As the 2016 election season has trundled along, we've spent a lot of time examining the racism, xenophobia, and bigotry so bountifully demonstrated by the GOP presidential candidates. Extraordinary anti-Muslim animus, callous dehumanization of immigrants, demonization of African-American activists, and cries to revoke the civil liberties of LGBTQ Americans — it's all stock-in-trade for today's Republican Party.
We're right to be alarmed by all of it. There is, however, another form of bias equally on display that doesn't get nearly as much attention: the Republican Party's overwhelming misogyny.
We occasionally talk about the sexism confronting Hillary Clinton. Abortion comes up now and again. Then there was that time that the leading GOP contender reminded us that many 21st century men are still skeeved out by women's reproductive cycles. So it's not like the misogyny has gone entirely unremarked — but given that these are attitudes that affect fully half of America, we really ought to be talking about it a whole lot more.
Maybe we're so used to women being considered lesser-than that misogyny's ubiquity fails to register. Maybe it's so deeply embedded in our psyche and policies that it's hard to pin down. And maybe, like with the word "racist," we're hesitant to use the word "misogynist" (or the slightly-less freighted "sexist") because it raises unanswerable questions: Does that person actually hate women? All women? Can we really know what's in people's hearts?
So perhaps, to borrow from Jay Smooth, we should focus less on what people are, and more on what they do. We needn't concern ourselves with politicians' feelings about women — our concern needs to be the effect of politicians' words and actions.
In that light, Republicans' positions on Americans' constitutionally-mandated right to terminate a pregnancy become even more problematic. When government decides for a citizen that she must carry a pregnancy to term, it's making a decision with long-term financial, professional, and health repercussions — and that's just for women who are full-grown adults with careers and good insurance. For any other woman — the poor, the young, the un- or under-employed, the sexually-assaulted, the victim of domestic violence — the damage goes deeper and lasts longer. The fight to deny any woman her (constitutionally-mandated!) right to abortion is a fight to force all women to accept and shoulder these consequences, absolutely regardless of their own desires — a misogynistic effect if ever there was one.
This is equally true for a vast number of other, less obvious positions and policies, as well. Repealing ObamaCare? The effect would be a return to "gender rating," by which insurance providers regularly treated breast cancer and domestic violence as "pre-existing conditions" and refused to cover Pap smears, a cancer screening test unique to women.
Months and months of lying about and then defunding Planned Parenthood? The effect has been the failure to provide thousands and thousands of Pap smears and breast cancer screenings — and let's not mince words: We'll never know the number of women for whom that has proven a literal death sentence.
And oh, it goes so much further than women's health issues: What about the GOP's opposition to a higher minimum wage? Women are disproportionately affected, because two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. What about the GOP's refusal to deal with the college debt crisis? The gender wage gap means women are saddled with that debt for much longer than men (particularly if they happen to be Latina or African American). What about the relentless drone of comments from would-be leaders and their supporters that dismiss women, disparage our needs, and reduce us to our potential as sex partners or breeders? A study released just this week has found a "surprising durability of basic stereotypes about women and men over the past three decades, not only in the global traits of agency and communion but in other domains such as physical characteristics, occupations, and gender roles as well."
Why, it's almost as if words have consequences.
Republican leaders (including everybody's favorite "moderate," John Kasich) have spent their careers telling America that 50 percent of the citizenry cannot be trusted with their own bodies. They've pursued policies that consistently produce roadblocks to those citizens' advancement, and they persistently belittle, demean, and express genuine doubt as to those citizens' essential equality.
Do these politicians and pundits hate women? I don't really care. I care that the effect of their positions and policies has been disastrous for women. I'm terrified to consider what it will mean if we do nothing about it come November.