Friday, October 03, 2014

Kathleen Parker and the War on Women

Kathleen Parker is one of those people who appears to have an amazing ability not to blush, at least on paper. Take for her example her screed about "The silly, selective ‘war on women’":
Let’s be clear. The war on women is based on just one thing — abortion rights. While it is true that access to abortion has been restricted in several states owing to Republican efforts, it is not true that women as a whole care only or mostly about abortion.
Well, no. The Republican war on women is about women's reproductive rights in general, and notably includes sex education, access to birth control and insurance coverage for birth control. More than that, it includes no small amount of "slut shaming", and a huffy dismissal of the notion that women haven't achieved wage equality with men. If you don't believe me, take a look at this column by a person named "Kathleen Parker" in which she admits that the "war on women" includes insurance coverage for birth control. Parker makes a fascinating argument,
The alleged war on women was based essentially on the notion that people who think abortion is a bad idea — or who don’t think the government should mandate insurance coverage for birth-control coverage — are anti-woman. Democrats point mainly to new state laws that have limited access to abortion, not to mention the unforgettable observations of a few Republican men about “legitimate” rape and so on.

Whatever one’s own position, Republicans could be characterized as waging a war on women only if no women agreed with the premises mentioned above.
That sort of illogical and narrow thinking is mirrored by those who defend the practice of female genital mutilation by arguing that the arrangements for mutilation are made by mothers, for their daughters, and the procedure is performed by women. If even one woman is involved in the practice, under Parker's logic, the practice cannot be deemed oppressive toward women. Would Parker argue that slavery in the U.S. cannot be said to be oppressive to the slaves because there were black slave owners? I would hope not, but that argument would be completely consistent with her logic.

Next take a look at this column also by somebody named "Kathleen Parker" in which she whines that evil liberals want small children to have access to the "morning after pill". Parker's concern is, of course, not about safety or whether one over-the-counter medication should be treated differently than others based on objective concerns -- her concern is that a minor might be able to go into a pharmacy and purchase a medication that is safer than a lot of the other OTC drugs the same minor is free to purchase, without having to tell an adult that she's sexually active.

Fundamentally, though, she's making a "What about the children" argument in order to distract us from the fact that she's defending people who want to keep certain forms of birth control (and in some cases, all forms of birth control) out of the hands of women of any age. But even if we ignore that fact, contrary to Parker's pretense, the issue is not one about the role of government in relation to the family. It's about the relationship of parents and their daughters, and whether the government should stick itself into the middle of that relationship by imposing nanny state rules to keep certain OTC medications out of the hands of minors. Parker also pretends that she has safety concerns about the morning-after pill, never mind that pregnancy and childbirth are vastly more dangerous to young women than the pill she hopes to keep out of their hands.

Next take a look at this column, also... wow... by somebody named Kathleen Parker,
With each generation, the question becomes more declarative and querulous. Recent demographic shifts show women gaining supremacy across a spectrum of quantitative measures, including education and employment. Women outnumber men in college and in most graduate fields. Increasingly, owing in part to the recession and job loss in historically male-dominated fields, they are surpassing men as wage-earners, though women still lag behind at the highest income and executive levels.
So you see, women are doing just fine, thank you very much, and what you really need to focus on is how terribly men are doing -- "If we continue to impose low expectations and negative messaging on men and boys, future women won’t have much to choose from." Except it's implicit in Parker's argument that, at least outside of college enrollment numbers, men are doing as well as or better than women.

For more evidence of my point, you need only read further into Parker's column about the "silly" war on women,
Yet Sandra Fluke, whose appeal for insurance coverage of birth control prompted Limbaugh to call her a “slut,” was elevated to martyr status and perhaps a political career.
I suspect that most people had forgotten about Sandra Fluke before Parker brought her up, but she's a great example of how Republicans engage in anti-birth control rhetoric and slut shaming.

After telling us that her column is not about abortion, then proceeding with what I guess she expects her audience to view as some sort of ironic humor by writing a paragraph-long screed against abortion rights, Parker gets to her real target: The fact that on occasion she can identify a Democrat who says stupid or sexist things about women. As if we needed to be told? Needless to say, though, she's nutpicking -- selecting isolated examples of people saying silly things -- and conflating them with her party's problem, the fact that its politicians have established a clear pattern of making sexist comments -- one that makes columnists like, you know, Kathleen Parker regret that Republicans have not yet learned to talk to women.

Parker reminds us in her column that Bill Maher, a left-leaning comedian who is not a Democrat but is presently supporting the Democratic Party, is a sexist.
Sarah Palin, whose potential vice presidency I politely opposed for legitimate reasons that are now widely embraced, has been outrageously abused in the vilest terms — by Maher among others — and left to twist in the wind.
Twist in the wind? Try "laugh all the way to the bank." So why bring Bill Maher, a man she sees as inclined to make vile, sexist remarks, into the column at all? Because he offers a useful distraction from domestic concerns:
On the latter’s offense, and the silliness of the so-called war in general, I defer to Bill Maher, who recently chastised liberals for their selective outrage regarding women’s rights.

“We hear a lot about the Republican ‘war on women.’ It’s not cool Rush Limbaugh called somebody a slut. Okay,” said Maher. “But Saudi women can’t vote, or drive, or hold a job or leave the house without a man. Overwhelming majorities in every Muslim country say a wife is always obliged to obey her husband. That all seems like a bigger issue than evangelical Christian bakeries refusing to make gay wedding cakes.”
One could easily turn that around -- why is Parker obsessing over whether the Republicans are fairly being accused of a war on women, when so-called honor killings occur in parts of the world, and where rape victims can even be killed in the name of protecting the honor of their families? If Parker were better at logical thinking, she might realize that it is possible to be opposed to discrimination against women at home and abroad. If she were a better thinker she might realize that U.S. voters have a better chance of effecting policy change in this country than they do of convincing Saudi Arabia to grant women full equality. On an international scale, the mistreatment of women in many other nations is a larger issue than the mistreatment of women in the U.S., but when you live in the U.S. you actually are allowed to comment upon and even prioritize domestic policy concerns, as well as those issues that you could actually affect through your speech and votes.

Parker then moves on to her penultimate attack -- the statement of a single Democratic politician about his female opponent,
A more recent example of a war-on-women event occurred in Virginia’s closely watched congressional race between Democrat John Foust and Republican Barbara Comstock. This time it was a Democratic male attacking a Republican female in, shall we say, the most clueless of terms. Lacking facts or finesse, Foust mused to an audience that Comstock hadn’t ever held a “real job.”

Meaning, what, that she’s just a mom?
Probably not. It sounds like an echo of Republican attacks on President Obama during his first campaign. I don't recall that Kathleen Parker leapt to Obama's defense, "How dare my party suggest that being a father isn't a 'real job'" -- recall the column linked above where Parker claimed deep concern over the marginalization of fathers. I'm not sure that Parker mouthed those exact words about Obama, but she certainly embraced the sentiment:
The faith of the American people may not have been misplaced in Obama. But the young senator from Illinois became a president overnight, before he had time to gain the confidence and wisdom one earns through trials and errors.
Parker then whines,
Even if this were so, and it is not, why should Foust get a pass for such an ignorant, sexist remark? Is any Democratic male — even one who manages to insult while pandering — better than any Republican female? In my experience, a woman who can manage a household and juggle the needs of three children while obtaining a law degree from Georgetown University, as Comstock did, can run a corporation or a nation.
Foust is getting "a pass"? Then Kathleen Parker's criticism of him in a column published in one of the nation's leading newspapers and syndicated across the country must be a figment of my imagination.

Never mind Parker's criticism of Obama's lack of experience -- or, for that matter, her disdain for Sarah Palin, mother of five. When Parker is not pretending to be offended, and not pretending to be a sudden believer in the power of motherhood, she is actually willing to acknowledge that knowledge of foreign policy and economics are important, even in a vice president. Parker's able to recognize that it's possible for somebody to be a mother and to have held conventional employment or elected office on top of it, yet be woefully unprepared for a position of responsibility. Parker is simply playing the game of gotcha politics -- her concern is not actually the sentiment that the Republican candidate is unprepared -- a type of criticism she, herself, has made in different words -- it's that the Democrat used the wrong words and made himself a convenient target, whatever he in fact meant.

Parker takes a momentary step back from her feigned outrage to inform us,
[Comstock's] résumé includes such non-cookie­baking activities as serving as a senior aide to Rep. Frank Wolf, whose congressional seat she is pursuing. She currently is serving her third term in the Virginia House of Delegates, where she has advanced legislation to thwart human trafficking and supported several conservative positions related to health-care and tax reform.
It's interesting to me that Parker conveniently sidesteps the discussion of Comstock's actual job experience in order to pretend that her opponent's comment was intended to diminish motherhood, as opposed to being an echo of the refrain of the political right, that work in politics or as an elected official... or for a non-profit, or as a college professor, or for the government (other than the military)... doesn't count as a "real job". Parker could have pointed out the obvious -- that being a senior aid to a politician is a "real job", and that serving as an elected legislator is a "real job". But to acknowledge those facts would be to acknowledge the probability that the criticism of Comstock's résumé was an echo of the criticism directed at President Obama, not a commentary on motherhood.

Parker still isn't done....
When a Comstock ad recently called Foust’s comments “sexist, bizarre, insensitive, ignorant,” the 10th District’s Democratic Party tweeted, “If @barbaracomstock were a man, she’d be down 20 pts w women. Her record & policies are horrible for women.”

No, if Comstock were a man, she wouldn’t have to counter such slander.
Wait a second.... What's the "slander" here? If it's "slander" to suggest that a candidate who is a parent has never held a real job, the record is replete with that type of attack on President Obama. If it's that a candidate who has actually held real jobs has never held a real job, see also the résumé of President Obama. If it's that it's a slander to say that taking pro-life positions is bad for women, that's certainly not a criticism that has never been raised against a male candidate. What slander are we actually talking about?

Further, if we really want to get into scurrilous, unfair, gender- and implicitly race-based attacks on candidates, we need look no further than a columnist... whose name momentarily eludes me. No, wait, I remember now: Kathleen Parker, and her attacks on Obama as not being a full-blooded American, his being effeminate (or at least low on testosterone) for his supposed use of the passive voice, or of being a (pussy) cat.

At this point, surprisingly, Parker still finds room for another bad argument,
Virginia voters who oppose Comstock’s legislative record have a clear alternative. But if they cast their ballots for Foust, they’ll be electing a man whose disrespect toward women and the single job only women can do — mothering — is at least as offensive as Limbaugh’s name-calling.
Alas, those poor voters. They have no choice but to accept Parker's position that any suggestion that a candidate who happens to be a mother has never held a "real job" completely disqualifies her opponent from office, or they may as well be calling defenders of women's reproductive health "sluts". Don't bother looking for the logic -- it's not there.

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