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Woman: Person or Property?

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The Unanswered Question That Drives The Republican War On Women

Think for a moment about the entire verbal output of all the candidates in the Republican debates of the last few months. Did you hear any candidate say anything at all about women's rights, except to call for cutting them back? One candidate, Rick Santorum, even runs on a platform of preventing women from getting contraceptives. Normally this sort of thing would be called "being a religious fanatic," but in the context of a stable of candidates all so cowardly as to refuse to breathe a word about women's rights, Santorum's position didn't seem that extreme.

There is an unanswered question behind and beneath all the effort the right wing puts into such activities as shaming women about abortion and demonizing Planned Parenthood. Once you understand the importance of the question, you can see the mind-numbing fear that grips the Republican heart.

The Question
Is a woman a piece of property or a person? This question has affected the entire shape of women's experience cradle to grave for thousands of years. In part of the world today, and in most of the world in the past, there was no question about it: Women were property.

There's a huge payoff for men in that system. Property doesn't need to be consulted about where it's put, what is extracted from it or forced into it. Property has no voice and cannot shape policy or choices. Property can be moved, discarded or demolished, and if it breaks under the load, it can be easily replaced. And that's how it's been for women for a very long time.

All over the world, women are still viewed as property. It's obvious from the recent Republican debates that all the candidates still think that way, too. Not a single one of the male candidates had the courage or the principles to stand up and say, "Nobody owns women's bodies but the women that live in them. What women do in their bodies is absolutely none of our business. I'm ashamed of the despicable, calculated and heartless way my party has politicized abortion and caused women to hate each other instead of feeling compassion for each other. By teaching every woman with a uterus how to hate each other, you have deliberately fostered an unnatural attitude among women. If we're looking for something to shame, we Republicans should stop shaming women about abortion and start shaming ourselves for fostering such a monstrous assault on women's natural dignity."

If you ask a woman whether she would like to be treated as a person or as property, she would probably say "Person." If you ask a woman whether her uterus belongs to her or to the Republican Party, she will probably say "I own it." However, millions of women vote Republican in every big election, attempting to elect a party who wants to own their uteruses. In right-wing Virginia, the legislature and governor are conspiring to pass a law that will literally cause an unnecessary probe to be inserted into women's vaginas. If Republicans, who are so vocal about opposing big government, don't see the irony in causing government to snoop around in women's uteruses, they were apparently born without the irony gene.

Here in the United States, for example, a beachhead was established, at great cost, that said that by law, women were to be treated equally as persons. Now, due to the anti-abortion (and now blatantly anti-contraception) movement of the Republican right, there is a vigorous attempt to get back to the simpler time when women were property and didn't vote. Thanks to the window of media, it's now possible to look directly into the Middle Ages by watching the struggle of women in places like Saudi Arabia to gain even the most modest of freedoms such as to walk unaccompanied or to drive. The Republicans don't want to go quite that far, just back to the predictable, male-dominated world of the Fifties.

Much has been accomplished in the last two centuries. But we must beware complacency. The idea that women are persons is being assaulted daily and fiercely, primarily by men, and primarily through force and the threat of force.

If a woman is a person, it's her business whether and when to have children. Everywhere that women and children are valued through social policies that treat them as persons, society benefits. By contrast, if societies keep women pregnant and producing lots of children, their property status ties them to the men who continue to own them and other property. Women with young children have fewer choices and less opportunity to shape their own lives, if they are not true partners in the original choice to conceive. The current Republican war on women in the United States lets us know that the Civil Rights Act hasn't been fully implemented. Over half the population still doesn't enjoy full civil rights, and Republicans seemed bent on taking away some of the most important ones they have.

In Part 2 of this blog, we'll pull back the curtain and show exactly why Republicans hate women.

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