Life in the Parenthetical

This is why Jessica Valenti is one of my favorite writers.  Today she’s unleashed the truth about how women are viewed by the ever-reactionary ‘conservative’ party in ‘Fantasy Women of the GOP‘:

Akin’s remarks—a combination of cluelessness and sexism—were a reminder that it isn’t just disdain for women that directs the GOP agenda on all things female. Misogyny is part of it, but what’s more insidious than the clear-cut contempt embedded in qualifiers like “legitimate” or “forcible,” is the sly sexism of disinterest.

I have lost count of the amount of people I’ve heard interviewed at the RNC Convention in Tampa this week who protest that the GOP loooooves women and vaaaaluuuueees women and that it’s really the Obama campaign that is lying and blowing this out of proportion – that whole “war on women” thing is just propaganda!!  Of course, most of these people are men.  Though far be it from me to exclude the women of the RNC, who seem to think nothing of the crass misogyny that is alive in their party — and even appears in their policy platform.  But the thing is, the steady stream of systematic legislation, statements and actions of GOP-led state legislatures, members of Congress and other leaders, especially since the 2010 Tea-Party led shift, that target women are not imagined.  Women in this country are not stupid – they can see what is happening.  They can perceive the truth: these state legislatures which have been taken over by reactionary authoritarians have begun to systematically disassemble the steps that have been taken for women’s equality and protections over the last century.  The evidence is clear.

A new generation of women will now need to educate themselves and recall what their mothers and grandmothers fought for so that they too will be ready to insist on their place in humanity.  Why we should have to do this is mind-boggling.  USUALLY, the human race progresses (albeit very slowly and with bumps sometimes) such that we can definitely trace a slow ascension of ideas like expanding equality, recognition of human rights, etc., through the years of civilization.  The GOP appears to believe that we just won’t notice if they put on the breaks and make a u-turn. And here’s the thing that gets me: that u-turn is put to us as a direction given from the Almighty.

Their horrific ideas like forced intra-uterine ultrasounds and denial of contraception, their opposition to equal pay for equal work legislation and their smug declarations about rape denote a male population in this country that not only believes they know better than women about women’s issues, but that the REASON they  know better is because they are following GOD.  There is a very thin line between this reasoning and the decision to simply burn a woman at the stake because her ideas of freedom and self-determination denote her as a witch.  The GOP’s official position is closer to A Handmaid’s Tale than to America thirty years ago at the height of women achieving revolutionary things like, oh, domestic violence protections, divorce protections, the right to choose what to do with their own bodies, employment and workplace protections…  This is because GOD is telling these men (and, evidently, some women) that they know best and that women are simply a parenthesis (as Valenti so perfectly puts it) in their considerations about how society best operates.  They’re not fooling anyone.

Republicans can spin all they like, but what they don’t understand is that women can recognize dehumanization from a mile away. We live it every day. We know what it is to talk to a person and suddenly realize they believe us stupid because of our gender. We listen while people mansplain topics we’re experts in. We watch media that presents us as little more than masturbation fodder and walk down the street feeling lecherous stares on our back. We know what you mean when you say “legitimate” rape. We know exactly what you’re thinking when you pretend to give a shit.

The not-so-covert way of pretending to give a shit made a big appearance last night at the Convention in the form of Ann Romney’s speech.  This is the “humanizing the husband” speech that many first lady hopefuls make at conventions.  No surprise there.  But the whole tone of the speech, from the glorifying of mothers, to her declaration that she and Mitt share a “REAL marriage” (see Dan Savage’s response to this for further analysis of “unreal marriages”), not a fairytale one, just makes my point.  The women who stand up for the GOP and its male domination platform and insist that women are indeed valued, are only talking about a certain kind of woman who meets their very specific and acceptable roles.  A woman who steps outside those pre-defined roles and attempts to make decisions for herself, or, god-forbid, engage in a committed relationship with another woman, is not included in that blessed position of protection by these God-fearing men.

The bottom line is, I don’t get it.  I grew up in the fundamentalist Christian world.  Until I was about 20, I tried so hard to buy what they were selling me about women (I really did believe in a loving God for my entire youth, but my interpretation was clearly not the correct one).  But from the moment I became a teenager and started processing those ideas, I became a “rebellious” girl in their midst, constantly scolded and put in my place for presuming to step outside the role God had ordained for me: a good little girl who wanted nothing more than to obey and have babies.  It got worse for me in college.  Oh, I could be powerful in my role as a “godly woman” (translation: helpmate!), but powerful in any other area?  Nope, too uncomfortable and not acceptable.  When I made my own decisions about how I wanted to live my life when I was about 21, I was “counseled” (by men of course) that I didn’t really know what I was doing and I was disobeying God. My sin? I decided to keep a promise I’d made to a friend to help her after she became a single mom (she’d already been kicked out of her church for this and had no one to turn to for help), so I moved in with her and helped her through the pregnancy and first year of her son’s life (boy was that good birth control for me).  My rejection of those beliefs I was raised in was a long time coming for me when I finally stepped away and made myself free of them.  I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now: what is the threat in a woman having an equal position and an equal say about her life and about society around her? Why must she be pushed aside… be considered only in the parenthetical when policy is made?  What is so heretical and so imbalancing about genders cooperating to create a society that works for all of us?

Oh… wait, there’s the problem: cooperating.  Because someone has to be in charge.  Amirite, GOP men?

* * * * * *

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is:  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute.  ~Rebecca West, “Mr Chesterton in Hysterics: A Study in Prejudice,” The Clarion, 14 Nov 1913

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