27 January 2014

Uncle Sugar: Mike Huckabee and what Republicans think of women

The way Kathleen Parker tells it, Mike Huckabee was trying to tell his audience that Democrats try to win women's votes by focusing on the single issue of reproductive rights. Apparently the former Arkansas governor wanted to criticize a supposed Democratic belief that reproductive rights is the only issue that matters to women. Huckabee and Parker alike challenge the Democratic talking point that Republicans have waged a "war on women," claiming that the abortion issue is the only evidence, spurious at that, to back the contention. Parker argues that since many women oppose abortion, the Democratic "war on women" claim doesn't follow. Leave that point to be debated another day. The reason Parker wrote a column on the subject is that Huckabee, to her obvious embarrassment, went on to act very much like a gender warrior. Here's the quote that probably has sunk his chances for a dark-horse run at the 2016 Republican nomination for president:

And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.

While this seems to have been enough for Parker to write off Huckabee, she still claims that he had meant to characterize what he thought to be the Democrats' attitude toward women. That is, in Huckabee's mind Democrats insult women by claiming that they "cannot control their libido" without "Uncle Sugar" providing a backstop int he form of contraception. But as Parker seems to suspect, there seems to be some subconscious projection going on here. What Democrat, after all, believes that women's control over their libido is an issue? What Democrat is asserting a right to contraception on the ground that women can't control their libido? To the contrary, it's pretty obvious that Huckabee is telling us why he thinks women want contraception. Seen this way, the problem with the Democrats is that they say women don't have to control their libido. The fundamental problem, for Huckabee, is that women can't or won't control their libido.

"Who, really, is worried about women's libidos?" Parker asks. But she's kidding herself if she thinks, or wants us to believe, that Huckabee's apparent attitude is in no way representative of Republicans. My own anecdotal experience is admittedly limited, but the only hard-core Republican I've ever debated reproductive rights with made it clear that reproductive rights wouldn't be a political issue if women would only keep their legs closed. For at least some Republicans, the reproductive-rights question is inextricably tied to female sexuality. Implicitly, Huckabee said that women need to control their libido, that doing so would prove them "far more than the Democrats have played them to be." You don't want babies? Don't have sex. It still takes two to tango, of course, but if the object is to prevent unwanted pregnancies and their abortion, the burden of chastity seems to fall disproportionately one way.

By writing Huckabee off, however regrettably given past hints of a milder temperament, Parker continues to defend the Republican party from the "war on women" charge. Her defense might be more convincing if she acknowledged the essence of the charge. "The alleged war on women was based essentially on the notion that people who think abortion is a bad idea — or who don’t think the government should mandate insurance coverage for birth-control coverage — are anti-woman," Parker writes, "Whatever one’s own position, Republicans could be characterized as waging a war on women only if no women agreed with the premises mentioned above." This is incorrect. Republicans can still be characterized as waging a war on women if someone believes that the decision to terminate a pregnancy can be made only by the mother -- only by women. It still may not be a fair characterization -- whether the mother should have such exclusive power when it does take two to tango is legitimately subject to debate -- but for those who believe strongly in women's exclusive prerogative on such an intimate matter it wouldn't be a great leap to assume that intrusion on that prerogative in the name of the state is really a usurpation of the prerogative by men, no matter how many women agree with the men's position. In other words, given the ideas and emotions in play in the reproductive-rights debate, Kathleen Parker will find herself accused of waging a war on women whether she likes it or not and whether it's fair or not. Can someone argue that women must not abort their pregnancies without being accused of furthering male supremacy? They should be able to if the question is the state's interest in children being born, but then the debate should flow naturally to the next and arguably more important question of the state's interest in keeping everyone who is born alive. Until the subject changes from the consequences of "libido" to the scope of a positive right to life that doesn't expire at birth, we should forgive people for thinking that Mike Huckabee's "unconscious" outburst reveals the true face of Republican misogyny beneath the gentler mask of Kathleen Parker.


Anonymous said...

Insofar as my experience goes, men, in general, don't really care one way or another about abortion. (Not the same as caring about a woman's right to choose). It seems to me, among the people I have conversed on the issue, that women are far more interested in the abortion issue. So the claim repugnicans make are completely unfounded to begin with. It isn't democrat men who are so gung-ho regarding the abortion issue, it is WOMEN - and not just those who vote to the left. So basically, what these yahoos seem to be saying is that women are fighting a war on women. And (like most of what they say) THAT makes no sense at all.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if all repugnican women are truly "anti-abortion" or are a percentage of them only "anti-government/insurance paying for abortion" because they know they can afford it, but they don't want poor/minority/"losers" to have access to the same "health care" that they feel entitled to.