Op-Ed: Debunking the Republican War on Women

Posted Aug 27, 2015 by Edgar Wilson
There is no Republican “war on women.” There are many in America's GOP that clearly have some very serious, troubling issues with women, but that is a far cry from a party-wide war on women.
Pointing to any undercurrent of misogyny running through Republican headliners from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump mistakes symptoms for causes.
The truth is, the Republican Party is hardly cohesive enough in its ideology, priorities, initiatives, and leadership to coordinate such an anti-feminist movement — at least as a group. Cooperation from the American right in the 21st century trends toward obstruction — for examples, refer to President Barack Obama’s administration — more so than advancement of any particular, deliberate platform. Elected on a platform of repeals and resistance, Republicans in the 114th Congress have managed to alienate many traditional supporters by failing to kill Obamacare, along with numerous executive orders, trade deals, and security pacts.
In short, the Republican Party is not unified in thought or deed.
As the crowded presidential debates demonstrate, the GOP is more of a fundraising mechanism being utilized by a rabble of outsized personalities who can hardly tolerate one another, much less collaborate in an effort to suppress any single group — or person.
They each just happen to be comfortable endorsing and perpetuating sexist norms from the last century.
If there is a trend among conservatives at-large to be uncomfortable, hostile, or dismissive toward any group using history to highlight systemic disadvantages, mistreatment, and neglect, well — that’s because conservatism by its very nature needs history as a reference point for its ideals. An imperfect history is troublesome and close to home; malcontents and rabble-rousers are an easier target for contemporary problems.
Among the divergent, personality-driven Republican efforts to appropriate classic conservatism, few have managed to gracefully acknowledge the trouble with America’s history; instead, they haplessly whitewash, ignore, and deny. This makes political enemies of those who refuse to play along.
Democrats are at least as culpable as Republicans when it comes to drawing lines in the sand and casting ideological opponents as enemies to be warred upon or dismissed. And this is the essence of America’s broken and failing party system: not ideological consistency, but a contrived attempt to cast everyone as heroes and villains, supporters and opponents, stripping nuance out of discourse and replacing it with enmity and vitriol.
Republican leadership doesn’t exactly have its fingers on the pulse of the nation — or even conservative voters, for that matter.
Donald trump got a lot of blow-back from his fellow candidates following his post-debate commentary; the media, in turn, took him to task for doing what he always does, the way he always does it. But, as political researchers tracking the 2016 election found, there is a massive gulf between how the news media is treating Trump’s candidacy, and how social media is responding.
While the media is giving significant coverage to supposed mainstream candidates, Twitter users are consumed with talk about Trump. Despite being an outsider to Washington and the GOP alike, Trump’s perverse magnetism is actually forcing the rest of the presidential hopefuls to realign their platforms and stump speeches to try to catch up.
So if a prominent Republican makes disparaging comments about women, it is much easier for the rest of the party to murmur agreement than to criticize one of its fellows. Trump has proven himself a rare exception in attracting the ire of Republicans as well as Democrats with his antics, but then again, he is historically neither a Republican nor a politician at all. It doesn’t matter—hyperbole gets attention, and nuance loses it, and the GOP is correcting itself to the lowest common denominator.
That is not a war on women — that’s a hapless reflex against perceived threats.
How can society be moving toward greater awareness of sexism if one of the leading parties is actively fighting progress? The rhetoric doesn’t match surveys of Americans’ attitudes on whether sexism is a problem, and whether it deserves attention. The latest numbers show that men and women across demographic lines recognize gender inequality, and want it to change.
That means that despite historic progress, Americans see room and reason for improvement.
There is collateral damage to such progress on gender equality when rhetoric devolves and insensitivity reigns. But that isn’t why it persists among the GOP.
Republicans are falling into an old bad habit: they treat social critics as threats, enemies, and challengers, because a more nuanced response would be uncomfortable and difficult. Feminism sounds awfully progressive — liberal, even — so in a black-and-white partisan environment, that puts it in the opposite camp, and on blast.
America’s parties need enemies to oppose. Historical minorities, be they women, African Americans, or any other disadvantaged group, are evidence of the ugliness of the past, and embody the most difficult challenges of the future. That makes them outsiders to any narrative that glorifies the past, and outsiders are enemies. The Republican war is on Democrats — the rhetorical abuse of women’s rights is a casualty in the broader effort to maintain the distinction between “us” and “them.”
Conservatives don’t hate women — they hate the idea that profound change is more desirable than general maintenance. Feminism is critical of the status quo, and the quasi-conservative Republican ideologues are struggling to find a way to attract women without acknowledging their inequality.