The Root of the Conservative War on Contraception Comes From a Deep-seated Anxiety
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Of course, they don’t. In fact, they’re doing the opposite: Santorum famously derided Obama as a “snob” for wanting to make college more available, and all the GOP candidates’ proposed federal budgets cut funding for Pell Grants and other college support. So two key ways to cut down on single-parent homes – contraception and college – are off the table for discussion.
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It’s hard not to wonder if the entire Republican crusade against contraception (along with its other more familiar objections to women’s rights) stems from anxiety about the status of men. Such concern isn’t restricted to the right, nor should it be. Hanna Rosin’s controversial July 2010 Atlantic article “ The End of Men” pointed to women’s rising success in universities and the workplace and asked whether “the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men?” The fact is, American women aren’t increasingly dependent on government; they’re increasingly independent, and supporting themselves. It’s men who seem to be falling behind.
Like Murray, Rosin pronounced working-class men the worst off, economically and psychologically, in today’s economy; unlike Murray, she traced their troubles not to government liberating women from dependency on men, but to the decline of manufacturing jobs and other decent opportunities for those who didn’t go to college. Rosin uncovered the way our gender stereotypes hurt men, too: Of the 15 fastest-growing job categories, 13 disproportionately employ women, and not enough men seem to be clamoring to break down gender barriers and get some of those jobs for themselves.
Rosin was too quick to accept men’s reluctance to do “women’s work” as bred in the bone and impossible to overcome. Of course, Republicans aren’t looking for ways to help men acclimate to the new economy. Instead they propose reversing 50 years of progress, stigmatizing and curbing access to contraception, and convincing Americans that the problems of the struggling working class are due to Democrats who encouraged dependency on government instead of on men – rather than an economy and a political system that’s been rearranged in those 50 years to make the rich ever richer.
Do I think the so-called war on women is a conscious effort among Republicans to drive women back into the home, barefoot and pregnant, to shore up men? Mostly I don’t think it’s that overt or conscious (except for Rick Santorum, and maybe Pat Buchanan, whose “Suicide of a Superpower” warned that abortion and contraception among white women are large factors in the decline of white America). I think it’s more a reflection of the fact that they have no answer to the metastasizing problems of the working and middle classes, and they’re committed to protecting the prerogatives of the top 1 percent. So even guys like Mitt Romney have joined the ultra-right crusade to blame Democrats for encouraging “dependency” on government rather than on the individual and the family, preferably headed by a man.
Lost in this debate is the extent to which Democrats and reformers helped create the family as we’ve known it, the one Republicans glorify. There was little concept of childhood before progressives fought to carve it out with child labor laws and universal education. Surging union membership encouraged by pro-labor legislation helped many working-class families rise. The post-World War II social compact contributed to a prosperity that let many middle-class women stay home, if they wanted to; it’s the erosion of that social compact, at least as much as feminism, that forced mothers to find jobs, whether they wanted to or not.