The Right Wing Gender War Marches On

Cue "Libido," Wendy Davis Attacks

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Forty-four weeks ago, in the wake of its lopsided loss to President Obama, Republican Party leaders unveiled a blueprint for expanding the GOP's base and opening up more doors to electoral success by directly appealing to, among others, women. And 44 weeks later the branding plan has flopped, with a new Pew Research poll revealing the party is widely still seen as "more extreme in its position" compared to the Democratic Party. (The GOP's also seen as far less interested in everyday people.)

Why the marketing failure? Because while the Republican Party talks about wanting to reach out with soothing reassurances, right-wing commentators keep launching barbed attacks that mock and belittle the personal choices women make.

Last week's far-right chatter from Fox News host Mike Huckabee about how Democrats supposedly tell women they have uncontrollable libidos and need government handouts, coupled with the unfounded attacks on Texas Democrat Wendy Davis for being a bad mom (she abandoned her kids to build her career!) who lived off a "Sugar Daddy" husband simply confirmed the conservatives' deep-seeded contempt; a disdain that can't be papered over with new RNC talking points.

The gender worldview conservatives are promoting? It's one where women sufficiently "control" their "reproductive system," and one where men are the sole approved providers, or supporters, for families; not working moms and certainly not "Uncle Sugar," as Huckabee referred to the federal government.

Condemning women for having too much sex and being bad mothers. Aside from that, who's to say there's a conservative War on Women?

Like Sandra Fluke and others before her, Wendy Davis was the latest to feel the sting of a coordinated, right-wing gender attack.

Critics accused her of embellishing her life story and telling a tall tale of transformation from a young, divorced mother who persevered through Harvard Law School. A recent Dallas Morning News article stressed Davis' then-husband paid her hefty education bill, and suggested that was a significant biography change. Conservatives pounced and announced Davis' entire life story was a lie.

Yet as far back as 1996, Davis had publicly credited her husband for paying for her Ivy League tuition. So what's the big deal? And why the Fox-led obsession with trying to dismantle Davis' admirable background of hard work and financial success?

Not content to portray Davis as being loose with biographical facts, GOP commentators quickly focused on her alleged shortcomings as a parent.  Indeed, the initial debate about Davis' background immediately morphed into a right-wing pile-on about what an awful, uncaring and overly ambitious mother Davis has been over the years.

Why the prolonged freakout? Because while attending Harvard, Davis' daughters lived with her husband in Texas. "Because she was more eager to go to Harvard than she was to be there for her kids," wrote National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg, who mockingly referred to Davis, an attorney, businesswoman, and 50-year-old politician, as "a girl."

Via Twitter, RedState blogger Erick Erickson teased, "Just think, if Wendy Davis gets elected, she could create 'take your daughter to her dad' day."  A New York Post column headline declared, "She Gave Up Her Kids: Davis Has No Future In Politics," and on Fox, Ann Coulter compared Davis to Anna Nicole Smith, the former Playboy playmate who made headlines for marrying an 89-year-old tycoon. (She later died of a drug overdose.) And yes, while her Fox News hosts giggled, Coulter dismissed Davis as a "kept woman," suggesting the Democrat candidate was someone's well-off mistress.

But what did any of that sexist mudslinging have to do with Davis' qualifications to be the next governor of Texas, which is the campaign she's currently running? And had any previous (male) gubernatorial candidate in Teas history ever been subjected to orchestrated attacks about parent skills, or ever publicly condemned for not spending enough time with his young children while he attended law school and built a prosperous career for his family?

 Of course not.

As Becky Haskins, A Republican who served with Davis on the Fort Worth City Council, told a newspaper columnist last week, "If this involved a man running for office, none of this would ever come up. It's so sad."

But the mean-spirited, oddly personal attacks on Davis (Rush Limbaugh called her a "head case") fit neatly into a larger conservative pattern of denigrating single moms and working mothers. Add on top of that the creepy outlook expressed Huckabee about women and their run-away libidos, and you have yet more proof the conservative movement, and especially it's influential media outlets, can't stop disparaging women. They also can't stop trying to cram women's personal choices into a larger political partisan debate.

Recall that earlier this month, New York Times columnist scapegoated unmarried moms for their poverty, "joining a chorus of media figures who have ignored basic economics to suggest that marriage is a magic-bullet solution to poverty," as Media Matters noted. Last year, when Obama appointed Susan Rice to be his national security advisor, Fox hosts claimed the esteemed diplomat was a merely a prop - a "human shield"--to protect the president from tough questions about Benghazi.

And remember when Fox host Lou Dobbs convened another all-male panel to discuss what members labeled a shocking new report about how more women were becoming breadwinners for their families? The equity equaled nothing less than the dissolution of the American fabric. This showed "something going terribly wrong in American society," according to Fox News contributor Juan Williams.

Something has gone terribly wrong when conservative commentators remain singularly obsessed with shaming women for the private and very personal choices they make.

Image via steevithak with a Creative Commons License

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