America’s War on Women

Have politicians forgotten about the women's rights movement?

I do not get all the vitriol aimed at women right now.

Over the past couple months, I have fretted over the following things that, we have been assured, are not an attack on women: the idea that any religious institution thinks it should decide who can and cannot be insured when it comes to women’s birth control; the idea that Rick Santorum would like to stop insuring prenatal testing for women; the two state legislatures in this country that wanted to force women and their doctors into invasive and medically unnecessary procedures; the rabid attack on all of the many medical services Planned Parenthood provides; the United States Congressman who refused to allow even one woman to testify  in a Congressional hearing about birth control; and that Indiana legislator who insists that the Girl Scouts are a threat to American life as we know it.

I have wondered on more than one occasion if—instead of sitting and worrying—I should be out marching or something. Because I know it’s election season, but this whole Woman as Political Pawn thing feels a little too Handmaid’s Tale for my taste.

And if the political feels more personal than usual right now, the personal is getting downright alarming. One case in point: The regularity with which a commenter on this blog rails against a female writer whom he/she has never met as an angry, screeching feminist (it’s hard to screech in print, by the way), or wishes horrible things on her (including, in more than one case, her rape), or degrades her existence or appearance as opposed to taking issue with her writing or her opinion … well, it’s all been sort of shocking to me. It seems as if a great deal of the anger and powerlessness out there has finally found itself a target: Women.

And yes, for the record, the guys here get their fair share of criticism, too: It just is extremely rare that those comments be based on or related to gender.

Last week, you may have heard, the French government decided to cast aside the word “mademoiselle” on official government forms. In doing so, they joined the ranks of Germany, England, the U.S., Spain and Italy in the thinking that a woman need not be defined according to her marital status. Naturally, this resulted in the usual grumblings about liberals and feminists.

In usual circumstances, I doubt I’d have given this a second thought. But we’re not living in usual circumstances right now. We appear to be living in 1912. I now find myself sympathizing with women across the ocean who are grasping at this symbolic gesture just to assert some semblance of control over their own identity. I understand that some women in France—which arguably has an even larger gender gap than the U.S. in many ways— don’t want to be defined, even on paper, by their relationship to a man.

Meanwhile, stateside, we’re talking about having our lives—our medical decisions, our pocketbooks, our roles in this democracy—defined by men. Men who are not even our husbands or family or confidantes, but just some random politicians. Even if I liked some of them, I wouldn’t agree to this. It’s not just bad for women, it’s blatantly un-American. It’s bad for America, too, as “all oppression creates a state of war.” (That’s Simone de Beauvoir. I couldn’t resist.)

Haven’t we had enough war, America?