Why There Is Nothing Real About the War on Women

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
April 20 2012 3:27 PM

The Faux Mommy Wars

There is no such thing as the “women’s vote” and the Mommy Wars were never real.

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The first and most primary decision, of course, is whether to assume the role of mother at all—and, if so, when. A new twist on this year’s season of women-as-legitimate-voters is long-overdue attention to a rather jaw-dropping trend found in statehouses around the country, where Republican legislators have floated a record 916 pieces of legislation restricting female reproductive choice since 2011, coincidentally (or not) the year the GOP took control of the House of Representatives.

And at the national level, the ruckus over health insurance reform has zeroed in on access to contraception. Contraception. When was the last time birth control was a viable topic for political debate? The fact that 99 percent of women use contraception at some point in their lifetimes suggests it is only a “choice” in the same way food is a “choice.” Yet the crippling language of choice has been deployed this year to suggest that if women want to be sexually active, well, there are trade-offs they must make, up to and including their jobs.

For decades, conservatives have tried to convince women that their choices were merely a series of tricks and traps. And the current anti-women policies of the GOP represent an effort to make that warning a reality. Dodging real-world explanations for the state of the economy and high unemployment, conservatives are now attempting a backdoor campaign to chase women out of the workplace and into their proper roles as homemakers. How else to explain increasing moves toward repealing wage-discrimination laws, rollbacks on mandatory parental leave laws, and making it all-but impossible for poor women who work to choose when to bear children?

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A longstanding justification for the iconic glass ceiling is, of course, the idea that women will enter and exit the workplace to have children, racking up costs to retrain replacements. Women: choice. But ask corporate types about their efforts to improve working conditions for male employees so they will resist the urge to hop over to the competition for a better offer, and they’ll sing a different tune. It’s money well spent, they argue, to “keep good talent.” Men: design.

So let’s put politics and mommy wars aside as we address this strange separate “interest group”—comprised of 53 percent of the population—and agree that it’s harmful to stir up needless infighting while attempting to address a critical issue in this (and any) election. Men and women both make choices. Men and women both seek to optimize their freedom. The economy is an equal-opportunity enabler or destroyer of dreams; it sinks or floats pending responsible handling of macro issues such as national debt, a capitalized working class, and fair tax policies. This perpetual sideshow wherein women are forced into combat with one another over the best way to raise children advances a discussion of U.S. economic policy not one iota. It’s time to acknowledge that, and retire the humiliating faux war among women. Choices and freedom are worthy goals for both genders, in and out of the workplace. Speak to women in non-cartoonish language, and we will choose to cast our vote as we see fit.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate

Jan Rodak is a former newspaper reporter currently working as a freelance writer in Santa Cruz, California. Her blog is under development at www.excessbloggage.net.