David Frum

04.20.12

How Badly Have Republicans Alienated Women?

Will the gender gap between Republicans and Democrats become permanent? Pew has new data which shows that female support for Democrats becomes stronger the younger the cohort, with the vote for 18-29 year-olds all but conceded to Democrats:

women-gop

This didn't surprise me, the graph confirms what I have suspected just from scanning my Facebook newsfeed: my female friends really don't like the GOP. The fact that the last four months of the election have focused on issues related to contraception, women's health, and abortion, has only made this more noticeable.

I was curious to find out where this frustration came from. I had my suspicions, but I also am not directly affected by any of the legislation related to ultrasounds or female contraception. So I asked many of my female friends two questions via email. First I asked which women's issues news items most stuck out to them from the past four months. Secondly, I asked whether any of this impacted their opinion of Mitt Romney. I also sought the opinions of my conservative and pro-life friends.

I should note that I started this project before the recent remarks Hilary Rosen made about Ann Romney. For what it's worth, no one I contacted was a mother and everyone I contacted was under 30.

Going through the responses I got, I was struck that conservatives had managed to cross a line which led some of my friends to wonder if Republicans did not actually understand how female sexuality works.

A common refrain that I found was frustration that Republicans did not seem to understand that birth control has multiple medical uses. Rush Limbaugh's comments were commonly cited as the best example of this (ellipses denote replies from different people):

The biggest national item is definitely Limbaugh's foot-in-mouth slut-calling. Nothing is quite as endearing as calling a college girl who is making the reasonable argument that birth control is an important bit of healthcare a slut, or having a national radio personality make it clear that most men do not understand that "birth control" is useful for women for reasons that extend well past negating fertility. Plenty of women continue to use birth control while not currently sexually active because it treats a variety of things from ovarian cysts (painful when they burst, speaking from experience) to controlling cramping and other symptoms associated with PMS.

[What] has stuck out to me in a huge range of these conversations is the level of misinformation and ignorance driving decision making. The Virginia [ultrasound] law that didn't realize that in first trimester a sonogram would be vaginal, or the Arizona lawmakers who claim they were unaware that hormonal estrogen or estrogen/progesterone medication was prescribed for anything other than contraception stand out. The extent to which this reveals a lack of understanding of the medical, legal and practical ramification involved is really troubling. That this is happening not just with men, but with women as well, really reveals how poor the medical education we have as citizens is.

I was more freaked out by the GOP's opposition to birth control and total disregard for its other uses aside from preventing pregnancy. I myself am taking it to regulate what would otherwise be an unpredictable and disgusting (physically and emotionally) monthly mess. I am also taking it to prevent breast cysts (and so far I have not had any since I've started taking birth control pills and yes I used to get them fairly often).

Bodily integrity is the really huge issue for me here, and there are several main messages I'm hearing from the GOP on this—reproductive healthcare isn't "real" healthcare, women's opinions about their own bodies and medical conditions aren't relevant, and even zygotes have more value then women.

The argument for increasing the inclusiveness of the Republican Party is that a more representative GOP is more likely to be aware of the needs and experiences of all of America's constituencies. That awareness seemed lacking in these examples.

It is cruel irony that as GOP legislators became more aware of the medical uses for contraception, some responded by drawing lines for when they believed contraception was OK, separating medical uses from supposed non-medical ones. For some, this only further confirmed that the GOP was genuinely interested in restricting access to birth control:

The one that really got me was the proposed, but ultimately withdrawn Arizona law which would have infringed on women's medical privacy rights in forcing them to state the medical reasons for which they were taking birth control. The right to basic medical privacy should not be revoked under any circumstances, especially given this legislation's clear intent of facilitating discrimination based on individual sexual choices. Whether a woman is taking birth control for pregnancy prevention or medical reasons is entirely private. Moreover, it is disturbing to me that this law constructs an artificial binary between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" uses of contraception --- a woman has the right to use contraception without having to attempt to conceal it under the guise of "acceptable" medical reasons. See, for instance, a recent post by Kristen Loveland.

I would describe the overwhelming majority of friends I contacted as smart and accomplished. It's going to be hard to get them donate to the GOP down the line if these are their formative memories of what the party values. Especially when Republicans generate quotes like this:

A Republican lawmaker in Wisconsin has an eyebrow-raising theory for the chasm between men and women’s salaries: Men care more about money.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman made the remarks following GOP Gov. Scott Walker's recent decision to repeal his state’s equal pay law, a move that makes it more difficult for victims of wage discrimination to file lawsuits for lost earnings and back wages.

He argued to the Daily Beast that whatever wage gap exists is because women are more focused on raising children.

“Take a hypothetical husband and wife who are both lawyers,” Grothman told the website. “But the husband is working 50 or 60 hours a week, going all out, making 200 grand a year. The woman takes time off, raises kids, is not go, go, go. Now they're 50 years old. The husband is making 200 grand a year, the woman is making 40 grand a year. It wasn’t discrimination. There was a different sense of urgency in each person.”

He then argued wage differences did not result from discrimination but because men care more about money.

“You could argue that money is more important for men,” he said. “I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true.”

Of course, not all my female friends are liberal. Others are conservative and even pro-life. I was interested in their thoughts on these issues as well, and their answers will be featured in my follow up post.