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Chekhov's Gun

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It's the same old story: when I first voted as a high school senior, I cast my ballot confident in a platform I liked. Four years later (this time, as a college senior) I cast my ballot again; but this time my confidence lies not in knowing what I like, but what I don't like. The Obama campaign has given little indication of a thoroughly constructed vision, although there are scraps of ideals. But, though I don't find Mitt Romney entirely egregious, I find the theater surrounding his campaign to be entirely egregious -- and, as a woman, very threatening.

The playwright Anton Chekhov is quoted as advising writers not to put a gun on the wall in the first act if it's not going to go off by the second or third act. The essence of the trope is: don't have unnecessary details in a story. Or, put otherwise: why have something present now if it is not going to be a plot device later on? And this is what I suspect to be true of the Republican Party's relationship with women.

Attitude, when placed squarely on the front porch of the party, is indicative of agenda.

The most recent insult, of course, came from Rep. Todd Akin, who described pregnancy from rape as rare because pregnancy couldn't occur under conditions of "legitimate rape." It was a flagrantly inaccurate comment that quickly caused most of the Republican Party, including Mitt Romney, to disown him. But what makes the comment so disheartening is that it is couched in a year of such comments. Last spring the term "war on women" came into vogue as the Republican Party unbarreled a series of laws that would cut back on women's access to health care, equal pay and protection for victims of domestic violence. We were told that it was crazy to us to respond with the extreme language of "war." We were also told, shortly thereafter, that it was indecorous to say "vagina" in a discussion about vaginas.

According to Rep. Reince Priebus, using the term "war on women" is as fictious as a "war on caterpillars," a belittling comparison that makes feelings of attack seem an Alice-in-Wonderland flight of imagination and does nothing to actually abate concern.

The litany of insults toward women -- in a time, when, frankly there are many other issues we could be fighting about, rather than making gender a partisan cause -- is the gun on the wall.

Why should conservatives behave in a hostile manner toward women if it's not indicative of a larger worldview that thoroughly misunderstands the human experience? The profoundly ignorant rhetoric surrounding women this year has created a deep-seated distrust of the Republican Party in this young woman, as well as for many women I know.

It may not be fair to consider Rush Limbaugh the primary mouthpiece of conservatism, but once Kevin Williamson wrote a cover article in the National Review about how Mitt Romney is biologically superior to Barack Obama because he has sons -- well, I think it's pretty fair to say the kind of levity both men use is pretty standard. When I read election literature like that, I don't find it to be chummy cultural fare. All I am reminded of is the bosses I have had or the men I have served while waitressing that brush up against my side, crack jokes about women and then lean back in their seat, smoothing Romney-esque helmets of silver hair. "It's all jokes, hon." They say. "Lighten up." Neither rhetoric nor laws can be understood in isolated terms. Politics is narrative, and each actor has to be taken into account of the plot.

I was raised in jean-skirt conservatism, not Volkswagon liberalism and I would like to offer a mediated vote this November, one that winnows through the issues carefully the way I was raised. After all, I know from experience that conservatism need not necessarily be equated with paternalism, the way that Williamson seems to suggest. Although my family reflects Republican clichés -- a sprawling family, which can only be described as resembling a home-schooled family out of a hypothetical Wes Anderson film, that closely resembles the Romney clan, minus all the real estate, money and tans -- the expectations for intellect and candor are equal, which is why I came to develop the political ideology that I did.

But there was no such chance for mediation between political parties: early on in the election, conservatives made it clear where their priorities lay. And now, with a gun hanging on the wall that represents an increasingly regressive worldview about women, I can only vote one way. Throughout the election, Obama has retained the vast majority of the female vote. And that's something that could make all the difference in the next two months.

Because I suspect that most women, like me, don't want to wait until the second act to see whether or not the gun goes off, or to which direction it fires. The shadow on the wall is warning enough.

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