Friday, April 6, 2012

I am inclined to believe that the so-called "Republican war on women" is a sham

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a number of bills yesterday, including a bill that repeals a bill passed just three years ago that goes by the name of the "Equal Pay Enforcement Act." That bill had increased the kinds of damages allowable in employment law cases under Wisconsin state law. Now Wisconsin is back to the employment law regime that it had in place for the sixty-five or so years before 2009. So Walker has sent Wisconsin employment law back to the dark days of the early Obama years.

As I previously explained in a couple of posts, many people have mistakenly claimed that this bill eliminates the requirement of equal pay for women in Wisconsin, or that it eliminates the enforcement mechanism of the equal pay law. That is false. This bill has nothing to do with equal pay, and nothing specifically to do with discrimination against women. It applies to all employment discrimination claims.

This mistake is surely caused by the curious title of the bill being repealed, the "Equal Pay Enforcement Act," which calls to mind the federal "Equal Pay Act" which does enshrine the principle of equal pay for equal work. But the federal Equal Pay Act and the Wisconsin Equal Pay Enforcement Act actually had nothing to do with each other, and equal pay for equal work remains the law in Wisconsin.

Still, if you search for commentary today on Walker signing the repeal bill, you will find much false rhetoric that Walker has somehow repealed the principle of equal pay for equal work in Wisconsin, or that this bill is a step back for women's rights. For example, Democratic candidate for governor Kathleen Falk says Walker has "turned back the clock for women across Wisconsin."  Again, he's turned the clock all the way back to the bad old days of 2009.  

As I mentioned in a comment to my earlier post, it seems to me what's going on here is a pointless partisan volleyball match. Democrats passed a pointless bill to appease their constituents back in 2009, and Republicans have more or less pointlessly repealed it to please their constituents now that they're in power. Side out. The bill was unnecessary, but it was probably unnecessary to repeal it. My own preference is for fewer pointless laws, so I don't have a big problem with what the Wisconsin Republicans have done.

What I do kind of have a problem with is the "war on women" rhetoric surrounding this. Democrats have made this a rallying cry for their 2012 campaign. This is one supposed front in the alleged war, and it's the only one I've taken the time to investigate. And when I did, I found that I was being shamelessly lied to. I am therefore inclined to believe that all of the "war on women" rhetoric is false.


  1. Because one claim related to Wisconsin is different than advertised, all war on women rhetoric is false? Need I do more than point to the Limbaugh/Fluke episode? What about the Issa panel on contraception and not having any women testify? What about efforts in places like South Dakota and Oklahoma to define embryos as persons? Or in your beloved Wisconsin, Representative Don Pridmore's attempts to have accidental pregnancies classified as child abuse and also to force women in abusive relationships to stay with their husbands? I look forward to your investigation of these issues as well as a post retracting your inclination.

  2. The claim was not "different than advertised"; it was a lie. No retraction forthcoming.

  3. There is of course a strain of conservatism that is "at war" with modernity, and one of the distinguishing features of modernity is greatly increased individual freedom for men and, especially, women. So to the extent that conservatives attempt to recreate an imagined idyllic past they will likely promote policies that clawback individual freedoms, and these will affect women disproportionately. I oppose these policies because I am a proponent of individual freedom for both men and women. I think opposing them on the basis of an "war one women" misses the point and is essentially just rhetoric.

  4. This is not intended to sound glub, but I do wonder if you might feel differently if you had a uterus.
    Perhaps the "war on women" rhetoric is too strong. How about "campaign against women's reproductive self-determination"?

  5. I certainly did not intend to sound glub, or glib.

  6. Good points. I think it's fair to suppose that I might "feel" differently if I were a woman. If the conservative policies in question had a more direct effect on me, if they made me feel singled out, I might well be outraged rather than just opposed. But, a few thoughts:

    1) There are lots of conservative women who aren't outraged by or even opposed to these policies. This makes me think that deep down this is a policy dispute—an ideological division—not a battle of the sexes.

    2) This may be just a matter of personality, but I find the politics of outrage to be unproductive. If you look back to my original posts on the Equal Pay Enforcement Act repeal, you'll see that I started out trying to make a case in favor of the repeal on the merits, and that case is not very strong. But all this false outrage surrounding the bill allowed me to score a lot of easy points, which I did with relish.

    3) I really do think this "war on women" rhetoric is a purposeful top-down campaign by the Democrats to rile people up, facts be damned. They have decided it is good politics. I guess I am just reporting that it is not good politics on me. But the truth is I am unusually sensitive about political lies, so maybe they know what they're doing.

    Finally, I find no fault with characterizing conservatives as being on a "campaign against women's reproductive self-determination." Women's reproductive freedom is certainly one of the most important individual freedoms that defines modernity, and it is the freedom that conservative policies seem to target most directly.

    1. Points well-taken. This is much more satisfying than pointless tit for tat comments on facebook.

  7. I do fault the characterization of conservatives as being on a "campaign against women's reproductive self-determination."

    Think about what people are fussing about on the conservative side. Is anyone trying to outlaw contraception or stop any woman from choosing not to reproduce? No one is even saying that any woman ought to reproduce. No one at all is suggesting that someone else, ever, should be making a woman's reproductive choices. (This isn't, of course, the same thing as arguing about what ought to happen *after* a woman makes her reproductive choices.)

    Even Issa's "reprehensible" woman-free panel wasn't discussing availability or legality of contraceptives or keeping anyone from having access to them or infringing on their self-determination. Because not having someone else forced to violate *their* religious conscience is not the equivalent of controlling your behavior or removing your self-determination.

    Telling someone to "buy your own d*mn contraceptives" is not a campaign against her self-determination.

    And at no point does "I don't get this for free" equal being prevented from getting it.

    If it does, some lawyers could make a fortune on all the civil rights that I can't afford to enjoy.

    1. "And at no point does "I don't get this for free" equal being prevented from getting it." Agreed. And...? You have to go farther than that. The GOP's "campaign against women's reproductive self-determination" goes far beyond the Blunt amendment.
      Abolishing Title X, defunding Planned Parenthood, odd and invasive requirements for women seeking pregnancy termination, and Santorum's vocal opposition to the use of contraception- even for married couples- all add up to large barriers for women to climb up and over to retain reproductive self-determination.

  8. Well, we have to define our terms. Does reproductive freedom include abortion or not? You've defined it out by saying that nothing you say concerns what happens "after a woman makes her reproductive choices." But abortion currently is one of the choices a woman can make with respect to whether or not she reproduces. You've also kind of flipped things by framing the issue as whether anyone is trying to stop women from reproducing. Of course, reproductive freedom is not the freedom *of* reproduction, it is the freedom *from* reproducing.

    So I really think it's uncontroversial to say that pro-life conservative have long been on a campaign to limit women's reproductive freedom by making abortions harder to get or illegal. Some people think women should be free to have abortions, some people don't. The people that don't are on a campaign to limit women's reproductive self-determination. Maybe that's a good thing.

    Mr. Gillette could perhaps speak better to this, but I think the Catholic objection to contraception also is based on the idea that reproductive self-determination is a bad thing. The Catholic church does not teach that individuals should self-determinedly pursue sexual pleasure for its own sake without risk of reproductive repercussions. It campaigns against that idea.

    This is why I didn't object to Andrea S's formulation—because I think anti-modernists do campaign, in good faith, against the idea that abortion should be available on demand and the idea that people should be free to have sex without fear of consequences.

  9. People in a free society are free to try to persuade, and they are certainly free to object to paying for things they find morally abhorrent. I don't think that women are quite so fragile that someone disagreeing with them takes away their rights, particularly as no one is trying to outlaw contraception or force anyone to breed. Contraceptives are legal and ubiquitous.

    And yes, we ought to define our terms. "Self-determination" seems relatively straight forward. And my defining abortion as "what happens after her reproductive choices were made" is an attempt to illuminate just how the word "self-determination" is abused. She did, in fact, make her own choices. She did, in fact, rule her own reproductive behavior.

    We see no fault and no oppression whatsoever in asking men to control their own reproduction at this same point and to be responsible about the consequences of their choices.

    It may seem very unfair not to give women a do-over that men are never given, but that is an argument about buyers remorse, not about self-determination.

    So argue honestly that women need that do-over that men don't get. It wouldn't be all that difficult to do, after all. But using the word self-determination in this context does violence to the meaning of words.

    No one on the conservative side of things has any desire, whatsoever, to take away women's self-determination and responsibility for their reproductive choices. Arguments about someone else paying for it, or at what point those choices should properly be made does not change that.

    To politically spin the issue to state as truth that someone, anyone anywhere, wants to force anyone to breed is *lying*.

  10. I don't mean to be argumentative.

    I simply wanted to point out how at least one member of the "other side" thinks about the question and point out that the way to understand what someone's motivation is, is to ask them and to believe them when they tell you.

    No one wants to take away anyone's self-determination or right to make his or her own decisions about reproduction. They really *really* don't.

    People who care about abortion really do think that fetuses need protection. It's not a sneaky way of attacking women that they're just lying about.

    Fuss about the constitutional protections guaranteed to religion and religious faith are also not sneaky ways of attacking women. People really do care deeply and profoundly about the constitutional guarantee protecting conscience.

    Concerns about the federal budget and the expansion of government are also not sneaky ways to continue to attack women. People really do profoundly care about reigning in government bloat. Of course women's health is important, but *everything* is important. This importance is not an adequate proof for government expansion.

    Framing all of these things as a "war on women" or attack on reproductive self-determination is a way of dismissing the opposition without engaging the issues. It's politically opportunistic spin.

    Just, you know, something to consider.

  11. Synova, obviously I agree that "war on women" is spin. That's the whole point of this post.

    But I don't think "campaign against reproductive self-determination" is spin, because I don't think that unfettered reproductive self-determination is necessarily a good thing—at least not if it includes the right to abort, which Andrea (who first used the term) clearly intended. To me "self-determination" means "doing whatever I want," and I think it's obvious that letting people do whatever they want—including abortion on demand—is something that reasonable people can object to. So I don't think it's offensive that people are campaigning against reproductive self-determination.

    To the extent I'm wrong about what "self-determination" means or is meant to mean, then this is just a semantic disagreement.


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