Shutdown Sexism, and What Virginia’s Election Means for the Nation

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Bill O’Reilly lying, being gross

Bill Kristol is dismissive

Limbaugh says WIC doesn’t help anyone

Limbaugh mocks WIC recipients

Pill ad

Terry McAuliffe attacks Ken Cuccinelli

Cuccinelli interview

Rush Limbaugh makes more stuff up


On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll talk to a documentary filmmaker who is trying to capture what happens when women tell abortion stories. Just because the government shutdown is big news doesn’t mean sexism is on the backburner, and the governor’s race in Virginia encapsulates an electoral trend that’s not going away.

I’m looking forward to seeing this new film by Therese Shechter, called How To Lose Your Virginity.

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I’m glad that more people are talking about how much virginity is a social construct that starts to fall apart the more you think about it.


If you thought that the government shutdown was one of those stories that’s so big that conservatives would float above their usual sexist nonsense, well, I hate to disappoint you, but there is apparently no such thing. For one thing, part of the bill itself that is forcing this shutdown is about taking a swipe at women and trying to give your boss a vote in your birth control use. Yes, the bill that Republicans offered that would basically defund Obamacare and therefore had to be rejected also had an item in it allowing any employer who wants to deny you your earned birth control benefits. So that was lovely.

But it was definitely the conservative media where things started to get weird. Like Bill O’Reilly turning up the volume of attacks on Obamacare in support of the shutdown by invoking a grossly inappropriate rape metaphor.

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This is, of course, all a lie. The claim that Republicans were happy to go along with Obamacare until some unnamed bad effects happen—of which there aren’t any, by the way—is such a massive lie that I’m surprised that even consummate liar Bill O’Reilly didn’t lose his composure telling it. I guess he just hoped the ploy of comparing the expansion of our health-care system to include the working poor to being raped by a motorcycle gang was so emotional that you didn’t notice the whopping lie he just told. It’s a sort of use of sexism to conceal dishonesty maneuver. But I am not fooled by this, O’Reilly. I can notice that you’re both using gross rape analogies and that you’re lying all at once.

One of the big issues that touches on gender a lot is that the shutdown is causing the WIC program, which is a supplemental nutrition program providing food to needy women raising small children, to be short on funding. At first, it was assumed they had less than a week’s worth of food to distribute, but now they can hold out to the end of the month. If the shutdown goes on longer than that, however, this is a situation where food is being taken away from babies. This reality caused major dismissive behavior on the right.

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That was Bill Kristol, echoing a common conservative refrain that conflates food assistance with charity, and blithely suggesting charity is more than enough. It is not, since more than half of infants in the U.S. are on WIC. As Media Matters noted, another problem with this is church food pantries are generally supplied by, you guessed it, the federal government.

Rush Limbaugh was more aggressive in his insistence that a program that supplies food to more than half the babies in the country is unimportant. His reason appears to be that the babies of single mothers, particularly of Black single mothers, don’t deserve to eat.

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I do love the conservative belief that introducing a wedding ring into the mix suddenly means poverty and need dissipates. Yes, a lot of first born babies are born to women who are legally unmarried, but that doesn’t actually mean that most or all of them have no man in their lives. The notion that all these babies are from one-night stands doesn’t pass the common sense test. The fact of the matter is our economy is crap, unemployment is high, and for young people in their 20s—the age that most people have their first baby—employment prospects are particularly bleak. That’s why the 53 percent. But Limbaugh, who has been married four times, wants to blame sex.

He got really excited at the idea of babies going without food to punish women for perceived sexual misbehavior. Thought nothing was funnier, really.

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Unintended pregnancy rates have gone down for middle class and wealthy women in the past few years, but they are actually going up for poor women, because of lack of access to reproductive health care. This shutdown is being conducted in order to make sure that lack of access to health care continues. And the babies born from those unintended pregnancies will be mocked for starving by the same conservatives that kept their mothers from getting access to birth control in the first place.


Insert interview


In all this discussion of the government shutdown and Obamacare, it’s easy to forget that there are actually campaigns going on right now. Such as the one in Virginia for the governor of the state, and it’s a campaign that shows that the “war on women” thing is not going away and it is creating serious problems for any candidate who is perceived as conducting the war on women. The race is interesting because it draws in some of the same problems Republicans faced in 2012 on a national scale, and shows that those problems may not be going away, but may in fact be getting worse. At the top of the list is reproductive rights. Anti-choicers have been pushing hard in recent years to expand the attacks on reproductive rights to include attacks on contraception, and let’s face it, that is just electoral gold for Democrats. Gold that Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe is spending as hard as he can. He’s running ads in the state that accuse Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli of trying to take the birth control pill away from women.

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During the debate between the two candidates for governor of Virginia, McAuliffe reiterated the accusation, suggesting that Cuccinelli has an anti-contraception agenda.

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So what are the facts here? The accusation about “women’s health” centers is employing a bit of euphemism. What McAuliffe means is that Cuccinelli adopted a single-minded obsession with trying to shut down abortion clinics in Virginia. When that couldn’t be done by legislative means, Cuccinelli, as attorney general, bullied and pressured the state health department to enact a bunch of unnecessary restrictions that were purportedly for women’s health, but were in fact just a pretext to shut down abortion clinics. The birth control thing is more confusing. What happened here is that Cuccinelli, when he was in the state assembly, introduced legislation that would define a fertilized egg as a person. It’s clearly a back door way to ban abortion, but there’s also concerns that it could be used as a pretext to ban the birth control pill. Anti-choicers routinely claim that the pill works by killing fertilized eggs. It doesn’t, of course, and actually works, as does emergency contraception, by suppressing ovulation. But that doesn’t mean anti-choicers wouldn’t try to use “personhood” laws to ban birth control pills. Scientific fact rarely gets in the way between an anti-choicer and their assaults on women’s rights. After all, Cuccinelli backed unscientific restrictions on abortion clinics based on lies. No reason to think he wouldn’t be amendable to other lies about women’s bodies, if that’s what it took to ban birth control.

But the accusations that Cuccinelli is waging war on women don’t stop there.

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The McAuliffe campaign also ran ads highlighting Cuccinelli’s attempts to make it hard, if not impossible, for a person filing for divorce to get that divorce if their spouse objected. While the bill was technically gender-neutral, the fact of the matter was it would disproportionately affect women leaving emotionally or physically abusive marriages. Most couples who divorce are in agreement. In cases where there’s a dispute, the odds are really high that domestic violence is in the mix, even if the abused spouse can’t prove it. Without that proof, women in abusive marriages would not be allowed to divorce, at all. The law was an abuser’s dream law.

The result of all this is that Cuccinelli is losing. And the sole reason he’s losing is female voters. In an interview with Cuccinelli, the Washington Post reporter dropped how big the number really is.

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Cuccinelli claimed that the problem was that the voters were misinformed as would learn as the election comes nearer that he’s actually a great candidate that has a lot to offer women. He didn’t elaborate what it was that he has to offer, however. Either way, this election is definitely serving up more of what 2012 showed: The tendency of Republicans to embrace Christian right ideas and attitudes about women’s proper role is finally catching up to them. Female voters are increasingly impatient with sexist politics, and more than ever are deciding not to vote for a candidate if they decide he’s not supportive of feminist goals. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in 2014 and 2016.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, just making stuff up because you wish it were true edition. Rush Limbaugh is a big fan of that, so it’s no surprise that his reaction to finding out that the life expectancy of some women has gone down was to say this:

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That’s right—wanting to be paid for your work makes you a “Nazi” in Limbaugh’s estimation. But there’s a reason that paid work and women doing it is not being considered a factor, and it’s not “political correctness.” The reason is that the women who are living shorter lives than their mothers are rural white women without much education. They are more, not less, likely, to be housewives than the women who haven’t seen a fall in life expectancy. Not that facts get in the way of a Limbaugh rant, of course.