by Colleen Carroll Campbell
In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to make a request of America’s political and media elites on behalf of America’s women: Stop lumping us together.
To be more specific: Stop telling us “what women want” in the next president, which political stands are sure-fire winners (or losers) of “the women’s vote,” and what constitutes “the women’s view” in debates over everything from the morality of abortion to the limits of government and the best path to national prosperity.
While you’re at it, please stop quoting a handful of self-appointed “women’s advocates” as if they were proxies for all 156 million Americans who carry two X chromosomes. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards no more represents my views than Sarah Palin represents hers. And I think I can speak for all women in saying that no single woman or women’s group speaks for us all.
That’s doubly true when it comes to the hot-button social issues that have been dominating national headlines lately. American women, like men, are fiercely divided in their views of President Barack Obama’s contraception mandate, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s short-lived decision to defund Planned Parenthood, and informed consent abortion laws like the bill under consideration in Virginia. As for the women’s vote, pollsters attest that knowing a woman’s marital status and level of religious observance will allow you to predict her electoral choices with far more accuracy than knowing her gender alone.
Not that you would know that from press coverage of recent political controversies. When the Komen skirmish erupted in early February, mainstream media reports focused almost exclusively on women outraged by Komen’s decision to distance itself from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. Few told the rest of the story: that scores of other women rejoiced at Komen’s initial decision, after years of refusing to support the foundation precisely because of its Planned Parenthood ties.
That same lopsided coverage has characterized the ongoing debate between Obama and the leaders of religious institutions that object to his contraception mandate. According to a Gallup poll released February 27, 49% of men back the religious leaders in that dispute and 44% back Obama. The split among women is almost identical: 47% back Obama’s critics and 46% back Obama.
But don’t tell that to mainstream media elites who incessantly parrot the Obama administration’s talking points, by casting religious freedom concerns as a distraction and the mandate’s opponents as foot soldiers in a “war on women’s health.” The facts that women are as divided as men on the mandate and that some of Obama’s most outspoken critics are women only get in the way of the story they want to tell about curmudgeonly Catholic bishops and Neanderthal Republicans strong-arming the sensitive Democratic president who battles on behalf of womankind.
More supportive of that storyline is the tale of the indignant women, House Democrats all, who recently staged a walk-out of a Republican-led “all-male hearing” on the mandate. That tale and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s tagline for it “Where are the women?” became national news. Not so widely reported was the fact that the “all-male” witness list actually included two women a doctor and a lawyer, both serving in leadership positions in higher education and possessed of credentials considerably more relevant to a religious liberty hearing than those of the 24-year-old university student whom Democrats offered as their witness. Still, that student not the expert witnesses against the mandate or the nearly 1,500 women from all walks of life who signed an anti-mandate protest letter on the web site womenspeakforthemselves.com garnered the press attention.
And then there is the Virginia ultrasound bill, otherwise known as the “state-sanctioned rape” act, if abortion-rights activists and their legislative surrogates are to be believed. Here again, mainstream media reports have depicted American women as universally horrified at the prospect of a law that would require a woman to undergo an ultrasound before consenting to the destruction of her unborn child. Never mind that the use of both abdominal and vaginal ultrasounds is standard practice in abortion clinics. Or that the same reporters and commentators who cannot repeat the “abortion is murder” slogan without snickering now are passing along the “ultrasound is rape” argument as self-evident truth. The point is that there is one acceptable opinion for women to hold on issues like abortion and those who dissent from it do not deserve a hearing.
Thankfully, the internet has allowed more dissenting voices to be heard despite the din from the media echo chamber. To a media monolith that talks incessantly about pro-Obama “birth control moms” and treats “women’s health” as synonymous with abortion on demand, and to a calcified feminist establishment that long ago lost any credible claim to speak for the majority of women, these First Amendment moms and pro-life feminists are countering with their own narrative. They are refusing to let a narrow slice of ideologues set the agenda for the rest of us. And they are putting politicians on notice: Pay attention to the complexity of women’s experience and the diversity of our opinions, or prepare to pay come election day.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter, member of the Voices editorial board, and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her web site is colleen-campbell.com. This essay initially appeared in the St Louis Post-Dispatch on March 1, 2012.
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