Are Women’s Issues National Issues?


Yesterday political comedian Andy Borowitz tweeted, “I fear that Paul Ryan’s extremist views about rape & abortion will distract us from his extremist views about Social Security & Medicare.” It’s a funny joke, highlighting a clear reality: all of Paul Ryan’s views are extremist and controversial. It also brings up another necessary point. Are “women’s issues” still seen as separate from national issues? Are people worried that the focus on rape and abortion will distract voters from the issues that “really matter”?

On Wednesday I made a list of five offensive and ignorant quotes about rape from politicians and posted it on my blog. Within 24 hours, the post had over 25,000 notes. Many people were shocked by the quotes, unaware to the extent that rape had been politically misconstrued.  A few hours after I posted the list, I received a message that read: “What if the whole ‘definition of rape’ scandal is just a big distraction from the Republican Party?”

Framing rape and abortion as issues distracting the public from other, seemingly “more important,” problems does several things: it disregards women as equal political players, it denies the reality that men care deeply about, and are affected by, rape and abortion and it undermines these topics as critical economic concerns. Furthermore,  perceiving rape as a figment of a woman’s imagination, or quantifying rape on a scale drawn by masculine standards, is not a distraction from the Republican Party. It is a universal theme within the party.

Todd Akin is not the first Republican this year with a controversial rape quote. In March 2012, Senator Chuck Winder declared that doctors should make sure rapes aren’t just “normal relations in a marriage.” In January, 2012 Rick Santorum said that women pregnant from rapes should not have abortions to “make the best of a bad situation.” Today’s Republican Party treats women as symbols and tools of a political agenda rather than as autonomous human beings. Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan co-sponsored the “personhood” bill with Rep. Todd Akin, which affirms that from the moment of fertilization onward, “every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood” (Washington Post).  While laws like the Personhood Bill limit women’s choices, they also have a great national and economic impact. The Personhood Bill would necessarily tear apart families and couples, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, those not given adequate sexual educations and victims of rape. It would lead to greater poverty, forcing more reliance on government programs, which is of course contradictory to the very core of Republican policy.

In times of fragile national identity, whether it be an election season or the fall of a regime, women’s bodies become critical to political discourse.  As the future looks bleaker, and our  nation suffers economically, I am not surprised that women’s bodies are being used to incite a masculine sense of control and structure.  But it doesn’t work.  We are in multiple wars. Millions across our country are unemployed. Many are just getting by on government programs. If politicians think limiting abortions will solve our economic problems, they fail as policy makers.  If these men think our nation is better off by controlling women’s bodily autonomy and decisions (forcing us into decisions that are TERRIBLE for the economy, by the way) they fail as policy makers.

So no, women’s issues are not distracting us from anything; they are critical political matters.  Sexist policies have been at the core of conservative laws this year; they are laws that will not only reduce women’s options, but also tear apart families and put a significant strain on our national economy.  If people out there worry that the focus on rape and abortion distracts voters from the Republican agenda, then let’s start framing women’s rights as what they are: national, economic issues.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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