Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

The Elephant in the Womb

“The Elephant in the Womb”; Sex, Moms and G.O.P. lies

Zillah Eisenstein

Ithaca New York

September 3, 2012—In honor of Labor Day and Shulamith Firestone

Where is the feminist outrage at the G.O.P no matter which kind of feminist you might be—liberal, neo-con, radical, gay, trans, black, white, Latina, socialist, Islamic….whatever? The choices, happily, are endless today. Yet the Republicans natter on at their convention as though “we”—the big we live in the 1950’s. Everything for and against “women’s rights to their bodies and their labor” has been said and re-said for at least the past four decades. If we keep addressing their hackneyed ideas and politics there is little room to go forward with the world that we presently inhabit.

What in the world could the Republicans be thinking? Really, what in the world? Shortly before the Convention there were Todd Akin’s outbursts. He sounded so vile and idiotic about gays, and rape, and women’s bodies that I half thought this all was some kind of internet hoax. But then Clint Eastwood had his tortuous dialogue with an empty chair and droned on about the good old cowboy days. Really? I thought Republicans were trying to NOT depict themselves as old white men. Is this really the best that you got?

Let me just say, before I actually begin my reasoned rant that: How dare anyone tell a raped woman what she can or cannot do with a pregnancy that she might face in the aftermath. After the total violation of her body and her right to control it, or define it, she gets to do whatever she thinks is best for her and the fetus. What planet do you live on that you think you have any rights at all to tell her anything at all?

The convention opened against the back-drop of the Republican “war on women”. They were supposedly set to re-claim women and their votes by telling us they love us. But it did not take long to realize that the women the Republicans are addressing are a very particular sort, and that their war continues against any female who is sexually active and thinks she has a right to the decisions about her bodily rights.

The phrase “war on women” was chosen in part by reproductive rights activists to depict the continual Republican assaults against women’s rights to abortion and health care more generally. Public funding of abortion or contraception was targeted throughout 2010 by Republicans. After the mid-term elections 1100 provisions restricting women’s access to abortion on the state level were initiated.

Mandatory Ultrasounds were discussed in Virginia, Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Alabama. Catholic Bishops led an assault on health care provisions in the Affordable Care Act that would require contraceptives to be paid for by insurance companies. An all male panel was convened by Darrell Issa to consider the validity of contraceptive mandates. The Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke was disallowed from speaking before the panel. Rush Limbaugh called her a slut and prostitute and suggested that contraceptives are necessary for women who just want too much sex. The federal funding for Planned Parenthood was once again fodder for right wing anti-abortion activists and this even invaded the well known breast cancer Komen foundation, supposedly dedicated to women’s health. The Akin fiasco continued and rekindled the sense of war and women under siege.

But exactly which women are under siege here? Single young women in particular are under siege. Unmarried women are also. Sexually active women of all ages are also targeted. Any female body that is sexually active and not domesticated within motherhood and traditional hetero-patriarchal family life is fodder for the mill here; as are women of all colors and particularly poor women. In other words, almost all women but post-menopausal women and anti-abortion women are particularly targeted here.

The word “woman”—which has been a nemesis for feminism and also its glorious idea of a collectivity— is both too inclusive and not inclusive enough in this war of words and deeds. If feminism of any sort matters in this instance it is that women and girls get to decide about their bodies as independent selves. But the Republicans evade this discussion and instead put forward an anti-government stance toward health care and choose to protect their kind of family–from encroachment.

So when Ann Romney in her convention speech told women that she loved them I couldn’t help but wonder which women exactly she loved. Of course, if Michelle Obama said that she loved women she would be accused of being a lesbian. But no matter. Ann told the audience that she salutes women and sings her praises. And, that she knows that women do not expect things to be easy and they therefore know how to take care of themselves and their families. Maybe she forgot that earlier in the week she told a group of “Mom’s for Mitt” that women needed to stop complaining and “equality is detrimental” to women’s true interests. Or, maybe not.

Ann Romney as well as Chris Christie focused on moms—women are mothers and for them, a mother is a wife and married. And for Ann, moms do not work outside the home. Of course this is an easy choice for her as a multi-millionairess but less so for the millions of women who labor multiple jobs to make ends meet. Christie said his mom was the driver in his household, and his father was a mere passenger. There were celebrations all around for all that women as moms do.

Most of the audience was white and the white women loved Ann back. And Condoleezza Rice was sitting near the front, clapping and smiling and approving—though she has no husband or children. I wondered if Ann were Michelle would these women let her love them, and would she love them back? And, what was Condi thinking? That she got where she is today by herself, without the civil rights and women’s movements and bravery of Black women’s struggles who came before her? She celebrated our (U.S.) “exceptionalism” where she could have been born into the segregated south in Alabama and grow up to be Secretary of State. She celebrated a country that does not care where you start but only cares where you are going. She believes we are a country of limitless horizons. It is all too amazing. Republicans seem to truly not approve of most women and yet Condi is their forceful mouthpiece at the convention. It is too strange: a Black woman defending a white man’s party; and actually a white rich man’s party. It is enough to make you (almost) hopeless.

Female bodies are the coded rubric for a right-wing take-over of political discourse, once again. Remember Ronald Reagan in 1980. The Republicans are no longer and have not been for quite awhile even neo-liberals fighting to privatize the public sphere. Instead the right-wing wishes to destroy the very realm of public responsibility and leave most of us with their mythic family. There is to be no safety net, no assist, no help, no subsidy. If you fail, Paul Ryan is sure that you have not tried hard enough to succeed at work, or to fend off a rape—or whatever.

Privatization and the glorification of the market economy are swathed in familialism and family becomes a booster form of momism. Both the economy and traditional marriage are teetering on the edge which is why life is so hard for so many. And the government that the G.O.P will leave standing invades the bedroom and serves the rich. They are not really anti-government, just anti-assistance for choices they do not approve of. And, there is truly a hostility towards poor people, regardless of race and gender.

I think you might get my gist by now. The Republicans say there is no war on women because they love some women, like Mitt loves Ann and his own mother too. Mitt talked about how his mother ran for the Senate, and spoke of his love for Ann who raised his boys, and then proudly noted how he appointed many women to work as part of his administration when Governor of Massachusetts. He praised “the sanctity of life” and the “institution of marriage” as God intended them to be, which is not gay. The hetero-patriarchal family rules. Once again, there was no mention of “working moms”—gay, or straight, or bi. This is all a bit too worn and weary. Makes you love Hillary even if you do not.

No matter how gender may be becoming more fluid as races become more mixed as well, the focus on the vagina or the uterus keeps females the same. And this fixation keeps women victimized. The G.O.P. both balks at and denies the changing lives of women, and men as well, and simply restates the old. It has handed this election to the Democrats if the Dems decide to take women’s lives, in all their new complexity and difficulty, seriously. If Obama wants “the” women’s vote(s) woo us with serious policy: affordable and good day care at our work sites and elsewhere, affordable and accessible health care, the continued right to and access to abortion and contraceptives, and throw in equal pay and the ERA, and you have us. Hands down.

It is repeatedly said that women don’t vote these issues. Really? When have we ever been given the chance to show that we would, and can.

Right wing Republican momism loves a certain kind of woman who exists less and less. The rest of us are in danger. Because the war is specific and particular and does not apply to all women Mitt and Paul can still say they love us. It is circular and vacuous and also a little bit true. The term “woman” becomes a kind of gender decoy for the Republicans which mis-represents the diversity of women. Even though they don’t like or love the rest of us, they still want us to dumbly vote for them. They should take the advice of what any good mother knows: love means caring and respecting the person who does not agree. Don’t love me because I do what you want me to do.

It seems tragic that in 2012 that the narrative about our economy and families is so anachronistic. It is time to vote our interests: as independent sexual beings who also labor hard as moms, if we are moms, and in the work force as well if we can find a job. Women, whatever kind of feminism we subscribe to, must stand against this egregious assault on our bodies and our lives. I am thinking very much about my 27 year old daughter as I write, and these reactionary times. She just so happens to be a first year medical resident in social medicine at Montifiore hospital, totally committed to girl’s and women’s reproductive rights and freedom.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan et al need to be shut down—and get the elephant out of my and our womb(s).

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