The XX Factor

Could the Conservative Attack on Women Backfire?

Rick Santorum risks alientating even conservative women with his increasingly sexist positions.


Amanda, you’re right that the recent conservative attacks on the Girl Scouts are just part of the “death throes of male dominance.” On the whole, the generations of Americans next in line for political power simply aren’t as interested in regulating what people do with their bodies as their predecessors were. Hence, right-wingers are suddenly dusting off old issues (contraception, a woman’s right to work, the sexual politics of campfires) that we thought were settled—they’re being reactionary to the point of regression.

Undoubtedly conservatives are banking on the notion that there must be silent masses of citizens who feel as they do (and of course, many will emerge given the chance to be taken seriously). But, as the election year moves forward, the diversion of the Republican mainstream rightward to some dank, godforsaken tributary is looking like a bad bet.

Ron Elving has an excellent piece up on NPR’s politics blog today discussing how Rick Santorm risks driving away even the women of his own party with his increasingly retrograde positions (i.e., we’re not just talking about abortion anymore):

Santorum says he would not ban contraception, but he opposes it. The overwhelming majority of American women use or have used contraception and want access to it. Santorum also opposes the inclusion of prenatal testing in insurance plans, arguing that too many prenatal tests lead to abortions. … His disapproval of women working outside the home when their children are young is also well known.

Many of these issues have been regarded as settled law or settled politics for a generation. The notion that they are to be reopened and revised disturbs many women, including many who do not consider themselves liberals.

Elving does a thorough job showing that without the support of women—who counted for 8 million more votes than men in 2008—the eventual GOP nominee cannot hope to prevail against Obama. But as the Republicans rush headlong to the right (and far past the standard pro-life position that many women do support), they risk alienating precisely the demographic they need most.

In the abortion debates, feminists have long used as a talking point the idea that a woman’s body should not be politicized, but for those on the other side, the value of the fetus’s body was sufficiently high to overcome such arguments. But now the true endgame of the right’s misogynistic impulses is becoming clear: A woman’s body needs to be controlled, whether it’s actually supporting a baby or not. How it has sex, if and when it can leave the house, what kinds of health care it deserves: These are all questions about women’s bodies that Santorum and other conservatives now believe to be open for their arbitration. And, of course, the voices of actual women aren’t welcome in the room to argue for themselves.