The right's other "war on women": 5 ways the assault is about way more than abortion

The GOP is right: Women care about more than birth control. From guns to poverty, here's why the party is doomed

Published March 10, 2014 5:41PM (EDT)

Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee                          (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Joe Skipper)
Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Joe Skipper)

Republicans are having a tough time shaking the "war on women" label, probably because they can't stop themselves from sounding -- and voting -- like a bunch of raging misogynists. But when they do try to deflect this particular brand of sexism, it usually goes something like, "[Women are] more than just a set of reproductive organs, and I’d like someone to talk to me about how they’ll help my pocketbook and keep my health care plan that I like."

Despite evidence to suggest that plenty of Republicans very much view women as a set of reproductive organs, this is verbatim what a Republican strategist told the New York Times last week in an attempt to challenge the idea that the GOP is a party of caveman bigots. It's also what Mike Huckabee tried to communicate when he argued that the GOP opposes insurance coverage for contraception because it trusts that women can "control their libidos." Rand Paul -- a man who a majority of conservative tastemakers believe should be the next president -- views the GOP's problem with women as something of a nonstarter, mainly because there are lots of them enrolled in his niece's veterinary program.

And you can be sure that this is the message that the organizers of CPAC were shooting for with a panel called, "Why Conservatism is Right for Women: How Conservatives Should Talk About Life, Prosperity & National Security." (Undercutting their pro-woman rhetoric was the fact that the conference only featured a handful of women speakers on the main stage, and the organizers' decision to go heavy on outdated cartoon villains like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter rather than relevant conservatives like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.)

The Republican-led assault on basic medical care has had devastating consequences for women, transgender men and gender non-conforming people who need safe, reliable access to abortion, and there's no doubt that it's a losing issue with the voters that the party is ostensibly courting. But what changes when you "look beyond" reproductive health issues like contraception, abortion and access to maternal and prenatal care? Precisely nothing. The GOP remains, as ever, a party that appeals largely to white men and married white women while falling further out of step with everyone else. While spitting vitriol about reproductive healthcare certainly alienates women voters and their allies, being vindictive about poverty, civil rights and other issues virtually annihilates the GOP's chances of expanding its base.

Below, some of the battles in the GOP's assault on women that don't have to do with contraception or reproductive healthcare (though let's be real, these issues are all connected):


One in 3 women are living in or on the verge of poverty -- nationwide, that's 42 million women and 28 million children who depend on them. Black and Latina women face particularly high rates of poverty, and trans women -- particularly trans women of color -- are also disproportionally likely to live in poverty at some point in their lifetimes. So it seems pretty obvious that women would be paying attention when Republicans (aided in many cases by Democrats) slash food assistance programs at a time of record need.

Congress voted in February to cut $9 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next ten years, just two months after $11 billion had already been slashed from the program when a 2009 benefits increase expired. These reductions have cost families an average of $90 each month, a heavy hit for those already struggling to keep food on the table.

As Salon's Blake Zeff noted just before the cuts passed in February, what was hailed by lawmakers as a shining example of bipartisan compromise was actually just a measure that will "make hungry people hungrier at a time of rampant poverty."

And managing on less often means women will be going without. "What we find in our research is that when someone is going to have to do without, it's usually women," Lindsey Spindle, a communications officer at an anti-hunger nonprofit recently told Glamour. "They sacrifice their meals for their children, for their spouse, for their parents. So what we're anticipating with these cuts is that families will be left vulnerable, but women in particular will do a lot to shield their families."

Republican indifference to the millions of women facing food insecurity becomes that much more striking when you consider that the $9 billion in cuts in the final bill was a dramatic reduction from the outrageous $40 billion House Republicans originally demanded.

Women's views on poverty and social services aren't any great secret, either. A recent poll revealed that 56 percent of women surveyed "disapproved" or "strongly disapproved" of gutting food assistance programs at a moment when people need them more than ever.

Voting rights.

Women care about voting rights because women vote. More than men, actually.

As Reid Wilson at the Washington Post recently pointed out, women are statistically more likely than men to not have a form of accepted identification at the polls. Low-income women may struggle to obtain the necessary ID because accessing birth records and other documentation can be costly and out of reach for many. Women over the age of 65 -- who outnumber men over the age of 65 -- are also less likely to have a form of identification required by these new laws. Women are also more likely than men to be enrolled in college, and students who attend out of state universities are disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws.

These laws threaten the votes of married women who may have changed or hyphenated their names. They jeopardize the rights of trans women, who can face several obstacles while trying to obtain an ID that reflects their name and gender. Voter ID laws are, generally speaking, bad for women.

But voter suppression efforts are, generally speaking, good for Republicans.

The fact that these laws disenfranchise women voters seems to be part of the point, and the GOP seems to know this. As Imani Gandy at RH Reality Check notes, women of color -- particularly black and Latina women -- have long been and continue to be crucial voting forces, particularly in contentious elections, both nationally and in states like Virginia.

As Gandy points outs, if black women had stayed home in 2012 (or disenfranchised through bogus voter ID requirements), "We would be face-palming our way through a Mitt Romney presidency right now."


Two out of every 3 minimum wage workers is a woman, and many of those women are also mothers or the primary caregivers in their households. Despite widespread support across gender and party lines, Republican lawmakers almost uniformly oppose a modest raise to the minimum wage, making the party's appeals to women's "pocketbooks" particularly laughable.

Raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to a meager $10.10 an hour would boost earnings for 28 million workers, and would help lift millions of women out of poverty. More than 25 percent of low-wage and low-income workers are single mothers, but at the current minimum wage, a woman who works full-time can expect to make an average of $14,500 each year. That's $4,000 dollars less than the poverty level for a mother of two children.

Republican intransigence on equal pay measures is -- surprise -- also wildly out of step with voters.

Women, on average, still make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The gap is even more drastic for women of color; black women make an average of 64 cents on the dollar, while Latina women make an average of 55 cents. A recent study from the Williams Institute also revealed that trans women face up to a 30 percent drop in wages following their gender transition.

Almost across the board, women's earnings have stalled for much of the last two decades, and Republican opposition to equal pay legislation means they can expect more of the same in coming decades. As New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand remarked on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, “If you’re not paying a woman dollar for dollar for the exact same work, you’re not really tapping the full potential of the economy.” You're also, it seems, bound to hemorrhage all but a narrow segment of women voters. Whoops.

And yet Bobby Jindal called raising the minimum wage "waving the white flag of surrender" on the economy, and Rand Paul thinks women are doing just fine making poverty wages for full-time work. “I think some of the victimology and all this other stuff is trumped up," Paul said recently when asked about women's status in 2014. "And we don’t get to any good policy by playing some charade that one party doesn’t care about women or one party isn’t in favor of women advancing or other people advancing.”


This time last year, Gayle Trotter, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, became something of a conservative celebrity when she testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence that "guns make women safer." Trotter celebrated what she called the power of "scary-looking guns" to help women defend themselves against "hardened violent criminals."

As I argued at the time, Trotter's views on women and guns are not based in reality.

According to recent data, more than 60 percent of women killed by a firearm in 2010 were murdered by a current or former intimate partner, many of whom are able to keep their guns despite their violent records because of weak laws and even weaker enforcement. And far from protecting women, the presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by a staggering 500 percent.

Women -- along with most other people in America -- overwhelmingly support the kind of gun reform that Republican lawmakers oppose.

A poll released earlier this month by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 55 percent of Americans support tougher gun measures, and that 65 percent of women support such reforms. "It's easily one of the largest policy gender gaps we've seen in years," researchers said of the findings.

This kind of gap should give the GOP pause the next time it blocks modest reforms to gun laws, but, if history is any indicator, it won't.

LGBTQ rights. 

The recent Republican fight in Arizona and elsewhere in the country to let private companies discriminate against LGBTQ people puts them out of step with even moderates in the GOP, but it puts them even further out of step with LGBTQ women voters and their allies.

But it's not just about Arizona. Despite widespread support for the Employer Non-Discrimination Act, House Speaker John Boehner has said that he sees “no basis or need” for the legislation to protect workers from discrimination based on sexual or gender identity. The measure passed in the Senate, but has yet to come to a vote in the House because of Republican opposition to the measure.

Republicans are equally out of step with a majority of Americans when it comes to marriage equality. Equal marriage has more or less ceased to be a controversial issue for most Americans, with a historic majority now favoring it. But you wouldn't know this by listening to the Republican leadership. Conservative lawmakers -- at the state and federal level -- continue to fight tooth and nail to resist momentum behind equal marriage.

Conservative lawmakers -- with the support of virulently anti-LGBTQ groups -- have also advanced measures in states like California to roll back basic protections for transgender young people. And it is, of course, a Republican lobbyist who is currently working on a bill to ban openly gay players from the NFL.

Members of the GOP may continue to take etiquette classes and eventually get better about not calling women "hosts" for a fetus or describing female candidates as "empty dresses," but no amount of reform school will change the fundamentals of the party's platform.

The GOP is wrong about most things, but they're right when they say that women care about more than just birth control. What they don't seem to realize is that this is precisely the reason they have lost women voters.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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