Sunday, October 23, 2005

Death By A Thousand Cuts

My best friend recently asked me how I thought the current political climate is affecting women. A great question indeed! Here are a few things that immediately come to mind.

When politics become this divisive, many important issues get shut out and alliances that would be natural in a more civil environment, become non-existent. When it becomes necessary to play to the base of the Republican Party in order to stay in power, crossing party lines to act on legislation that many moderates would approve of becomes simply impossible. When bipartisanship dies, so too does the agenda of women’s issues. There are plenty of Republican women who believe that providing healthcare for poor children is an important issue. They may also agree with expanding affordable childcare so that women with children can pursue a career without spending up to 75% of their income on securing a safe place for their children to be while they do so. Instead of acting in the best interests of their constituencies, Republican women in the House and the Senate are instead voting in lockstep with the white male Republican leadership in order to help them hold on to their waning control. God forbid any of them should show up with a positive rating from NOW or the League of Women Voters. That would certainly put a damper on fundraising in the mega churches.

The other trend I see is that the neo-conservative and neo-religious rhetoric coming out of Washington has emboldened Republicans around the country. Religious fanatics are bringing their religion to work and trying to change corporate policy and state legislatures are pushing bills that further their agenda of restricting women’s reproductive rights. With Roe v. Wade solidly supported by the majority of the country, the radical right has decided to use the same strategy they employed to get creationism into their school curriculums, they are going local. Check your state legislature and you will most likely find a bill that has either passed or is pending that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills and emergency contraception if it goes against their religious beliefs. Most of the bills go even further and prohibit hospitals from discriminating against anyone who refuses to participate in any procedure that they believe goes against their religion. You better hope you don’t find yourself in a private hospital suffering from an ectopic pregnancy, one of these laws could very well kill you.

Beyond the political posturing that demeans women’s issues and the pushing of legislation that attempts to strip us of our rights, are the real life effects of Republican policies. Real wages have dropped by about $1700 a year and over a million people have slipped into poverty since George W. Bush took office. It will come as no surprise that women are baring the brunt of his failing policies and this flailing economy. In the 80’s the single mother was used as a scapegoat for all of the nation’s social ills. If only women would stay married and stay at home to raise their children, the country wouldn’t be suffering with rising teen pregnancy rates and escalating violence in our schools. At least 20 years ago we were talking about the difficulties faced by single mothers. Now they slip silently into poverty without a thought to anyone in government or the media.

So I guess the short answer to my friend’s question is, the current political climate is killing women, literally and figuratively. For most of us it’s not a sudden death by a fanatical Christian pharmacist refusing us the medication we need because he finds it immoral or a nurse walking out of the operating room at a critical point in a life saving procedure because of his religious beliefs, instead it is a death by a thousand cuts. The loss of a voice in the political realm, the loss of the right to self determination when it comes to our own bodies, the loss of real wages that allow us to provide for our families and the lack of attention by the media on any of the issues that concern women most. They are killing us softly and in the dark with no one left to shine a light on the suffering.

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