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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/12/11

Over the Body of a Woman

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As the economy continues to struggle back from the brink, it's become hard to help noticing that the domestic policy struggles between the hard right and the barely left-of-center, have been increasingly waged over the literal and figurative bodies of women.

Michele Bachmann has attacked Michelle Obama for suggesting that the government should support breast-feeding, while Republicans have gone after women's rights with a variety of initiatives , including re-defining rape, re-classifying alleged rape victims as "accusers", seeking to re-classify the murder of abortion doctors as justifiable homicide, and putting women's lives secondary to an anti-choice agenda. Add to that seeking to cut funds for Head Start, cutting all federal funds for Planned Parenthood, and cuts to help for low-income mothers and children, and it's clear that is right to call out the Republicans' war against women.

(Then there's the horrific response of Debbie Schlussel to the reports of the sexual assault of Lara Logan in Egypt, as "liberating" - which goes to show that even women can be misogynists.) In perhaps the most outrageous move, Georgia Republicans are proposing  to criminalize miscarriage!

On the figurative front, Senator Alan Simpson decided, not long ago, to describe in graphic terms the way he sees the 75-year-old safety net known as social security, as a "milk cow with 300 million t*ts." Of all the metaphors he could have chosen, why this one - to a women's group no less?

Liberals are, understandably, railing against these attempts to turn back the clock on women's rights. At the same time, they're up in arms about the brazen attacks on workers' rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Rachel Maddow recently featured Naomi Klein, to discuss the application of the "Shock Doctrine," in Michigan, Wisonsin and elsewhere, to appropriate power and money in corporatists' hands.

George Lakoff explains the struggle in terms of differing moral systems, in which the rich are by definition more virtuous than the poor, and forced pregnancy is just punishment for immoral sexual behavior. Lakoff casts one side of the equation in gendered terms, pointing to the "strict father" ethos of today's conservatives. But he de-genders the other side of the equation - the "nuturant parent" ethos of liberals. While I agree with Lakoff that liberals help conservatives all the time (e.g., by accepting the frame of scarcity in which the only decision is what to cut), I think he misses the gendered nature of the liberal, caring frame. The fact is, that much of the caring work that is done in this country (as well as the world) is done by women. Feminist economists have long argued that this work should be counted as contributing to the GDP.

Conservatives are in the awkward position of extolling the virtues of the work that mothers and daughters do, while denying that their proposals lean heavily on the unpaid status of this work. The problem I have with liberal and feminist rebuttals, is that many never challenge the idea that this work isn't really work. So, liberals end up arguing that government needs to take some of the burden of care work, while conservatives go about destroying any hint of a community function for government. In the end, what they are really arguing about, is whether the needs of the community will be largely provided by the unpaid work of women, or whether the government will provide some of those needs.

I have written elsewhere on opednews about the work of Martha Fineman, who points to the illusion of autonomy that women's care-giving work can create. Fineman argues that we are all subsidized by the work of those who care for dependents - such as children, the handicapped, and the elderly - work largely done by women.

It's a bit like the internet story that circulated a while back: A Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican - only, instead of Joe taking for granted all the government programs he benefits from, he takes for granted that his kids and elderly parents are taken care of, his co-workers' kids and elderly parents are taken care of (so he doesn't have to cover for them), his kids' school has plenty of volunteers, etc.

Perhaps it was stated most honestly by the Republican lawmakers of Frederick, MD, who voted against funding for Head Start. Their logic was simple: funding a proven educational program for preschoolers goes against their belief that mothers should stay home with their children. Much of the outcry had to do with the inability of many families to financially afford that choice. No one acknowledged the contribution these wives' unpaid labor made to the community.

Joanne Bamberger recently responded to these attacks by asking if we're returning to the June Cleaver era. I keep thinking about Senator Simpson's telling quip. Both seem to call for government programs to be slashed, while women provide their bodies and their labor to the community.

Looked at this way, the artificially created budget "crises" in Wisconsin and elsewhere have something in common with the religious right agenda of the GOP. They are both attempts to transfer our communal burdens from government, to women. As such, Senator Simpson's offensive analogy is quite apt.
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Amy Fried applies her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior to writing and activism on church-state separation, feminism, reproductive rights, corruption, media and veganism.

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