If Republicans don’t like everyone accusing them of launching a “war on women,” they would be wise not only to stop pushing extremist restrictions on women’s bodies and health. They might also consider not saying stupid shit that offends 51 percent of the population.
The archetype of GOP offensiveness once seemed to be Todd Akin, who during his 2012 Senate race said that in cases of “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies magically shut down to prevent pregnancy. The Republican had been steadily leading Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in the polls right up to that moment, and then suddenly and massively fell in the polls thereafter. The same curse attached nationwide, as voters realized that many other Republicans maybe hadn’t said the same offensive things but had voted in lockstep with Akin for some very offensive policies, like limiting or even banning coverage not merely of abortion (which they’ve done for years) but contraception.
Voters flocked to Democrats and re-elected President Obama by wide margins. Women in particular put Obama over the top; he won women voters overall by a 11-point margin. Sure white women broke for Mitt Romney by 14 points, but notably, young women backed Obama by an even wider margin—fully 66 percent of young women overall voted for him, which certainly points to even more trouble down the road for Republicans.
But that was 2012. Now Republicans are anxious—not to change their political views, certainly, but at least to change the narrative. No doubt they will be more careful and less offensive, right? Wrong. Enter George Will.
The Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist recently wrote about “the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. ‘sexual assault.’” That’s right. “Supposed,” he said, literally casting a cloud of doubt over the reported one-in-five college women who have survived rape in America, a number experts say is almost certainly lower than the real figure due to clouds of shame that also hang over rape survivors. Then Will went on, blaming this “supposed” epidemic not on misogyny or rape culture but on liberalism, because according to Will, when politically correct universities “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”
“One of the lessons of the Todd Akin disaster is that Democrats will not hesitate to tie the statements, behavior, and controversies of one Republican candidate to all Republican candidates,” a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee told The Washington Post recently. Yes, that’s because multiple Republicans keep saying these incredibly offensive and disgusting things that make Akin seem like less of an aberration and more of a trend.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Taranto wrote earlier this year that rape victims should basically be considered just as guilty as their rapists if both were drunk. Mutual drunkenness doesn’t absolve one person of a crime against another in other cases, for instance murder or larceny, but Taranto is concerned with protecting men against “an effort to criminalize male sexuality.”
No, Mr. Taranto, what America wants to do is criminalize rape. That is sensible and reasonable and just. What is crazy is conservatives like Will and Taranto and Akin constantly making excuses for rape and rapists.
“Rape culture” exists because too many men feel inherently superior and dominant over women and as though they have some sort of right to do with a woman’s body whatever they want. That’s misogyny; the kind of tyranny of masculinity that leads to rape and sometimes mass violence. Will and Taranto and other rape apologists on the right are plainly and simply perpetuating that culture by casting suspicion and blame on women and their actions while making excuses for men and putting aggressive male sexuality on a pedestal.
Republicans object to the accusation they are waging a “war on women.” “If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus once said. Ah, but Republicans aren’t constantly saying insanely offensive things about caterpillars, are they? They’re repeatedly, systematically, and recklessly undermining the autonomy and dignity of women, their bodies and their choices.
Republicans don’t have a women problem because of the accusations or labels of Democrats. Republicans have a women problem because they keep opening their mouths and saying what they actually think.