The Republican Party's Contempt for Women Is Truly Breathtaking

"Are women adults" is a question that seems to have a simple answer (yes), but looking across the political landscape, it’s clear that a lot of conservatives don’t agree at all, instead seeing women more as large children with whom it’s legal to have sex. Women have been able to vote, sit jury duty and have their own jobs and bank accounts for decades now, but many conservatives continue insisting that women be considered minors who are simply incapable of making even the most basic personal decisions without a firm, guiding, preferably male hand.


This mentality is most obvious when considering conservative Christians who treat married women like they are their husbands' subjects. Using Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord") as justification, many Christian conservatives argue that a husband is the head of the household and his wife is to submit to him, much in the same way children are expected to obey parents. In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention gave official blessing to this view and this concept, often called “headship,” has spread wildly throughout Christian right circles.

Of course, consenting adults and all that, and if having your marriage be a long game of daddy-and-daughter is your thing, who are we heathens to say otherwise? But the problems begins when conservatives try to impose their women-are-children view on the rest of us, trying to find any way possible to treat adult women like they're spoiled brats who need Daddy’s discipline to keep them in line.

This was made obvious recently in Kansas, where the state legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback yesterday, that is so chockfull of restrictions on how welfare recipients, who are mostly women, can spend their TANF payments that it really does read like a strict daddy telling his 12-year-old how she can spend her allowance. Not only does the law ban spending TANF payments on things no one on welfare can afford anyway, like theme park days or cruise ships, it also nitpicks on small ticket things, banning people from going to the movies or playing video games.

But more to the point, Kansas Republicans indulged their fantasy of treating welfare recipients like they are unruly teenagers by putting a $25 a day limit on how much they can withdraw from ATMs. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that conservatives think women can’t be trusted to do something as basic as pay their own bills. This idea that women are minors is the entire justification for the current incarnation of the anti-abortion movement. While there’s still a lot of talk about “life” in their ranks, nearly every recent abortion restriction being passed in state legislatures is actually justified on the grounds that women need to be protected from their inability to make their own choices.

Conservatives like to portray abortion doctors as con artists who trick gullible women into getting abortions anti-choicers claim they will later regret. (In reality, the only people trying to trick women are….anti-choicers.) As Meaghan Winter of Cosmo found when she interviewed anti-choice activists, they are fond of saying that they tell women not to get abortions like “an adult tells a child not to touch a hot stove.” Mandatory waiting periods, mandatory sonograms and guilt-tripping scripts are all foisted on women under the guise of giving them a chance to think it over, as if they’re kids being sent to their rooms to think about their naughty behavior. Even Supreme Court Justice Kennedy agreed that some abortion bans are justified in order to protect women from themselves, treating half the human race like they are incapable of making basic healthcare decisions for themselves.  

Now that paternalistic attitude is creeping into contraception. Hobby Lobby won a case in front of the Supreme Court, winning the right to a religious exemption from a law requiring insurance plans to cover contraception. Now it’s not just the government, but your boss who wants to play surrogate daddy, telling you what kind of contraception you may or may not use. Hard to imagine the courts signing off on giving employers that much of a say in their male employees’ healthcare.

The idea that grown women are children whose sexuality needs to be firmly controlled pops up elsewhere as well. One of the annual rituals on Fox News is for Sean Hannity to do a segment on the supposed evils of spring break. After the titillating footage of young women in bikinis is shown, panelists cluck over how terrible it is to give women the same freedom to party as men. Gavin McInnes had a particularly memorable entry in this tradition this year, claiming that the belief that men and women are equal is “a stupid lie.” 

“These women are not as strong as men, and when you let them go down there, you’re a terrible parent,” he added, even though the women in question are of voting age and legally allowed to make their own travel plans. He claimed he also opposes “letting” adult sons enjoy spring break, though, “Sons are different than daughters.” The message is crystal clear: Once a man comes of age, he is to be treated like an adult who can take responsibility for himself, but adult women should be treated like children.

This tendency to assume women are just large, dim-witted children reaches the highest levels when it comes to Republicans. During the 2012 elections, presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone.” The average age for having a first baby is a whopping 25 years old. The “kids” Romney refers to are grown women. Instead of lecturing them about marriage like they are recalcitrant children, it might be worth asking them about their life choices. You might find they have actual reasons and aren’t just a bunch of rebellious teenagers who need daddy to get them in line. 

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