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Feminists "Shocked" into Defense?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Amy Fried, Ph.D.     Permalink

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For me, the first hint that Election 2012 would be all "about the women, stupid," was when Alan Simpson, in his capacity as Deficit Commission co-chair, described social security as a "milk cow with 310 million t*ts." Now that there is a full-on assault on women's most basic rights to health and well being, I find that metaphor more telling over time.The sheer extremity of the attacks on women's health under the guise of "religious freedom" (which actually turned  the concept on its head), followed by the (thankfully defeated) Blunt amendment, has put women on the defensive. We are arguing on the right's turf, forced to fight for the most basic rights that should be taken for granted. We are living in an age where where Catharine MacKinnon asks "Are Women Human?", while corporations are mistakenly  designated as persons.Yet, both Simpson's quip, and the more recent statements of GOP candidates - most notably Rick Santorum - sheds light on a kind of schizoid view of women by the right. Santorum waxes poetic on the value of the work done by women in intact marriages, raising children, while he and Gingrich speak with scorn about women who do the same work without benefit of a husband. Gingrich notably brought back the age-old image of the "welfare queen," claiming that poor families are strangers to the concept of work.I wonder, however, if today's liberals and feminists have already ceded too much ground to the right's view of women, in our defensive crouch. Once upon a time there was a movement demanding "wages for housework," on the premise that women's contributions - the very thing that the GOP seems to be fighting to control - should be compensated by the government. This movement seems to have been long forgotten, but there are more recent feminist scholars who have written about the economic consequences of women's work. Marilyn Waring, a feminist economist, has spent decades trying to get U.N. measurements of economies to take account of women's work. Martha Fineman writes in The Autonomy Myth  that we are also subsidized by the work of those who care for the dependent among us - work that is often unfairly labeled as dependency itself. Anne Crittenden writes in Th e  Price of Motherhood that mothers pay a huge financial price for the work of child rearing. Hester Eisenstein also writes brilliantly in  Feminism Seduced that what she calls "hegemonic feminism" has sometimes ignored class and race implications, and perhaps fed into the scenario of globalization.With such radical concepts largely absent from the current culture wars, it is perhaps not surprising that conservative and liberals alike discuss the issue of jobs and the economy in terms of a "generic" worker, for whom child care is not a concern. While liberals have dismissed the current GOP obsession with women's bodies as a distraction from an improving economy, few have noted the subsidizing effect women's unpaid work has on the economy.In line with Simpson's analogy, perhaps an even more radical voice should be noted - that of Carol J. Adams, who argues in The Sexual Politics of Meat that women and animals are similarly oppressed. Clearly, the right in 2012 is pushing for a view of women as resources to be exploited, rather than as full persons (while arguing for the personhood of fetuses as well as corporations.)While we push back, perhaps we should go on offense - pointing out the contributions of women worldwide - rather than on defense - arguing only for the right to bodily integrity, and to earn a living by working The Second Shift.


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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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