For years now, Republican politicians and pundits have been trying to find the proper counter for claims that the party is conducting a “war on women.” They’ve paraded out a number of new (and mostly unsuccessful) female candidates, claimed that blocking workplace reforms is about making sure more women have the option to stay at home with their children, or touted that blocking access to birth control is really about ensuring women’s religious liberties are kept sacrosanct and unimpeded. The real anti-woman platform, according to the GOP, is providing any sort of assistance to a woman in order to level the playing field economically or socially. After all, how else can they prove they are truly equal than by overcoming the additional roadblocks they encounter by virtue of being female?
Somehow, that talking point hasn’t played well with the general public. Now, a new one is being tested out, relying on a “men are from Mars, women from Venus” mentality that continues to place traditional gender roles firmly front and center. By fighting for gender equity, one pundit notes, Democrats are actually proving they have a man problem.
“Democrats have held varying advantages among females going back decades, just as Republicans have with men,” argues columnist David Catanese in US News and World Reports, in an article titled “The Democrats (White) Male Problem.” “There are age-old reasons for this. Men are more drawn to the abstract ideology embraced by the GOP of self-reliance at home and a muscular defense abroad. Women are unsurprisingly more concerned about social issues like abortion because they directly affect their life and health care choices. Women also gravitate to a more collectivist view of society’s role, which fits neatly into the fabric of the Democratic Party, whereas men’s natural instinct to protect their herd attracts them to the individualist Republican identity.”
That Catanese, a reporter who was forced in 2012 to apologize after he defended Senate candidate Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” pregnancy comments, might have some 1950′s era views about how men and women instinctively behave is par for the course. What is more interesting is how this idea that by supporting gender equity — fair pay, the ability to prevent pregnancy so a person can continue to work or better parental leave so a person can work and raise children, abortion, affordable, available health care — that these initiatives somehow harm men, as if there is only so much wealth, jobs and economic security to go around.
Is the flip side to fighting against the GOP’s anti-women agenda an “anti-men” agenda? Catanese appears to believe so. By his description of male and female instincts, he implies that women are turning to government to assist them, which should be the role of the man who is created to want to “protect the herd.”
The language there is telling, and is what is really the key to the battle between Republicans and Democrats: who should be “protecting the herd?” When the government offers a social safety net, the ability to earn and get paid equally regardless of gender, free quality public schools, accessible health care — both reproductive care and otherwise — is it then taking over what the GOP sees as the instinctive role of the man, who should be father, husband and provider?
What the GOP doesn’t yet grasp, and needs to in order to win back moderates, is that this isn’t a male/female dichotomy as many of them see it. Men have just as much of a role in seeing women succeed, either as partners, parents, colleagues or a combination of the above. There are enough assets to go around, despite the efforts of a Republican party under whom wealth has consolidated more dramatically than at any point since the Great Depression. There is no magic scale that states that for every gain a woman makes, a man must be forced to give something up. Helping women in the U.S. does not come at the expense of harming men and there is not a limited pool of resources we must fight over and that requires blocking the other side from accessing it.
Supporting pro-woman legislation does not harm men, and both men and women benefit when economic security and equality for all genders is a plank in the agenda. Yes, even despite Catanese’s and his cohorts’ claims otherwise.
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