Dear GOP, Stop Talking About Women’s Bodies

Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul think women have out-of-control “libidos” and like playing the victim. Did they not learn anything from Todd Akin?

Mike Segar/Reuters

Perhaps it’s time for Republican men to stop talking about women’s bodies and choices. It just doesn’t end well.

Last week, the Republican former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee said this at the annual meeting of the Republican National Committee:

Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing or them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.

Never mind the fact that the birth control mandate under Obamacare doesn’t involve government giving women anything but simply requiring that private insurance companies include access to birth control as part of their coverage. That women pay for. Privately. Never mind the obviously offensive dog-whistle-esque racialized characterization of our federal government, currently headed by a black President, as “Uncle Sugar.” And for the sake of argument, never mind the oversimplification of the “War on Women,” which in reality is as much about Republicans attacking reproductive justice as attacking paid family leave and refusing to raise the minimum wage and downplaying rape and plenty more.

From a very simple, Politics-101 kinda level, here’s a pro-tip: If you’re talking about birth control as the thing women need if they can’t control their own libido, you’re losing. In fact, if you’re using the words “libido” and “women” in the same sentence in 2014, you’re losing.

The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri had the best line on this:

The GOP will have a much easier time talking to women once they realize that women can HEAR them.

Uh, yeah. This was so bad that even prominent conservative women took to Twitter to denounce what Gov. Huckabee said. For instance, Michelle Fields tweeted:

“Read the full Huckabee quote. Not as bad as originally reported, but some GOP men should really just stop talking about women’s issues.”

And I know, RTs are not endorsements and all, but conservative blogger and activist Melissa Clouthier shared this gem from fellow conservative Dan Riehl:

Huckabee is entitled to have what he said reported accurately. But he’s still a tone deaf asshole.

It’s not a good sign when you’re even turning off the fervent conservative women in your own party. Not to mention the 80 percent of women in America who have had sex and used the birth control pill.

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Did y’all learn anything from Todd Akin?

Rand Paul certainly didn’t. On CNN’s State of the Union this past Sunday, the Republican Senator from Kentucky characterized “the whole thing of the ‘war on women’” as basically a joke. He went on to say that “some of the victimology and all of this other stuff is trumped up.” By which he meant the “victimology” of women saying their rights are under attack by the Republican Party—but again, accusing women of “playing the victim” ain’t a savvy move.

Also, Sen. Paul insisted that if there is a war on women, “women are winning it.” Women have made great strides, he argued, for instance now comprising more than half of the students at medical and law schools. Yeah, Senator, and yet according to a study from Duke University (your alma matter) women doctors still earn on average $12,194 per year less than their male counterparts, even when all other factors are the same. And according to a report by the American Bar Association, at the nation’s 200 top law firms, women partners earned just 89 percent of what their male counterparts earned. One might think that a man potentially aspiring to be president and clearly aspiring to court women voters would be aware of and highlighting these alarming inequities, not dismissing them.

The fact is that the Republican Party is turning off women voters so severely that it’s reached a crisis point. The party has actually launched training institutes to teach its (male) candidates how to talk to women voters and how to run against women candidates. I mean, asking for help is the first step but … when you have to get help to learn how to non-offensively talk to 53 percent of the electorate, that’s a bad sign. Part of the problem of course, is the men Republicans are running for office, from Todd “legitimate rape” Akin to Ken “trans-vaginal ultrasound” Cuccinnelli and more. Part of the problem is how those men and conservatives in general heap sexism-laden attacks on women Democrats running for office. Last week, after Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis posted a strong fundraising report, Republicans suddenly accused Davis of not “putting herself through law school” (as she has said in the past) because she had help from her supportive then-husband. Dissecting the unbelievable double-standards being hurled Davis’ way by conservatives, The Daily Beast’s Kirsten Powers rightly notes that no man would ever face the same scrutiny. When’s the last time a male politician was attacked for having the support of a stay-at-home wife? Women of all political strips are rightfully repulsed by the rank sexism with which conservatives are attacking Wendy Davis.

Which goes to the larger issue of tone. It’s one (incredibly preposterous and antiquated) thing when Republicans attack contraception and other basic gender-equity provisions in Obamacare. It’s another when they implicitly and explicitly condemn women who use contraception as out-of-control sluts. It’s one thing when Republicans try to ban abortion no matter what, and entirely something else when they tell women that having their rapist’s baby is a “redemptive part of this suffering” as anti-abortion activist Lila Rose recently argued with me on CNN’s Crossfire. It’s one thing when Republicans try oppose establishing universal pre-K and preserving income supports for poor families and guaranteeing all workers paid family leave and raising the minimum wage—all of which would disproportionately help women workers. It’s another thing when Republicans blindly insist that women, who are disproportionately more likely to be poor than men in America, are somehow magically winning the economic war.

Republicans are habitually, even compulsively insulting women’s bodies, our choices and our intelligence. That’s not a formula for winning elections. That’s a formula for driving more and more women voters—and voters in general—toward Planet Hillary and toward a Democratic Party that actually understands the realities and needs of women in a modern, evolved society.

UPDATE: It's telling that rather than try and defend my weighty critique of Republicans vis-a-vis gender politics in America today, conservatives have latched onto—and mischaracterized—this one sentence in my column. In isolation, Gov. Huckabee's "Uncle Sugar" characterization might have seemed nothing more than clever, even cute. But context is everything, and his remarks fit squarely within the recent history of Republicans accusations that President Obama is the "food stamp president" and just wants to give"free stuff" to his base, including "gifts" to black voters which is how he supposedly won the election. Make no mistake, "Uncle Sugar" echoes these racialized attacks. That said, I consciously used the word racialized — to connote how the phrase consciously or unconsciously reflects and reinforces implicit racial bias. I very deliberately did not use, nor would not use, the word racist— which carries infinitely more deliberate and malignant implications. I regret this nuance appears lost on many who are responding to my critique.