The past few months have involved considerable discussion of the “War on Women.” This war seems to be largely sensationalist rebranding of a conglomeration of some very important debates. While there is no excuse for comments about “legitimate rape,” Democrats probably don’t do the national discourse much service in framing the issue so violently. In her Republican National Convention speech, Ann Romney tried to win women’s sympathies and, ultimately, votes for her husband, Mitt Romney. Unfortunately she chose to speak to women as if they lacked brains.
Ann Romney started her speech by lavishing women with compliments: “It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right” followed by, “you’re the ones who always have to do a little more.” These sentiments seem to be meant to serve as a counterweight to Senator Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” and previous slut-shaming absurdities that have poured from the face of Rush Limbaugh. But instead of a calming the fight, Ann Romney’s comments exacerbated all that is wrong with the American dialogue on gender issues.
The “War on Women” is obviously misleading, mostly because there is no war. At worst there is a one-sided assault on women’s abortion rights, access subsidized birth control and other current liberties. Most politely, there is a fundamental disagreement over the point at which life should be protected and the role of government in providing non-essential medical care. These are issues that should be discussed, debated and sorted out on a national level. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both relatively outspoken on their respective sides. They offer voters a clear, distinct choice.
But what the public does not need is a continuation of the “us vs. them” mentality that the “War on Women” invokes. Telling the public that moms work harder, that they “are the best of America” and that they “are the hope of America,” does nothing to quell the violent rhetoric on both sides of the aisle. This could potentially bother men who feel slighted by Ann Romney’s empty rhetoric. But more importantly, women do not need to be told they are exceptional. They need to hear honest debate regarding the candidates’ disagreements. These are issues that are integral to the lives of every woman and, by extension, almost every man.
But instead of explaining and justifying her husband’s change from a pro-choice governor to a pro-life presidential candidate, instead of acknowledging Paul Ryan’s hopes to limit abortion even in cases of rape and incest, Ann Romney patronized the women of America. She gave them a pep-talk. She told them they were “the best.” Women don’t need to hear how great they are, they just need a plain discussion about what Republicans and Democrats would prefer they can and cannot do with their bodies.