2012's War on Women

For the ladies, the year’s sound track could have been a strangled gasp, followed by snorting and laughing out loud. The attacks on women’s health, on contraception, on abortion, on the definition of rape—it was all so over the top that very early on it seemed that the Republicans were determined to get out the ladies’ vote for the Democrats in 2012. In one outrageous incident after another, old white dudes and anti-choice women made it clear that they think single women should spend their time smiling modestly, gazing at the floor hoping for a marriage proposal—and that married women should stay barefoot and pregnant, relying on menfolk for pin money and taking care of their babies. By August, it was obvious that women, especially young women and single women, would turn out in force to be sure that President Obama kept the keys to the White House. 

And we did. We shook up the capital with an electoral genderquake. But before we hoist our year-end champagne, let’s recall some of the year’s absurdist highlights, noting a few recurring themes.

Let’s start out with the best part of every year-in-review article: the quiz.

Over the summer and into the fall, we had a series of oh my god he did not say that comments from various officeholders. How well were you following your outrageous politicians? Which one said which?

  1. A. Candidate (R) for Senate from Indiana, state treasurer Richard Mourdock)
  2. B. Candidate (R) for Senate from Missouri, Representative Todd Akin 
  3. C. Candidate (R) for reelection to the House from Illinois, Representative Joe Walsh
  4. D. Michigan state legislature, (R) Representative Mike Callton
  5. E. Candidate (R) for Senate from Pennsylvania Tom Smith 
  6. F. California Orange County superior court judge Derek G. Johnson
  1. Using the word “vagina” aloud in a discussion of abortion laws “was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women."
  2. Asked about abortion after a rape: “I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to.. she chose they way I thought. No don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape…. Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.”
  3. “The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” 
  4. Abortion is “absolutely” never medically necessary to save the life of the mother because “with modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance … There’s no such exception as life of the mother.”
  5. “Pregnancy from rape is really rare” and  “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
  6. "I'm not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something… If someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted.”

(Answers at the end of the post.)


Mind refreshed? Here’s the battle-by-battle breakdown:

January: Rape is rape—or is it? We kicked off the year with a thrilling little victory. The FBI finally, after years of feminist pressure, updated the federal definition of rape. It had been stuck in 1929 as "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." Henceforth, the Uniform Crime Report’s rape stats would be more accurate; the new definition includes all forms of sexual assault—oral, anal, drugged, drunk, unconscious, coercive, against men. Feminists and law-enforcement officials rejoiced.  

But only for a minute. Because within weeks, John Boehner and friends tried to set the clock right back to 1929 in a sneaky little bill they called the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” What’s that, you say? You thought that, well, there already was no taxpayer funding for abortion? True! But the special secret of this bill was that it was going to redefine legitimate rape as—wait for it—forcible. After Nick Baumann of Mother Jones revealed the language, Emily’s List, MoveOn.org, and Sady Doyle and Amanda Marcotte’s #DearJohn twitter campaign (#DearJohn: For When Boehner Decides Your Rape Just Wasn’t Enough) roared into action. Republicans had to back off. Rape remains rape.  

But we didn’t even have a chance to catch our breath before a fresh shock was upon us. A newly politicized Susan G. Komen For The Cure withdrew funding from Planned Parenthood. Within three days, it backed away from that explosive decision--and has been sorry every since. Apparently no one at Dallas HQ knew that women across America are profoundly grateful to Planned Parenthood for saving their lives. Yes, that’s because PP offers desperately needed abortions, but it’s also because of PP’s free ultrasounds, low-cost D&Cs after a miscarriage, emergency surgeries for burst ovarian cysts, day-after pills after date rape, contraceptive screenings, HIV tests, pap smears, free antibiotics for a urinary infection, and more. I know many deeply grateful women who have sworn to give at least $5/month for the rest of their lives for some such incident. Komen’s funding went down the tubes. Planned Parenthood’s shot up like a rocket, getting $3 million within four days. 

February: aspirin between your knees. For years, feminists had been warning that the anti-abortion crowd was really after contraception—and had been ignored as hysterical. No one doubts that after 2012. On January 25th, the Obama administration announced that under the Affordable Care Act, employers with religious affiliations, like all other employers, would have to offer insurance that covered preventive services without a co-pay—including contraception. Feminists heaved a sigh of relief that the administration had held firm, as it hadn’t on allowing Plan B to be sold over the counter. Conservatives began shouting about “religious freedom”—as if the U.S. government and insurance companies had an obligation to enforce the Catholic Church’s beliefs on its secular employees. 

And so Republican representative Darrell Issa, chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, convened a  hearing that quickly became infamous on “religious freedom” and contraception by convening a panel that had no women on it. Planned Parenthood posted a picture of the all-male hearing panel, which went viral. Foster Friess, a billionaire who was backing Rick Santorum’s run for the Republican presidential nomination, told a stunned Andrea Mitchell that in his day, women prevented conception by putting Bayer aspirin between their knees—i.e., keeping their legs shut. And a young Georgetown Law School student named Sandra Fluke gave, on video, the testimony that she would have given if Issa had permitted her to speak, discussing the non-sex-related health benefits of the Pill. 

Into that fray roared our pal Rush Limbaugh, who spent a week deriding Sandra Fluke in truly stunning and ignorant terms, calling her a slut, a prostitute, someone who had to be paid to have sex, and “round heeled.” Limbaugh accused Fluke of “having so much sex she [couldn’t] afford her own birth control pills,” and said she was "having so much sex, it's amazing she can still walk." Then came the kicker: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” (Some of his rants only make sense if you understand that he’s biologically illiterate, and believes women take the Pill once per sex act, like Viagra.) President Obama called Sandra Fluke. Rush lost 142 advertisers, including the U.S. Army, and was dropped by several stations.

March, April, May: Fun with Republican state legislatures. Spring came, and for a while, all the fun switched over to Republican-controlled state legislatures, which competed to prove that they were the most determined to keep ladies’ legs shut, or punish them for failing to do so. The Arizona Legislature’s Senate Judiciary committee introduced a bill that would let employers ask their employees for proof that they were taking contraceptives for non-reproductive purposes, like menstrual regulation or acne. One legislature after another discussed and/or passed restrictive abortion bills—mandating things like medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, forcing women to listen to the fetal heartbeat, adding expensive architectural requirements for abortion clinics for which there was no medical need. In response, female Democratic legislators had all kinds of fun with sarcastic counter-proposals, like proposing a mandatory rectal exam before any man could be prescribed Viagra, or declaring that semen spilled anywhere except in a woman’s body “shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child." 

Okay, so those state legislative battles were the opposite of fun. Those that passed genuinely did restrict women’s access to reproductive choice. There’s a lot of work ahead state by state, gals. 

June: all work and no play … In June, things heated up in a completely different arena: work. In The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter kickstarted a spectacularly necessary debate—albeit with an unfortunately titled piece—about what public policies were needed to reshape the landscape so that working families could have balanced lives—which especially affects women, who are often assumed to be the ones who will sacrifice career to childrearing. 

And Jill Abramson was named the first female executive editor of The New York Times, a historic moment. 

August, September, October: strong women rock the house. But we had fun with the ladies in so many other ways this year:

  • In August, with the Olympics, raucous female athletes got all sweaty, strong, and awesome, no longer pretending to have to be sweet and nice like lady athletes used to be. 
  • The very first openly gay brigadier general in the army! New general Tammy S. Smith had her wife Tracey Hepner pin the medal on in the official ceremony. 
  • In September, Naomi Wolf let us make fun of her Vagina (the book).
  • Lady novelists Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith enjoyed monster success with their novels Bring Up the Bodies and NW respectively—and Mantel won the Booker Prize for a second time.  
  • In October, Candy Crowley kicked all sorts of ass as the first female presidential debate moderator in twenty years. The old white dudes who moderated the two other debates sat silently while the candidates walked all over them; Crowley actually committed a live factcheck to the cheers of millions, correcting Romney right in the middle of a misstatement. 

October, November, December: Revenge of the Nineteenth Amendment, and deadly misogyny around the world. Need we say that, in November, all the single ladies (okay, married ones too) turned out in force to vote against the pro-rape and anti-contraception party, no matter how long they had to wait in line, becoming the most reliable Democratic Party voting bloc. And that’s what made all those statements above entertaining: we beat back the forces of reaction, gals. We elected the most women to the House and Senate ever: 78 to the House and 20 to the Senate, including uncompromisingly progressive first-female-Senator-from-Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren, first-openly-lesbian-Senator-ever Tammy Baldwin, and first-paraplegic-female-veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Yes, it’s pathetic that 20 and 78 are the most ever. But it turns out that declaring war on women’s reproductive freedom—and therefore, our economic freedom, since heterosexual women who can’t control their fertility must depend on men for support—isn’t such a successful election strategy after all. The barefoot-and-pregnant dudes all lost. The ladies won. That sound you hear is me howling happily at the moon.

The fall has had its moments of terrible grief. In October, the Taliban shot and tried to kill Malala Yousafzai, a fourteen-year-old Pakistani activist on behalf of girls’ education. She’s still recuperating in a British hospital. In November, Savita Halappanavar died because, while she was miscarrying a fetus that could not possibly survive, the Irish hospital refused to terminate the fetus early (and thereby stop the bleeding and reduce the possibility of infection, potentially saving Savita’s life)—because the doomed fetal heart was still beating. The only good news from that “pro-life” travesty was that it revitalized Ireland’s pro-choice movement, now insisting on official guidelines from the Irish government for exactly when abortion is permitted to save the mother’s life. And in December, several men brutally raped and assaulted a woman in New Delhi, for hours, including using a metal rod; she spent two weeks in the hospital with severe internal injuries, and died. As with Savita’s death, the only possible good news from this horror story is that India may actually change its attitude toward the reportedly rampant street harassment and sexual assault plaguing its women.  

No wonder, in March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her soon-to-be-viral video statement at The Daily Beast’s Women in the World summit, asking why extremists always want to control women:

It doesn't matter what country they're in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies. 

May I propose a toast for your New Year’s Eve: to a year in which women can live and move freely, treated with respect, making our own decisions about our lives—whether that’s to go to a movie at night, get an education, control our own bodies, marry (or not) as we wish. Such a year would give me nothing to write about, but I would be thrilled to have the world toss me out of my job. To 2013!

ANSWERS TO QUIZ:  A3, B5, C4, D1, E2, F6

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