Women Trouble

04/04/2017 09:11 am ET Updated Apr 04, 2017
Pool via Getty Images

It’s been a hard month – let’s say a hard year – for women at the hands of Republican men. While President Trump is an acknowledged misogynist, recent events have highlighted just how broad the sentiment is across the Grand Old Party, including both conservatives and those few in its social-liberal wing.

Amid all the big news this week, we learned that Vice President Pence will not dine with a woman nor imbibe alcohol at an event unless his wife is present. Closer to my home, we read about Governor Bruce Rauner’s laughter when a radio show host suggested that he deal with the elected state Comptroller, Susana Mendoza, the first Hispanic woman to be elected to state-wide office, by taping her mouth shut. When she objected, he compounded the insult by having his minions dismiss her remarks as “another rant.”

While their styles are different, it is their peculiar notions about and attitudes toward women that are disquieting and portend greater trouble ahead.

Few were surprised when Trump was exposed as a lewd grabber. His appreciation of women seems to correlate with how likely they are to win a Miss Universe contest. Ivanka, yes – Rosie, no.

Perhaps we should not have been surprised by Pence’s attitude either. After all, as he has the distinction of being the governor of the only state in the nation to convict a woman of infanticide as a result of what he and fellow Republicans called an abortion and she termed a miscarriage. Either way, the 20-year sentence handed down to her by his state’s attorney was only set aside due to the actions of a federal court (during Barack Obama’s presidency).

But his refusal to be alone with a woman was startling. While we knew Trump could not be trusted with women, does Pence suffer from the same disease?

Despite what their defenders say, most women surely find the actions of three of the top Republican leaders in the nation repulsive, insulting and too reminiscent of the bad old days.

For Trump and Pence it seems women are temptresses – a temptation that Trump by his own admission rarely resists (unless the woman is Angela Merkel or Rosie O’Donnell) and a temptation that Pence must be protected from by the presence of his wife. For Rauner, women apparently should be seen but not heard.

It's just part of a centuries-old practice of trying to keep us quiet and in our place.

The twin evils of belittling or demonizing women, particularly those who stand up and speak out, have a long and unpleasant history. The ancient Greeks were the first to attribute women’s behavior to their biology, terming what they considered to be mental illness among women as the result of a ‘wandering womb.’ Ever since then, ‘hysteria’ (derived from the word for uterus) has been used not only to characterize the behavior of women with real mental problems, but to belittle, disregard and stigmatize the actions of women who speak out loudly – and often with anger – against the inequality and restrictions they’ve endured.

While women are no longer burned at the stake and the practice of hysterectomy no longer recommended as a ‘treatment’ for hysteria, the term itself and its cousins the “rant” and the “rave” linger on – used usually by white men in power to describe the protestations and arguments of women.

Similarly destructive is the duality that Trump and Pence seem to embrace – the old Madonna/whore syndrome, which contrasts the good, dependent, well-behaved obedient woman/wife, deserving of protection, with the outspoken, independent and therefore ‘slutty’ woman who as Trump implies is “asking for it.”

One cannot take these words or attitudes lightly. They have consequences. Among women there is little doubt that the numerous bills sponsored by Republicans sponsor in Congress and state houses across the country are meant to restrict women’s rights to abortion and birth control because of their desire to control and limit women’s sexual autonomy and behavior. When our protestations and demonstrations are called rants, raves and hysteria, we know that it’s just part of a centuries-old practice of trying to keep us quiet and in our place.

What is ironic is that the attitude of these three men – and the party they represent (which has taken every action it can to deny women not only the right to make their own medical/reproductive choices, but also to deny them equal pay and even the constitutional guarantee of equal rights) mirror the sentiments of the radical Islamists whose beliefs and actions they assert are antithetical to and an existential threat to democracy.

Women have long fought against their demonization. Based on the evidence from January 22, when women staged the largest-ever world-wide demonstration, we are not likely to stop now. Across the country, women’s groups have emerged, determined to thwart the Republican plan to obliterate Obamacare and state-level supports for women and families. We are in it for the long-haul, knowing that speaking truth to power is good, but taking power is better.

Until then, while Congressional Republicans take another run at health care, we might want suggest that they include one more reform. They might want to defund insurance coverage for Viagra and substitute the ample distribution of saltpeter to suppress sexual desire.