As midterm elections grow closer and the battle for Congressional control heats up, the Democratic rallying cry of the Republican “War on Women” will likely continue to play a vital role in the Democrats’ attempt to retain control in the Senate. But Republican women are trying to combat this pervasive catchphrase with their own claim: we’re women and we’re Republicans; therefore there is no Republican War on Women. Unfortunately for them, simply being a woman doesn’t mean that you vote for women.
Take Terri Lynn Land (R-MI), the former Michigan Secretary of State who is running against Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) for Senator Carl Levin’s Senate seat. In a witty 30-second spot, Land mocks the Democratic claim that Rep. Peters has employed that she and other Republicans are waging a “War on Women” by saying “as a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters.”
It’s true — Land is a woman, and it’s also true that Rep. Gary Peters is not a woman. But her argument that being a woman means she better understands and represents women falls apart when we begin to look at her record.
At the end of 2013, Michigan passed an egregious law banning private insurance companies from covering abortion care and forced women to purchase an additional insurance rider if they ever wanted abortion care coverage. Pushed through by the Republican-dominated legislature, the law has been criticized as “a new front in the GOP’s clueless ‘war on women’ and dubbed the “Rape Insurance” bill because it contained no exception for rape or incest.
This should come as no surprise, since Land is vehemently anti-choice. She has stated publicly that she believes abortion should be legal only to save the life of the mother, with no mention of rape, incest, or maternal or fetal health.
What’s more, her website features a page “Working for Women” that features three bullet points of her pro-woman platform. Never mind that two of them are literally identical, as it seems no one bothered to copy edit or proofread her public website. She also claims that she is a champion of women’s equal pay, a claim that falls apart when we look at her actual rhetoric that women care more about getting their kids to “dentist appointments” than being fairly compensated for their work. Even more egregiously, Land claims that she favors “giving women control over their health care” while opposing reproductive rights and staying tacitly silent on a Michigan bill that directly contradicts this claim. For Land to claim that she is pro-woman is the epitome of hypocrisy.
Need another example? Take Governor Mary Fallin (R-OK) who has helped enact some of the most draconian legislation in recent memory. After being told she could not cut spousal benefits for gay soldiers in Oklahoma’s National Guard, she simply cut spousal benefits for all soldiers. Last month, she signed a ban on increasing the minimum wage for the entire state, which and just this week, Gov. Mary Fallin made national news once again as she oversaw the botched execution of a death row inmate. Reports indicate that she essentially strong-armed the Oklahoma Supreme Court into allowing the state to use a secret lethal injection on two death row inmates, forcing them to override their original stay. After the first went horribly wrong, Gov. Fallin declared that she was staying the second execution.
Specifically on the issue of women’s rights, Fallin has been nothing short of abysmal. In 2007, when she was a Representative in the state House, she voted nay on an equal pay bill that would have made it easier for women and minorities to bring suit against their employers for pay discrimination. She has signed into law some incredibly draconian anti-abortion legislation, including a 20 week abortion ban, a bill limiting the use of medication abortion, a cruel bill that requires women seeking an abortion due to a terminal fetal anomaly to be informed of the availability of a perinatal hospital, and a paternalistic 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, among many others.
A woman leader does not necessarily mean a pro-woman leader.
This is not to say that we should stop trying to elect more women to leadership roles; far from it. Women represent more than half of the population and deserve to have fair representation in their democratically-elected government. But we must be aware that simply electing more women will not solve systemic injustice; more women does not necessarily mean more support for women’s rights.
What Terri Lynn Land so clearly doesn’t understand in her campaign spot is that the “War on Women” isn’t solely being waged by men; Republican men need some women to be complicit in it. That’s why Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) replaced Rep. Trent Franks as the face of the House of Representative’s 20 week abortion ban — it makes it seem as if women overwhelmingly want these kinds of egregiously anti-woman policies. The “War on Women” isn’t simply about men versus women, but about attacking women’s rights and women’s social progress. This is a party that opposes equal pay, has enacted outrageous restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, and rewards men who make the most mind-numbingly sexist comments imaginable with a bump in the polls, and this is a record of which they’re seemingly proud.
Just ask Terri Lynn Land and Mary Fallin.
Lauren Rankin is a feminist writer and activist. Her work has appeared at publications such as Salon, RH Reality Check and TruthOut. Currently a graduate student in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, she focuses on reproductive politics and the political use of sexual shame. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenarankin.
Correction: This piece initially misidentified Carl Levin and incorrectly stated that his Senate seat is already vacant. Levin is retiring when his current term ends in 2015. We regret the errors.