After weeks of pondering what the “war on women” is really about, I’ve finally had an epiphany. It never seemed sufficient to me that laws mandating women’s bodies be medically invaded, having their access to contraception curtailed, or abrogating the constitutional right to abortion was just about women. The phrase itself – “war on women” – seemed to trivialise what was actually happening. Surely, I thought, this has to be about something bigger.
And then came my Aha! Moment. This isn’t only a war on women. In this election season, that so-called war is simply part of a full-scale aggressive action aimed at President Obama and those who believe in a more socially responsive, responsible, and forward-thinking America. It’s an attack on liberal ideology and an attempt to defeat the left, no matter what.
What fuelled my Aha! Moment was recalling something important about human history: Ever since nomadic and agrarian societies yielded to land ownership, men have warred over territory and everything on it, including women. Thus women have suffered male aggression in various forms, including sexual assault, always in the name of “winning.” The rape and pillage in history books and romance novels became commonplace once one group of male warriors wanted what their perceived enemy owned or controlled.
In today’s political wars, conflict is not only about the power and prestige one group has or is at risk of losing; it’s also about what an oppositional group values and how fiercely committed that group is to destroying its “enemy.” It’s worth noting at this point that aggression is often sexual, especially male aggression when women are present. As feminist writer Susan Brownmiller has noted, “War provides men with the perfect psychological backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women.” The “spiritual bonding of men at arms,” she says, “confirms for men what they long suspect – that women are peripheral to the world that counts.” Rape, she adds, “accompanies territorial advance by the winning side in land conflicts as one of the spoils of war.” In the context of the current Right/Left conflict it could be argued, reasonably I would argue, that rape occurs by way of hideous legislation mandating unnecessary medical intrusion into women’s bodies. (And as the history of war teaches, “to the victor go the spoils.”)
In the current political ‘war’ in the US, Mr Obama and liberals clearly constitute the enemy. One way to defeat the enemy or deny them their power, as we know, is to demoralise the women. By stripping women of their sovereignty, robbing them of decision-making and autonomy as well as control over their own bodies, right-wingers are doing what male aggressors have done for millennia. Just as they did in Bangladesh and Bosnia, Nanking and Nigeria, they are symbolically raping women as a way of getting at their real enemy – men in power who have something they want. They are, to put it crudely, using the orifice to win the office.
Sound a bit over the top? Consider this. In a recent report, Amnesty International stated that “women’s bodies have become part of the terrain of conflict.” Yes, the report was about the use of rape as a weapon of war, but if sexual abuse is a deliberate strategy, can it not fairly be argued that withholding contraception and legislating medical rape also constitute a strategy on the continuum of control? Aren’t both strategies a form of social domination? Isn’t humiliation being applied in both scenarios? Surely “punitive codes of conduct” are being applied in order to weaken the enemy.
As Amnesty International has noted, “Women’s lives and their bodies have been the unacknowledged casualties of war for far too long.” Whether those casualties are overtly violent or perpetrated more subtly in order to inflict emotional torment and long-lasting psychological pain on both women and men, they are devastating weapons in the arsenal of political thought and action.
That is why it is deeply important to understand that the so-called “war on women” is part of something much bigger and more harmful that some may think. It is nothing less than a strategy aimed at overtaking people’s lives in the name of profit and personal prosperity – woman by woman – one dispensable, invisible woman at a time.
For the sake of all of us, irrespective of gender, we cannot allow that to happen.
(The writer comments on women, politics and social issues from Saxtons River, Vermont.)