Advice to GOP: Quit repulsing women

If the Republican party wants to attract more female candidates and voters, not hating women would be a good start

Published November 9, 2009 11:10PM (EST)

On Friday night, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) responded to the question, "Why should a woman pay more [for health insurance] than a man?" with, "Well, we're all different. Why should a smoker pay more?" Sessions, notes  Politico, "runs the National Republican Congressional Committee -- which is tasked with recruiting new female candidates."

And the GOP wonders why it has trouble reaching women. Seriously.

Meredith Shiner and Glenn Thrush spend two pages exploring "the GOP's women problem," which is twofold: The number of female Republican candidates for office keeps dropping, and women voters stubbornly keep favoring a party that at least pretends to care about our needs (not that they're doing a bang-up job on the follow through). "Democrats," Shiner and Thrush write, "have long maintained that the Republican Party is hostile to all but the most conservative women" -- and since I take that to be not a partisan opinion but a verifiable fact, I guess I just don't get how anyone could be confused about why the GOP alienates women who are neither ultra-right-wing nor self-loathing. But apparently, many Republicans are befuddled.

They just can't understand what's gone wrong, apparently, when they even try extra hard to "emphasize the contributions of their female members" -- like Virgina Foxx, whose remarks about the healthcare reform bill began, "I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country." And Michele Bachmann who, in a characteristically paranoid and nonsensical statement, recently called a teabagger protest against that bill "the Super Bowl of our freedom." And Sarah Palin, who... you get the picture.

But what about the more moderate Republican women, the ones less likely to favor "folksy" ignorance and tinfoil millinery? Well naturally, they get punished! Maine representative Olympia Snowe has been warned that she'd better bow to the hardcore conservative base instead of continuing to take a more balanced approach to serving her constituents. And Dede Scozzafava was shoved out of the race in New York's 23rd district last week because, unlike her more conservative opponent, Doug Hoffman, she believes in gay rights and reproductive freedom. (Democrat Bill Owens won the election -- with Scozzafava's support.) Says her moderate Republican friend Janet Duprey, "It has been very difficult to watch. You have to ask some of these men, why weren't they there with our Republican candidate when she could have really used our help?"

Write Shiner and Thrush:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), one of the most outspoken feminists in the House, put it more bluntly: "This is a party that doesn't respect women, a party that doesn't believe women are equal to men," she told POLITICO. "I don't think they attract women to their party," added Wasserman Schultz. "I think they repulse women."

Ding ding ding! Treating women as baby factories repulses women. Comparing having a vagina to smoking cigarettes, in terms of health insurance penalties, repulses women. (TBogg at Firedoglake: "In all fairness, you are already well compensated by no-cover Ladies Nights and two-for-one drink specials, so let's just call this even-stevens.") Opposing equal pay for equal work repulses women. Supporting companies that cover up rape repulses women. Holding up women like Foxx, Bachmann and Palin as examples of feminine greatness repulses women -- as do claims that those of us who are repulsed are ugly, jealous spinsters who are just terrified of their success. (I admit that I find their success terrifying, but not for the reasons Bachmann thinks.) How hard is this to understand?

Answer: It's not. Which makes it difficult to take Republicans seriously when they say they're interested in recruiting more female politicians or appealing to female voters in any sense except the obvious "We would like to win more elections" one. Sure, they want our votes, but not if it means demonstrating respect for us. And in fact, instead of taking even a baby step toward respect for women, they're cracking down on female politicians who won't suck up to the most conservative, anti-woman voters out there. This is the kind of problem that could be explained to them by a lolcat, let alone a human being with an iota of political savvy.

In fairness to the GOP, they have watched Americans elect plenty of Democrats who are perfectly willing to throw women under the bus, so I can see how they might get confused. But still, if they're actually looking to improve their image in the eyes of female voters? Not repulsing us would be a good start.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

MORE FROM Kate Harding

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Republican Party