The XX Factor

Reince Priebus’ “Marie Antoinette” Moment

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus had the mother of all “Then let them eat cake” moments last week when he compared what Democrats are calling the GOP’s “war on women” to an imaginary “war on caterpillars.”

Priebus wanted to argue that the media had invented a false animosity between Republicans and the fairer sex. It’s not that the party’s leading presidential contenders hope to slash federal funding for family planning, restrict contraception, and force women to undergo costly and unnecessary ultrasounds while limiting access to medical procedures like mammograms and cervical cancer screenings. Rather, liberal newsrooms are pushing some mythical notion about sexism in the GOP by talking it up endlessly. They’re encasing the country in a cocoon of lies. Those leaf-crunching blue-state creeps are spinning their fictions all over the airwaves and dragging America through the dirt!

Actually, my point is not that Reince Priebus has some sort of psychological hang-up involving larvae. And while it is silly, in the process of defending yourself against bigotry, to compare the group of people who think you’re disenfranchising them to insects, the real blunder here involves an almost comical unwillingness to acknowledge how political acts that cut against women’s autonomy over their bodies are, yes, attacks on equal rights (and yes, will be recognized as such). The media is being reactive, not proactive, in its coverage of the “war on women.” And what elevates Priebus’ statement to Marie Antoinette levels of out-of-touchness is its complete dismissal of an actual issue for the sake of being cute. Just as the queen’s fabled “cake” line flippantly skirted responsibility for France’s ills, the glibness of the caterpillar analogy hints at how trivial this whole kerfuffle—women, their problems, their perceptions—seems to the Republican Party chairman.

Plus, as one XX Factor colleague observed, if we’re going reduce women’s rights to a cocktail party game, I’d rather be a butterfly.