Today is Mother’s Day, a day that we, as a society, collectively honor the sacrifices, hardships, and struggles that mothers, regardless of background, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, persevere through on a regular basis. In celebrating this day, we are recognizing and commending the unique and foundational contributions that mothers make to the world, which often tend to be forgotten and overlooked in the normal ebb and flow of our daily lives.
In a time of increasing political polarization and an ever-vitriolic political dialogue, Mother’s Day is one of the few events that individuals across the political spectrum tend to come together in celebration of.
Happy Mother's Day to my love and partner on this journey @MichelleObama, and to all the wonderful, hardworking mothers out there.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 14, 2017
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) May 14, 2017
But, in recognizing our collective and cross-partisan appreciation of mothers on Mother’s Day, we should also not forget that the values of one political party, the Republican Party, often fail to extend beyond it. Republican policies, as well as the rhetoric of Republican elected officials and candidates, are often reflective of and promote a world view that treats all women, which includes today’s mothers as well as the young women that will eventually grow into that for the next generation, as second-class political and economic citizens, sexual objects, and individuals not fully deserving of our collective respect or of the protection of the state.
Celebrating Mother’s Day without also being prescient to these realities does an injustice to the very values that are meant to be enshrined in it. Before continuing, it needs to be noted that no other outcome should be expected from a party that is made up of only 5 elected female Senators, out of 52 in total, and only 21 elected female House members, out of 238 in total.
Really admire the diversity in the Republican Party. There are straight cis white men with white hair, and at least three with brown hair. pic.twitter.com/MgTaNixk3Q
— Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) May 4, 2017
The rhetoric of Republicans often denigrates women
Before delving deeper into Republican policy, it is most important to note that the Republican party generally uses rhetoric that directly denigrates women. While policy could arguably be seen as having a greater impact on the lives of women, it is rhetoric that shapes the bounds of our political and cultural debate and, in so doing, communicates to younger generations how they are expected to act and engage with women in the real world. Mother’s Day cannot truly be a day of reflection and respect if the derogatory nature of Republican rhetoric is avoided or censored.
Misogynistic Republican rhetoric is manifested, first and foremost, in the current Republican President. Prior to running for office, Donald Trump has made numerous fundamentally misogynistic and sexist comments and statements reflecting a deep-seeded belief that women are Trump’s sexual objects rather than sovereign people that deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Some of these are the most egregious offenses include:
- When asked whether he “treats women with respect,” a younger Donald Trump answered that “I can’t say that.”
- On the Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump told one female contestant, “It must be a pretty picture of you dropping to your knees.”
- In 1994, Trump remarked to ABC News that “I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.”
- When discussing contestants in his beauty pageant, Trump would often comment on their weight, saying that a women who weighs 160 pounds is “somebody that likes to eat” “like a pig,” “is like an eating machine,” and is “a real problem.”
- When addressing his relationship with his wife, Trump said “I have days where I come home and, I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinners not ready, I go through the roof.”
- In 2013, Donald Trump tweeted commenting on the 26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military by saying “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?
- During an interview with a female reporter for The Strip View, Trump said that “the look obviously matters. Like you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.”
- And, most notably, in a leaked tape from the 2005 set of Access Hollywood, Trump bragged about how he is “automatically attracted to beautiful– I just start kissing them…. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
— (((Jeff Tiedrich))) (@jefftiedrich) May 14, 2017
And, of course, these comments continued throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.
- When addressing the staggering amount of allegations of sexual assault that women have made against him, Trump stated that one accuser would “not be my first choice, that I can tell you. Man, you don’t know, that would not be my first choice.”
- When former Fox News host Megyn Kelly confronted Trump about his history of misogyny in the first Republican primary debate, Trump hinted that Kelly was menstruating, saying that “you could see that there was blood coming out of her eyes… blood coming out of her wherever.”
- When talking about his only female Republican opponent, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump said “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
- Trump retweeted an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife, saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016
As expected by the type of party that would nominate this candidate, outward misogyny is also expressed by other Republican politicians, conservative media moguls, the Republican base, and Trump’s most ardent supporters throughout his campaign, the youth-filled alt-right. Along with a slew of others, some include:
- In April, it became public that long-time and now-ousted Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had reached settlements, totaling $13 million, with five women who had accused him of sexual harassment. O’Reilly’s firing came mere months after Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was also fired because two former hosts, Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, along with other women at the company, accused Ailes of having made unwanted sexual advances toward them. One women, who had been harassed by Ailes for over 20 years, commented that “It was psychological torture.”
- Breitbart News, which current top Trump-adviser Stephen Bannon used to be the CEO of, has run countless sexist headlines, including “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews,” “Does feminism make women ugly?” “The solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: Women should log off“ and “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy.”
- In 2012, a Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney donor told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that “back in my days we used Bayer aspirin for contraception, the gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”
- In 1994, Republican politician Jeb Bush stated that women on welfare “should be able to get their life together and find a husband.”
- In 2013, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson stated that more women working was “anti-science” because “When you look at biology…the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is a dominant role. The female… it’s a complementary role. Having mom as primary bread winner is bad for kids and bad for marriage.” He also tweeted that “Ugly feminists [should] return to their kitchens.”
- And lastly, as Vox.com argues, the alt-right has become a home for young men with misogynistic world views, which “includes the ‘men’s rights’ movement, pickup artist culture (a community of men also labeled ‘PUAs’ that essentially makes a game of the art of bedding women), [and] ‘incels’ (men who are ‘involuntarily celibate’ because they feel women reject them).”
Republican policy often fails to address the problems facing women
It should thus be no surprise that this misogyny often carries over into the Republican policy agenda. Herein, I examine recent Republican policy on healthcare, abortion, and sexual assault to highlight that their legislative agenda tends to see the problems facing women as only marginal and secondary to the problems of men. In so doing, they serve to dehumanize, and often inflict direct and avoidable pain upon, the very mothers that Republican politicians are seemingly celebrating today.
Denigrating healthcare policy can be seen most recently in the Republican Party’s repeal and replacement plan for Obamacare, the American Health Care Bill. If that bill were to pass the Senate:
- Insurance companies on the individual market or that receive Medicaid payments would no longer have to cover procedures related to pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care, as well as services related to mental health, which would adversely impact women because they are disproportionately more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
- States would be banned from allowing their Obamacare Marketplace plans to cover abortions, and it would prohibit insurance companies that cover abortion (beyond that for rape, incest, and endangerment of the mother) from receiving federal tax credits.
- Planned Parenthood, which provided services to 32% of women seeking contraceptive care at subsidized primary care and family planning facilities in 2015, most of who are low-income, would no longer be able to receive Medicaid payments, resulting in a complete loss of service for some women in low-income areas without access to another provider. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the policy “would result in thousands of additional unintended pregnancies.”
- All insurance companies receiving public funds would no longer be required to cover certain preventive services that “are exclusively for women or address conditions that have a disproportionate impact on women.” These include preventive services related to breast cancer, cervical caner, osteoporosis, interpersonal & domestic violence, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and cardiovascular disease.
All of these provisions are made all-the-more insulting due to the fact that the individuals who wrote this bill were nearly all white men. The 13 Senators that are charged with rewriting the bill are also all white men.
— Ethan (@sandersforprez) May 5, 2017
So. Many. White. Men. Taking. Away. Women's. Healthcare. pic.twitter.com/Z9hmw2XfTw
— Rebecca Katz (@RebeccaKKatz) May 4, 2017
Before the 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, women seeking abortions, in an effort to decide the direction of their own life and often for the sake of their own bodily well-being, would often have to go to illegal and fatal ends to ensure that sovereignty. Given that the Republican opposition to abortion access has been a longstanding part of their platform, I will spend little time on it here. But a Rolling Stone article written in 2014 provides a fairly comprehensive overview of Republican efforts to restrict abortion access in ever legal way possible. The article identifies the fact that “Since 2010… conservative lawmakers in 20 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, more than the previous decade.”
In Texas, for example, recently-enacted restrictions mean that “a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy must receive pre-abortion counseling to advise her of the supposed physical and emotional health risks, undergo an ultrasound and view an image of her fetus as well as hear it described by her doctor, and then, in most cases, wait another 24 hours before having the procedure.”
As the article notes, “This assumes she can even find a clinic to go to. Women’s-health centers have been shutting their doors all over the Lone Star State since 2011, when… the Texas Legislature cut the funding to family-planning clinics by two-thirds, eliminating access to low-price contraception and other health services like breast exams and cancer screening for more than 155,000 women. With the passage of the new restrictions last summer, a third of Texas’ remaining clinics announced they’d have to close or offer fewer services. If additional measures go into effect this September, it could mean potentially leaving just six clinics offering abortions in a state of 26 million people, all of them in urban areas, and none in the entire western half of the state.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, with 63 percent of those assaults never reported. One in 5 females at college will be sexually assaulted,with over 90 percent of them not reporting it.
Yet, the 2016 Republican Party platform makes only one reference to sexual assault. That reference argues that Barack Obama’s policy on campus-related sexual assault, in which “If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects,” “must be halted.”
Along with not having any serious plan to address sexual assault, Republican politicians have often made comments showing their clear inability to grapple with the traumatizing nature of the issue. Here are a few:
- “Rape is kinda like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”- 1990 Republican nominee for governor of Texas, Clayton Williams
- “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that thing down.”- 2012 U.S. Missouri House Representative Todd Akin
- “[Rape victims] should make the best out of a bad situation.” -2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum
- “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”- 2012 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate of Indiana, Richard Mourdock
- “If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [in most cases] result in anyone’s death.”-2014 Maine House of Representatives member Lawrence Lockman
While I haven’t addressed some problems that exclusively harm women, such as the pay gap, my point in writing this is to call out the clear hypocrisy of Republican Party politicians on Mother’s Day. By not using rhetoric or adopting a legislative agenda that acknowledges and treats women as equals, they can and should not be seen as truly following through on the values that Mother’s Day is meant to represent. Pointing out this hypocrisy is made all the more important given that 52 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump.
Photo Credit: CNN