The XX Factor

How Nikki Haley Misreads Women

Nikki Haley.

GILBERT, SC - JANUARY 20: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speak to the media after a campaign rally at Harmon Tree Farm on January 20, 2012 in Gilbert, South Carolina. Romney continues to campaign for votes in South Carolina ahead of their primary on January 21st. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Gov. Nikki Haley dropped one of those too-obvious-to-be-believed whoppers on The View when she said, “Women don’t care about contraception,” adding, “they care about jobs and their families …” before Joy Behar cut her off. Beyond the strangeness of the assertion that women don’t care about a vital medical service that 99 percent of them use on and off throughout their lives, the statement was something of a non sequitur. Yes, women care about jobs and families, which is why they care about contraception. I realize the conservative framing of contraception as if it were nothing more than an elaborate sex toy, like a vibrator or a piece of lingerie, confuses the issue, but in reality, women make contraception decisions precisely because they care about jobs and family. If I were to list the two main reasons unintended pregnancy is something I prefer to avoid, I’d say “jobs and family.” Women delay and limit child-bearing mainly so they can do better in their jobs and have a more harmonious family life. Her comment made about as much sense as saying: “Women don’t care about the weather. They just want to know if the conditions outside call for a jacket or not.”

The claim also has much empirical evidence against it. Polling data showing a huge swing of female voters back to Obama after months of being exposed to Republican troglodytes bashing contraception and those who use it suggests that women do, in fact, care about contraception. There’s also reason to believe, sadly, that women care about this issue more than men do on average. Polls on the contraception coverage mandate taken at the height of the debate show that 62 percent of women versus 47 percent of men supported the policy.

Of course, Haley may just be looking at this issue with blinkers, and when she says “women,” she means “women like me,” i.e., conservative. It is true that conservative women are less supportive than women as a whole of attempts to make contraception access easier. That’s because the war on women is just as much about class as it is about gender. Republicans are mostly staying away from open calls to restrict legal access to contraception, and are concentrating instead on attacking women’s ability to afford it, by demanding an end to government subsidies for low-income women and throwing a fit that women’s insurance might cover contraception instead of forcing them to pay out of pocket. For women for whom $50 or $100 a month isn’t very much money, this sort of thing probably doesn’t matter. In fact, for many conservatives, it’s clear that they believe protected sex is a luxury that should only be available, like fine champagne or HBO subscriptions, to those who can afford it. This belief works in conjunction with backward views of women’s roles to create the current war on women.

Where I think Haley really fails in her analysis is in understanding how middle-class entitlements work. I suspect she thinks “women don’t care” about contraception, because she imagines an immoveable middle class hostility to the poor. But while the very rich are often willing to pay more if it means screwing over the lower classes, that’s not actually true of the middle class. That’s why the most politically secure entitlement programs created by Democrats are those that help the middle class and the poor alike: Social Security and Medicare being the best examples. Middle-class people aren’t willing to give up a benefit just to hurt the poor most of the time. And so I imagine it will be with copay-free birth control. Middle-class women may be better able to afford $50-$100 a month in pills, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually going to want to pay it if they don’t have to, just to keep poor women from getting their slice of the non-procreative-sex pie.