the other, less sexy, changes they really want. Changes which will restrict abortion for far more people throughout the country than this rape redefinition ever would.
In any case, don't be fooled by the shiny object. This is just another example of Republicans knowing how to negotiate. The question is whether or not it's a real negotiation or a kabuki dance where the Democrats are only playing the role of the outraged fool.
As Digby predicted, the redefinition of rape was dropped from the bill. But it is perhaps too soon to conclude that the “forcible rape” provision was merely a means of achieving the real purpose of abortion funding restrictions. It was, perhaps, also a means of testing the waters for the possibility of further redefining and delegitimizing the very real problem of violence against women.
What has received far less attention this week is a new bill introduced by State Representative Bobby Franklin in the Georgia State Legislature:
To amend Titles 16 and 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to criminal law and criminal procedure, respectively, so as to change the term "victim" to the term "accuser" in the context of a number of statutes making reference to circumstances where there has not yet been a criminal conviction; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
The law would apply to victims of stalking, rape, and domestic violence, crimes in which the vast majority of victims are women and the perpetrators are men. As the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee explained:
Burglary victims are still victims. Assault victims are still victims. Fraud victims are still victims. But if you have the misfortune to suffer a rape, or if you are beaten by a domestic partner, or if you are stalked, Rep. Franklin doesn’t think you’ve been victimized. He says you’re an accuser until the courts have determined otherwise.
To diminish a victim’s ordeal by branding him/her an accuser essentially questions whether the crime committed against the victim is a crime at all. Robbery, assault, and fraud are all real crimes with real victims, the Republican asserts with this bill.
Republicans have, for years, attempted to redefine what constitutes "real" rape and not-really rape, or as Kristen Schall on the Daily Show called it, rape-ish. In 2006, South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli made news when he described what he considered a legitimate exception to the sweeping new abortion bill that would not permit exceptions even for rape or incest:
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
Brutal rape. Forcible rape. Rape of a religious virgin who intends to save herself for marriage. These are the rape
victims accusers deemed valid by the Republican ideology that presumes rape victims are guilty until proven innocent. While such proposed legislation has not yet become the law of the land, the idea that rape victims accusers are responsible for their own assault has taken firm root in our discourse about violence against women.
Last year, for example, Dallas Police Chief David Brown found himself at the center of controversy when he reported that incidents of rape had increased 25 percent in Dallas and he offered this advice:
“We’re needing to create a message to the victims of these types of crimes...related to, you know, first date, second date, someone you don’t know that well, but you’re at a club, you have a little bit too much to drink, having friends or someone help watch you, and maybe have someone that doesn’t drink in the group.”
Many were outraged at the implication that the responsibility for combating Dallas's rape epidemic fell to the victims to change their behavior. Others said the outrage was undeserved, that the police chief's suggestion was merely a practical how-to for women to protect themselves. In response to the increased numbers and subsequent outcry, the Dallas Police Department launched a new campaign to combat the problem. The plan included better police patrol and training, but its list of advice to the public was targeted, again, at victims rather than perpetrators of sexual violence, further laying the responsibility and blame for sexual assault on victims. Compare that to Canada's new campaign to combat sexual violence:
A bold new advertising campaign will warn young men that extremely drunk or unconscious women can’t consent to sex.
The Don’t Be That Guy campaign, announced Friday by a coalition of groups fighting sexual assault, will target men aged 18 to 24 using print and transit advertising, as well as ads posted above the urinals inside bar washrooms, said police Supt. Danielle Campbell.
“The advertisements use graphic language, disturbing images to communicate one bottom-line message: Sex without consent is sexual assault,” Campbell said.
“For those of you who choose to be That Guy, that opportunistic offender, know this — the Edmonton Police Service has the subject-matter experts to investigate these matters and we will hold you accountable for the crime you commit.”
The contrast could not be clearer. While the effectiveness of the That Guy campaign is not yet known, it at least is a step in the right direction to hold would-be perpetrators, rather than victims, responsible for sexual violence.
The attempt by House Republicans to redefine rape has been shelved -- for now. But these ideas are not new and will no doubt resurface again. If rape can be redefined to distinguish "real" victims of "forcible rape" from the "accusers" who do not deserve protection, Republicans can then argue for decreased resources intended to protect women from violence. And that means all women are at risk.
Make no mistake: we are at war. The other side knows it. Pay equity, affordable health care, protection against violence -- each of these battles are being hard-fought in the Congress and in state houses across the nation, while Democrats insist such extreme bills will never become law, and resources are therefore better spent on more important issues. For Republicans, the war on women's economic security, health care, and protection against violence is a priority.
We can no longer afford to have a major political party pretend these battles do not matter. They are not beside the point; they are the point. Restoring women to second-class citizenship is a critical part of the Republican dream to return to a day when wealthy white men exercised exclusive control of this nation.
We are at war. It is time for women, and the one major political party that claims to support their rights, to fight back.