Revolution #68, November 5, 2006
The No-Win Election for Women
And the Need for a Real Alternative
Last week George Bush, in a campaign season when many Republican candidates are choosing not to appear together with such an unpopular president, made a point of standing alongside Don Sherwood. The reason for Bush's special visit is that Sherwood, a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania running for reelection, who is embroiled in a controversy over his five year affair with a woman. She recently filed a suit accusing him of having repeatedly violently struck her face, neck, chest and back with a closed fist and attempting to strangle her. In his remarks, Bush made a point of praising Sherwood's wife, Carol, for responding to this scandal by sending a letter to voters on Don's behalf.
In other words, the woman who reported being assaulted wasn't mentioned, the wife who stood by her cheating, apparently abusive husband was praised, and the man accused was recommended to take part in shaping state policy. It's hard to imagine a less subtle statement from George Bush on the role and value of women.
On the other hand, West Virginia's Democratic candidate comes pretty close. According to The New Yorker, after spending decades boasting of his military service in Vietnam and hurling macho insults at those who refused to fight in that immoral war, James Webb viewed the "prolonged investigation of the Navy Tailhook sexual-abuse scandal in the nineteen-nineties as a political witch hunt, driven by a radical-feminist agenda to undermine the masculine culture of the military."
What "will of the people" determined that this year voters should have a "choice" between men who assault women and men who scorn women who report their assault?
On November 8, the day after the midterm election, the Supreme Court will consider whether to uphold a ban that would, according to the ACLU, "prevent doctors from performing abortions as early as 13 weeks in pregnancy." This comes at a time when South Dakota and Louisiana have already banned abortion state-wide and when the Supreme Court has been remade in George Bush's ideological image. In this context, many Christian fascists consider the outlawing of abortion just a matter of time and have moved on. Doing just that, a month ago, Pro-Life Action held a conference called "Contraception is Not the Answer."
It's hard to imagine a more surefire way to stunt and degrade the lives of women than to force them back to a time when they were enslaved to their reproduction.
It's also hard to imagine a more surefire way to land us back in those not-that-historic days than to fall in line behind the Democratic Party's strategy of totally capitulating on this issue.
The Democratic Senatorial Candidates Committee campaign mailings don't even bother to mention the words abortion or birth control. Meanwhile, all nine Democratic women senators came together under the banner "Progressive Pragmatic Women for Casey" to endorse and raise money for a candidate who is vehemently anti-choice, pro-war, and against stem cell research. And all too many progressive people and organizations have fallen victim to this logic —censuring the word abortion from their own vocabularies or speaking of it always as an unfortunate tragedy.
What "will of the people" decided that voters should have the "choice" between theocrats who are moving relentlessly to criminalize and culturally demonize birth control and abortion and a Party whose strategy is to change the subject or join in?
In recent decades, a biblically literalist and fascistically fundamentalist movement has effectively captured the Republican Party. Their rallying cry is interchangeably "traditional values" and "family values" and their program hardened in opposition to the social gains made by the Civil Rights, anti-war, and women's movements of the 1960s and ’70s.
Today, their cruel attacks on the fundamental rights of women —to remove reality-based sex education, to criminalize and even kill doctors who provide abortions, to dry up access to and social acceptance of birth control, and to reassert the shackles of traditional marriage including through legally and culturally attacking divorce —do indeed hearken back to the traditions of this country which regard women as the legal property of their husbands. Consider that it was only 13 years ago that the last state made it a crime for a husband to rape his wife and that the most dangerous place for women and girls is in their own homes, at the hands of their fathers and husbands.
Rather than making the simple and much-needed truthful statement that women are human beings with the ability, and deserving the right, to participate fully and equally in every sphere of society, today the Democratic Party is characterized by their attempts to "out-family-values" the Republicans. Rather than standing up for women's rights to control their own destinies, including their right to choose not to have a child at any time for any reason, the dominant liberal logic today is to substitute the discussion of the rights of women with a discussion that they are the true defenders of American families and mothers.
Consider the fact that leading Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Ted Kennedy have teamed up to support MoveOn co-founder Joan Blades's new effort, Momsrising.org. Its mission is to champion "core motherhood and family issues in political, social, and economic spheres." The trailer to momsrising's Motherhood Manifesto movie challenges viewers to take up the campaign as the real way to fulfill the promise of "a pro-family culture, a pro-family state." And groups like the National Organization for Women, the National Women's Law Center, The Network of Spiritual Progressives and dozens of other progressive organizations have gotten on board with this effort.
The reality is that traditional values mean the horrors of tradition's chains and patriarchy no matter who is professing them! Revealingly, the Momsrising website features a quote from George Bush that could be mistaken for their own words: "Today, two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home…and government must take your side."
What "will of the people" decided that voters should get a "choice" between a Party that celebrates enslaving women to their reproduction and male authority and a Party that attempts to repackage these same traditions as somehow empowering to women?
None of these choices were shaped by the will of the people. Instead, they were shaped by the needs of a system: capitalism.
And the fact that people get to come in and "choose" between two programs, both of which in different ways reflect the need of this system to forcefully reassert male supremacy and the oppression of women at this time in its development, does not make this a "democracy for all."
Rather, it reveals the reality of bourgeois dictatorship behind bourgeois democracy. This is a dictatorship of the capitalist-imperialist class that accumulates tremendous wealth in the hands of a relative few through the exploitation of the labor of millions across the globe and which has the oppression of women woven into the fabric of its culture and ideology and has the patriarchal family as the basic unit of its economic functioning.
But over the past several decades, there has been a significant breakdown of the "traditional family" and the traditional role for women in the U.S. Most women have to work and are not full-time housewives, many households are headed by women, many marriages end in divorce, and so forth. These and other changes in the role of women and the family—along with other dramatic economic, social, cultural, and demographic changes related to heightened globalization —have given rise to sharp and volatile contradictions for the ruling class as a whole, which faces an acute need to resurrect and reinforce the traditional family and traditional roles for women. This is especially true as the U.S. has embarked on a very risky and unpopular war on the world. It‘s in this context that the Christian fascists and other reactionary movements are on a fanatical mission to drive women into obedient submission to the authority of men, and more generally the authority of patriarchal capitalist relations.
Certainly the Republicans are more brazen in their insistence that women are fundamentally different from, and inferior to, men. But in their own way—sometimes dressed up in "enlightened" or pragmatic language (but often not)—the ruling class forces generally represented by the Democratic Party are responding to the same fundamental imperatives of global capitalism where the forceful reassertion of male supremacy is not up for debate.
At least not if progressive people continue to allow the terms of the elections to stifle honest and urgent discussions of the dangers posed. If people remain confined within these worse-than-meaningless choices, women will be thrust backwards in the most cruel, brutal, and degrading ways.
It is a time for resistance. It is a time for opening up new political space by advocating unapologetically and struggling fiercely for the full equality of women, rather than being confined to the ever-narrowing "electable" discourse. And it is a time for people to spread very widely a debate about the true nature of this system and of what it will take to bring about the full emancipation of women and of humanity as a whole.
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