Rand Paul has some good news for the women folk: if there’s a war on women, we’re winning it. This is based on a thorough investigation of his extended family:
This whole sort of war on women thing, I’m scratching my head because if there was a war on women, I think they won. You know, the women in my family are incredibly successful. I have a niece at Cornell vet school, and 85% of the young people there are women. Law school, 60% are women. In med school, 55%. My younger sister is an OB-GYN with six kids and doing great. I don’t see so much that women are downtrodden. I see women rising up and doing great things. In fact, I worry about our young men sometimes because I think the women are outcompeting the men in our world [...]
The women in my family are doing great. That’s what I see in all the statistics coming out. I have, you know, young women in my office that are the leading intellectual lights of our office. So I don’t really see this, that there’s some sort of war on women that’s, you know, keeping women down. I see women doing great and I think we should extol that success and not dumb it down into a political campaign that somehow one party doesn’t like women or that. I think that’s what’s happened. It’s all been for political purposes.
This is obviously a myopic view on the state of women’s rights, but it doesn’t only reflect the musings of an out-of-touch senator. There are many elements in this argument that surface in all kinds of debate about our supposedly post-racial, post-feminist world.
- Defining social justice progress by your limited experience. Paul makes assumptions about the state of women in general because “the women in my family are doing great.” And The Cosby Show proves that racism is over. We’ve seen in the past how politicians’ (and the average person’s) viewpoints change when someone close to them is affected by an issue. But we can’t wait for every member of Congress to have a son come out of the closet or a daughter deal with wage discrimination. The kind of people who become senators in many cases are not likely to be close to some to of people most affected by inequality in this country. (Though, as Amanda Marcotte points out, Rand Paul only has to look around Congress to see that women haven’t reached parity since they hold less than 20% of the seats).
- Focusing on the most privileged subgroup. Related to the first point, when Paul does go beyond his immediate experience to cite statistics they focus on the narrow issue of women’s representation in higher education. That’s an incredibly important advancement, but leaves out millions of poor and working class women who bear the brunt of the economic downturn. In fact, Paul wants to make things worse for many of those women by capping benefits for women who have children out of wedlock.
- Picking and choosing “acceptable” rights. While ignoring many groups of women, Paul also leaves out critical issues that can’t be left out of any definition of women’s equality. As Marcotte notes, “While Paul didn’t mention little things like abortion or contraception, the implication was clear: Women have it pretty good, so there’s no reason to get all bent out of shape about attacks on reproductive rights, ladies. You get to go to school now, so why complain about losing access to basic medical care? After all, Paul’s own sister has six kids and a medical practice, so if unwanted child-bearing throws you off your game, it’s your fault for not having a wealthy congressman for a father.”
Despite the fact that Paul’s contention focuses on a definition of women’s success that can be easily dismissed, it’s still enough to spark a backlash. He states that he’s “worried” about women outcompeting men. That backlash has manifested in a slew of outrageous attempts to scale back women’s reproductive rights. There’s still a long way to go before we women can claim victory.