The war on women has lost its purpose

May 4, 2014 

The so-called “war on women” used to have fairly clear rules of engagement. A Republican candidate for office, say Todd Akin of Missouri, would say something outrageously offensive (victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant). Generally it was something about sex or pregnancy or abortion or some other staple of the culture wars.

Democrats would upload the comment into every campaign ad, political speech, and friendly blog, and the Republican would lose. It was almost too easy, like guerrilla warfare against an enemy who didn’t know how to operate the weapons.

But then late last year Republican candidates were subject to sensitivity training by the National Republican Congressional Committee because, as one staffer put it, they have “a lot to learn.” As a result, this campaign season has been short on actual ammunition, but that hasn’t stopped the fight.

Instead the war on women has morphed into one of those diffuse campaigns with no clear purpose. And when Republicans don’t say anything stupid, Democrats just pretend they did.

In Michigan, Democrats are making a lot of the fact that Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land said that women care more about flexibility than pay. Outraged, Democratic groups have used the comment to show that Land opposes equal pay.

But Land is nowhere near Akin territory here. In fact she’s totally right. Women do often sacrifice pay for flexibility, which is one of the biggest reasons for the gender gap.

As for Republicans, they are now overcompensating for past mistakes. The Washington Post has an excellent summary of all the campaign ads aimed at women. The most offensive is one against Democratic gubernatorial candidate and criminal defense attorney Vincent Sheheen, which feels like a promo for Nancy Grace, accusing him of defending “violent criminals who abused women.”

The war on women used to actually be about substance: Someone who talks about legitimate rape and pregnancy is likely to severely restrict abortion rights, and Democrats should shout that candidate down from every corner.

Now the “war on women” has been reduced to just pure tactic, an indiscriminate weapon, equally good for every occasion, fit for any hands.

Rosin, a senior editor at the Atlantic, wrote this for Slate.

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