And now, a political rant about sexism

Todd “legitimate rape” Akin

It is said that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally says something true. Lately it seems that Republican politicians in the US, especially, have been speaking their mind more than usual. And now, sitting here 8 days before the presidential election and staring down hurricane Sandy, I finally just can’t take it anymore.

The constant attacks on women’s rights and autonomy are a bigger issue than usual because of the upcoming election. But the fact is that these attacks are constant. This is nothing new (especially from the Republican party, as can be seen here). From politicians to the media to everyday folks, women are constantly being reminded (even by other women) that they are here to make babies, and of course that all those baby-making hormones make us silly. Our pay, our medical decision-making, and our depictions on TV are all wrapped up in our being baby-making machines. And it’s true, that women are the ones who have the babies (though, don’t tell the pope!), but why does it sometimes seem like that is our entire identity?

Part 1: Rape. Is it really that bad?

Everyone in office seems to have an opinion about when women should be able to exercise choice (aka: abortion). After a rape? Well, maybe…but was it a forcible rape? A legitimate rape? An honest rape? Can you actually prove you were raped? And are you even sure you were raped? And really, can we trust that you were raped and you’re not just making it up? Because, you know, some girls, they rape so easy.

How much longer is it going to take, before everyone can simply agree that rape is rape? Yes, even if she initially wanted intercourse, but then changed her mind. Even if she dressed like a “slut”. Even if the underage girl accepted alcohol and drugs. Even if she normally liked having sex with random strangers. If there was no consent, or consent was revoked at any time, it’s rape. Period.

Even though abortion is still a legal medical procedure in this country, many politicians continue to act as though it’s not. But they are generous enough, sometimes, to concede that when a woman becomes pregnant as the result of rape, she should be able to choose an abortion if she wants to (that is, if it’s even medically possible to get pregnant from a rape!). But I think that’s just political pandering. Their true beliefs are likely something similar to what Rep. Mourdock said recently, that life is a “gift from God“, even if it is the result of rape.

The problem with Mr. Mourdock’s statement was not that we “misinterpreted” him. We understand perfectly, and that’s the problem. Pregnancy is nothing to be taken lightly, even in the best of circumstances. To simply say that women should always be happy, always be grateful, when they become pregnant, that they should be forced to carry that pregnancy to term no matter the consequences to their own lives and mental well-being, that is the offensive part.

Well, part of the offensive part anyway. The other part is the habit of equating rape to sex. An example is the Pennsylvania senate candidate Tom Smith comparing pregnancy as the result of rape to getting pregnant out of wedlock. And yes, I understand that he wasn’t exactly making a direct comparison, but the real problem was this quote:

Put yourself in a father’s position. Yes, it is similar.

Really? It’s similar? How? In one situation there was consent, in the other there was not. In one case your daughter chose to have sex (though I still believe she should be able to choose what to do if she becomes pregnant, because only she has to live with the consequences of that), but in the other scenario, she did not have sex. She was raped.

Part 2: Pandering. You’re still being sexist.

Both candidates for president have been pandering pretty heavily to the female vote recently. The second debate, in particular, was a joy to behold. Democrat or Republican, they still don’t get it. President Obama basically equated women’s issues to family issues, which to be fair is often true. But this stance marginalizes women who don’t want families. Are they some kind of freaks? Do their rights not matter, since they don’t impact families?

But the real problems in that debate stemmed from Governor Romney’s comments.

“…I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.” They said, ‘Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.’ And I said, ‘Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?’ And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”

Yes, binders full of women. Because otherwise, how do you notice that qualified women exist? But even if those women do work for you, can they really afford to work all day long? Like a man? Governor Romney has a solution for that as well:

What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford.

Don’t get me wrong, flexible work hours are really important. But they’re important for men and women, because men can also be parents. Sometimes, they can even have parental responsibilities. Like a woman! But, and I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but not all women have children or want those flexible work hours. Flexible work hours for childcare is not a women’s issue. It’s a parents issue.

Part 3: It’s not just politicians. Scientists do it, too.

The saddest thing is that the reason our politicians think it’s okay to continue to make blatantly sexist and patently offensive comments about women, rape, contraception, and everything else is that lots of people think the same way. Much of the time, sexism is subconscious, something so ingrained in us from growing up in a culture pervaded with sexism that we don’t even know when we’re doing it.

Take this recent study showing that there is still widespread gender bias among scientists, as demonstrated by their hiring practices. The study showed identical resumes to faculty members and asked if they would hire the undergraduate student as a laboratory technician. The only thing that changed from one test subject to another was whether the name on the application was male- or female-gendered.  Female applicants were rated as less competent, less hireable, and less deserving of mentoring than their male counterparts–even though the male counterpart had the exact same qualifications and experience. 

But scientists can even demonstrate more obvious sexism. Recently, after a large neurobiology conference, a successful, established male professor made this comment on his Facebook page:

My impression of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women. The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain? No offense to anyone.

No offense indeed. Who would be offended at the idea that women should be concerned with how attracted you might be to them at a professional conference?

Part 4: Vote. While you still can. 

And finally, I just want to remind women that we haven’t always had the right to vote. In fact, if some Republican women (ironically) had their choice, we still wouldn’t. Ann Coulter, Queen of Saying Crazy Things, thinks it would be awesome if women couldn’t vote. Janis Lane of the Mississippi Tea Party concurs, saying that women are diabolical and emotional, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to vote (except her, of course, because she votes to offset the crazy. Cuz you know, logic).

Even “scientists” are getting in on the “let’s generalize women as crazy bags of hormones” action by promoting this…thing. You can call it a study, but I wouldn’t. Just read this blog post over at scientopia describing all that is wrong with this “study” that claims women’s ovaries determine how they vote. And then if you’re still not angry, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson will fix that by describing how liberal women are ruining America.

So what is my point here? Has this all just been one giant feminist rant? Perhaps. But my point is this: women are people, too. Some of us want to have babies. Some don’t. Some might be in a position, for whatever reason, where they will choose abortion. Others think this is a terrible sin. Some women really like casual sex. Others believe in waiting for marriage. Some women vote Democrat, others Republican. Some women want to be stay at home moms, others want to work and be moms at the same time. Some want to dress in short skirts, others like to dress more modestly. But all of us have opinions and are living, breathing, thinking human beings that deserve to be treated as such, and not just as a political talking point, a baby-making machine, or a punchline to a joke about nagging.

I don’t like to use this blog to talk about my political views, but right now I feel that I have to. This election is extremely important. Republican politicians, especially this newer breed in the extreme right wing, have shown time and again that they do not view women as equals. We can’t let them get away with legislating away our rights and our progress. I hope you’re registered to vote, regardless of your sex or gender, and I hope you vote with the best interests of all Americans in mind.

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