Last Tuesday’s election results didn’t surprise me, however discouraged I might be in the aftermath. Nor have I been surprised by the viral stories of gender outrage in the past few weeks: a woman’s videotaped walk through the catcall-filled streets of New York, and yet another entitled jerk (a euphemism if ever there was one) preying on countless women. And no shock surfaces from the counterpoints: ignoramuses of both genders say women should take a catcall as a compliment, sexually assaulted women are consensual partners or pissed-off exes … and so it goes.
Once my emotional responses have simmered down, my logical mind tries to piece it all together: what do the Republican mid-term victory and the backlash against women speaking up against sexist behavior have in common? The two things that surface for me: lies and money.
During my adult life, Republican messaging has been a slippery subject, shifting with the zeitgeist. After the inflation and shortages of the 1970s, the GOP embraced Reaganomics’ trickle-down theory. During the Clinton era of misbehavior, Republicans were the purveyors of morality. On the heels of the 2008 financial meltdown, fingers wagged at liberal tax and spend policies, ignoring the military elephant in the room or the too big to fail “gimme” strategies of mortgage and loan providers who created the crisis (and benefitted from it, tax-free). After President Obama’s re-election, the Affordable Care Act was going to destroy the fabric of America, forcing us to goose-step our way to death panels. And yet, trickle-down economics have created the 3% of wealth-holders, marriage equality has flung the mud right back in the faces of the moral majority, the military and banks continue to thrive while the middle and working classes suffer, and the number of uninsured Americans who would have relied on taxpayers for their healthcare has decreased by 25%. The Republican agenda has been unmasked as contrary to reality.
A through line of all this rhetoric has been the fraying of the American family, with the blame falling largely on women’s shoulder. Republicans claims that working mothers can’t parent properly, questioning women’s work-family balance while letting men take a pass. The GOP claims that pro-choice advocates are murdering our next generation of babies, without a thought to universal childcare, proper funding for education, a living wage for working parents — necessities for our next generation to grow up in a healthy environment. Conservative employers insist that contraception is an abomination and shouldn’t be covered by insurance, yet the country doesn’t offer reasonable family leave to take care of children. With this negative messaging about 50% of the population’s needs, why are the Republicans so popular?
The answer: lies and money.
During the recent mid-term elections, certain key issues of the Republican platform were obscured amidst their successful attempts to gain votes among those directly disenfranchised by their policies: people of color and women. Policies of mass incarceration of African-American males and the conservative critique of the Ferguson protests turned into historic wins for black Republican candidates in congressional races. Attempts to subjugate women to antiquated gender roles translated into the election of the youngest female congress member, also a Republican. The twisting of their core messaging to suit the current political climate may undercut any coherent GOP strategy over time, yet it results in votes, which turn into political power, especially when coupled with success strategy number two: money.
Money allows for advertising, giving re-messaging a large voice, loud enough to drown out lingering echoes of former strategies, even those as recent as anti-immigration rhetoric and the war on women. Some people (apparently a lot of them) vote for candidates who look like them and talk the talk, without examining the larger policies their party really supports. More money — from the Koch brothers and their ilk — provides for more misinformation and more doublespeak. And the same people who believe that reality TV shows are real will vote for candidates who claim to represent them, without questioning their false “facts.”
So what does this have to do with sexism, the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, and the fact that women can’t walk down a city street without the unwanted attention of gawkers and stalkers? Listen to the counter-arguments and you’ll hear the connections: women should be grateful that random men find them attractive, because all women want nothing more than to be told we are beautiful: making us conquests, showpieces, trophy wives, brainless props to help men feel better about themselves. By keeping women under the male thumb, the string-pullers in power can keep the Patriarchy happy and healthy, and keep the money and lies flowing. The Republican political machine is threatened by the Elizabeth Warrens of the world, as well as the men who support feminism and an alternative model of community and country to that which was put forth several centuries ago by our founding Fathers.
Studies have shown that women CEOs are good for business. Women in leadership roles value ethics more than men do, although it’s unclear whether that translates to more ethical behavior in the male-created business model. Either it is in our socialization or our DNA to play nice (with notable exceptions, of course), to listen to others, and to approach solutions with compassion, but the reality is that business, like politics, is not yet set up for compassionate approaches. Not surprisingly, women in leadership roles are also more at risk of being abruptly fired. But whether it’s nature or nurture, more profitable business and higher ethical values are a win-win for community, but not for the status quo political structure. Those big CEOs, celebrities, and politicians who abuse their power to their own self-interest are at great risk if women gain political and economic strength. And we won’t all sit back and let boys be boys if that behavior denies us our fundamental rights.
Watch out, boys, we’re coming up!