It's Not About VAWA, but About the Republican Hard Turn to the Right

What Women Really Think
March 20 2012 11:26 AM

Why Is The GOP Turning Against Anti-Domestic-Violence Legislation?

Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

The most important thing to remember as Republicans pose as victims of Democrats igniting a culture war over women's rights is this: Republicans are not required to take the bait. They were not required to try to pass legislation restricting women's ability to use their own insurance to cover contraception. They don't have to draft laws allowing your boss to fire you if you use contraception. They're not obligated to think of new and interesting ways to shame women for seeking abortion, nor are they forced to sound like perverts and lechers when discussing these issues. They could always opt out, and simply let women have their rights without fighting us on this.

So when they strike the victim pose with regard to the Violence Against Women Act--accusing Democrats of being meanie bears who make them look like they're against women simply by asking them to vote on a bill that protects women from domestic violence--it's important to remember that no one is holding a gun against Republican heads and telling them to vote against VAWA. As Irin Carmon demonstrates, the excuses for refusing to vote for VAWA, which previously had a great deal of Republican support (just like contraception!), are impressively thin, even for Republican excuses. The claim is that they can't support women and men who suffer from domestic violence because this bill has special provisions for Native Americans and immigrants, and because the bill doesn't seem to go far enough to exclude LGBT victims of domestic violence from receiving help. The "we can't help women because we might accidentally help non-white people and queer people" argument isn't really the winning strategy in trying to convince people that your politics are based in anything but pure mean-spiritedness.

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Just as with the contraception issue, the Republican revolt against domestic violence reduction legislation was predictable enough to anyone watching the right carefully, and watching the Republican turn to the right. The far right that opposes contraception, gay rights, and abortion also has opposed VAWA since the beginning. It's seen by the far right as an assault on "the family," i.e., on the absolute authority of straight men over their families. They also oppose it because their misogyny leads them to believe that many to most accusations of domestic violence are lies, and that women make it up so they can get out of marriage. (Even the most polished right winger working this angle can't help but portray marriage as a form of indentured servitude for women. They just simply reject women's right to say no to it, and suggest women would be happier if they would just submit.) Phyllis Schlafly is especially concerned that women might leave and get protection even without getting a sound beating first, and she doesn't even bother to frame constant belittling, screaming, and threats of violence as anything but a man's God-given wife-control rights. As Carmon establishes, the women-should-be-trapped-in-marriage attitude underlies the opposition to VAWA from Concerned Women for America as well, with the group issuing a press release arguing the act offers women a "'tactical advantage'" if they "want out of a marriage for any reason at all." There are lots of accusations from the right that domestic violence legislation somehow strips men of their right to due process; they're presumably referring to the existence of restraining orders that don't actually deprive men of their freedom, but simply require them to stay away from their ex-wives or girlfriends. Unless you believe in an absolute right of men to harass and stalk the woman of their choosing, this argument is something of a stretch.

Because of all this, we can safely assume Republicans are turning against VAWA as part of the larger embrace of extreme right wing views with regard to health care, unions, women's rights, and voting rights. If they're successful, the effects could be devastating. VAWA has had a dramatic impact on lowering rates of domestic violence and especially homicide, but those gains could easily be reversed if the federal support simply vanished. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.