Is There Really a War on Women?

Gender-based political correctness is all too common on both the left and the right.

Dueling charges of misogyny from the left and the right have become a depressingly regular media circus—one that, regardless of the real issues, is mostly about moral posturing and political point-scoring. Worse, both sides are feeding a toxic obsession with women-as-victims and promoting a sexism of special treatment rather than equality.

Conservatives accuse liberals of ignoring and condoning sexist slurs against right-wing women. Liberals accuse conservatives of ignoring and condoning sexism except when it's directed at conservative women and can be used as a weapon against the left.

One can argue ad nauseam about which side is more misogynist and more hypocritical. There is no question that crude and sex-themed attacks on "enemy" women have come from both camps—be it vulgar language directed at Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, or, most recently, the Hustler magazine photomontage of conservative pundit S.E. Cupp performing a sexual act and the recent Twitter comment by blogger Dan Riehl inviting liberal pundit Joan Walsh to perform a similar act on him. I would say that, generally, the left has more consistently (if often grudgingly) condemned such behavior in its ranks while the right has been more likely to circle the wagons.

But here's a question: Does any of this warrant the cries of outrage about misogyny?

Yes, that Hustler montage was vile. But it's not as if publisher Larry Flynt has ever held back on sliming male social conservatives. He was behind the famous parody ad that had Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell confessing to a drunken tryst with his mother in an outhouse (prompting a Supreme Court ruling that protected such satire no matter how distressing to its targets). Just last September, Flynt ran ads soliciting reports of illicit sex with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then a leading Republican presidential contender. 

Riehl, too, is an equal-opportunity offender: He has posted plenty of crude insults and taunts toward male journalists, including insinuations of pedophilia  and public lewdness—drawing only a fraction of the criticism his comment about Walsh set off. Perhaps we should be less concerned with offenses against womanhood and more with the general levels of hostility and vulgarity in our discourse.

The silliest tempest in the war-against-women teacup has been the brouhaha over the video of labor activists in South Carolina bashing a piñata with the face of union-unfriendly Gov. Nikki Haley. Tacky and nasty, yes. Sexist, as claimed by some conservatives including Glenn Beck and Slate.com blogger Rachael Larimore? Hardly, especially considering the basher was also a woman. Barack Obama piñatas are sold on Amazon.com (there's a YouTube video  of one being whacked by children), and George W. Bush piñatas have been around as well. 

It is worth nothing that three years ago, some feminists made an equally silly fuss over a conservative Oklahoma newspaper's cartoon of then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a human piñata, claiming that it was telling women to "know your place, or we'll take a stick to you and teach you a lesson." Once, conservatives used to mock this politically correct victim mentality. Now, they're aping it.

What about sex-specific or sexual insults? Feminists have a point when they say that such attacks on women are uniquely damaging because historically, women have been so often demeaned and disempowered by being reduced to their sexual functions. Today, too, women in public life can face unmistakably misogynist rhetoric, whether it's Salon.com publishing a Palin-bashing screed filled with degrading sexual imagery or Rush Limbaugh repeatedly portraying Clinton as an emasculating female; whether it's conservatives suggesting that feminists are not "real women"  or liberals suggesting the same  about women who don't toe the feminist party line.

But not every crude and hateful slam at a woman is misogynist; sometimes, it's just crude and hateful. An anatomical epithet toward a woman is not automatically worse than the male equivalent. Calling a female politician a bitch is not automatically worse than calling a male politician a scumbag, an overwhelmingly male-directed slur. Rocker and right-wing activist Ted Nugent's invitation to Hillary Clinton to "ride one of these into the sunset" while brandishing two rifles at a concert in 2007 was no more disgusting than his simultaneous invitation to Barack Obama to "suck on this" (and there's no reason to think that Nugent would have been kinder to a top Democratic presidential contender who was male and white). 

Nor are male politicians immune to sexual denigration. After Rick Santorum angered gay activists with negative comments about homosexuality, he was targeted for an Internet campaign promoting the use of his last name as an obscene sex-related term. Print ads seeking dirt on Rick Perry were run not only by Flynt but by Ron Paul supporter Robert Morrow. (Imagine the shrieks if a respectable newspaper had run an ad asking, "Have you ever had sex with Sarah Palin?")

In the 21st century, women may not have yet reached parity in public life. But they are clearly no longer outsiders. If their gender can still be an obstacle, it can also be an asset: a source of extra star power as well as extra voter sympathy. They have come far enough to not be treated as especially vulnerable, an expectation that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In 2008, when Clinton's campaign complained about sexism in media coverage, a conservative woman responded, "When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, 'Man, that doesn't do us any good, women in politics, or women in general, trying to progress this country.'" Sarah Palin may never have spoken wiser words.

Contributing Editor Cathy Young is a columnist at RealClearPolitics, where this article originally appeared.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Mike M.||

    Like John once said a while back, it's Saul Alinsky's world now, and we all just live in it.

  • Number 2||

    "Once, conservatives used to mock this politically correct victim mentality. Now, they're aping it."

    Because, unfortunately, the politically correct victim mentality works. And both sides will continue to resort to it as long as it works.

  • Major Pain||

    The worst thing that ever happened to women was their rejection of sexual identity in a misguided attempt to gain intellectual parity in the culture at large.

    ...

  • ||

    The best thing that ever happened to women was their non-acceptance of non-sexual identity in a guided attempt to gain non-intellectual non-parity in the culture at large

  • PapayaSF||

    Well, turning a weapon against the side that started it is 1) fair, 2) poetic justice, and 3) may well serve to neutralize the weapon in the future. When the right cries "sexism" in these cases it seems as justifiable as many complaints about sexism.

    But Cathy missed one aspect: the recent defeat of the prohibition of sex-selective abortions in the House gives the right something they can say is "a real war on woman," and they have a point.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...that doesn't do us any good, women in politics, or women in general, trying to progress this country.

    Good point. If you want to have equality, at some point, you have to be equal.

  • wareagle||

    that same point could be extended to Obama's dogwashers whose default response to any criticism is to cry "racist." Sorry, the man is POTUS; criticism comes with the job.

  • Untempered Individualist||

    The only equality the Left understands is equality of outcomes. As long as favored groups have different outcomes, the Left wants to keep its thumb on the scales.

  • newshutz||

    I don't think they want equality of outcome on voting day.

    Some outcomes are more equal than others

  • Keith3D||

    That's because democracy is only a means to that end. They prefer benign dictators like the supreme court anyway.

  • wareagle||

    this is a distraction issue, good for the chattering class but, ultimately being far more about perceived political advantage than about addressing any real problem. It's one more example of how discourse has degenerated into "let's make the other side look evil", avoiding any substantive debate.

    Interesting how on target Palin's words are. Also, nice touch on withholding her name till after the quote. How often are someone's perceptions of statement shaped by the name of the person saying it.

  • Tulpa the White||

    I guess we were due for another one of Ms Young's infamous "one the one hand...on the other hand" lack-of-opinion pieces.

  • SIV||

    Has she ever written anything else?

  • PapayaSF||

    Hey, hey, be nice. Her memoir Growing Up in Moscow is also good.

  • Brutus||

    Word.

  • reason readin female||

    I agree that this article is a bit wishy-washy. The only way women will obtain true equality is to actually take all the talk about "empowerment" seriously.

    Also, the worst thing I hear people calling men isn't "scumbag." It's "sperm donor."

    It marginalizes and dehumanizes all at once.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Nothing about the abortion bill which the House just voted on?* It would have prohibited committing abortion based on the race or sex of the fetus. At the same time, yet another Planned Parenthood sting has shown the organization's staff willing to engage in sex-selection abortion. See

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....story.html

    *Obtaining majority support, but short of the 2/3 necessary under the procedural rules under which the voting was held.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    For the planned parenthood controversy, see

    http://www.khou.com/news/Plann.....57215.html

  • affenkopf||

    Why should you ban abortion based on sex or race? Either allow it or ban it but banning some abortions to be political correct is just silly.

    The planned parenthood video was selectively edited:
    http://littlegreenfootballs.co.....Discussion

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    The point isn't that they hemmed and hawed, it's that they were open to doing a sex-selective abortion.

    "Either allow it or ban it but banning some abortions to be political correct is just silly."

    It's useful to put avowed feminists on record as saying it should be legal to kill a female fetus because she's female.

    And it's not feasible to fully "ban" abortions, thanks to Roe v. Wade.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Conservatives accuse liberals of ignoring and condoning sexist slurs against right-wing women. Liberals accuse conservatives of ignoring and condoning sexism except when it's directed at conservative women and can be used as a weapon against the left."

    I am trying to figure out how what Young describes is equivalent. The Left generally describes any criticism of its female public figures as an attack on womankind rather than an attack on their actions and policies. Case in point, the high dudgeon taken by the Left over criticism of the health care contraceptive mandates and their mascots like Sandra Fluke. It is the Left claiming that opposition to such micromanagement amounts to a "War on Women". The Right does point out the Left's self-serving hypocrisy but would seem content to equal treatment if not for the Left's framing itself as the defender of all women against sexism and then reading female conservatives out of the group "women".

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The Right has long perpetuated a War on Contraception (since Griswald at least) and not so much a war on women. As a male I have often fought for women against the Right on the behalf of science and contraception.

    So when Fat Rush (Praise be unto Him) tells his Dildo-Heads that contraception is wrong he is warring with me.

  • PapayaSF||

    When has Rush ever said that contraception was wrong? I believe his complaint about Fluke was that she expected other people to pay for hers.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    He follows the standard conservative line that 'Griswold' was wrongly decided and there is no Right to Privacy in the US Constitution and that states may therefore ban contraception.

  • Brutus||

    I've listened to a lot of Rush in the last two decades, and I can't think of a single time he's mentioned Griswold. I call bullshit on this, as well as him saying contraception is wrong.

  • Gladstone||

    If there is a right to privacy then shouldn't the income tax, the IRS, FBI, CIA, NSA and TSA all be illegal?

  • The Derider||

    16th amendment. Article 1, section 8, paragraph 1. No.

  • Raistlin||

    Yes. Because the 16th amendment should not exist.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Compensation for labor is not income. Why do you think so many lawyers go into politics? They love using "words of art" and bamboozling the rest of us.

  • Suki||

    Dittoes what Brutis said.

    If you want to get into that whole right to privacy thing, the feds were granted the 4th amendment with a set of rules for poking into our privacy. I guess there might be another, but I can't think of one right off.

    Rush went on and on about how easy it is to get contraception, as well as how inexpensive it is, and he called bullshit on Fluke's quoted price for contraception-on-demand from her 'educators.'

  • Suki||

    Sorry Brutus for the misspell.

  • The Derider||

    And that she was a slut for even suggesting contraceptives should be easier to get, and that she should post video of her sexual activity on the web.

  • Bucky||

    actually he called her a slut because she wanted someone else to pay for her sex...
    splitting hairs my speciality..

  • effinayright||

    Anyone who writes "the feds were granted the 4th amendment with a set of rules" obviously know bupkis about the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, which tells the federal government what it cannot do, or restricts whatit can do, by imposing conditions. It's not a grant of power, but an denial or limitation of powers.

    As for Rush going on and on about how easy it is to get contraception, he was absolutely right. Condoms all over the place, pills for $9 a month available in drugstores all around Georgetown law school, etc.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Notably, you have no argument against that "standard line" other than that it's icky because conservatives have touched it.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Various forms of contraception work as abortofacients. Conservatives turn into even bigger whackjobs than they normally are on this subject. Don't be ignorant.

  • Bucky||

    oh, i see...
    its all about the children, until it is and 'unwanted pregnancy', then it is 'don't you tell me what to do with my body'...
    isn't an abortion the pinnacle of child abuse, or am i missing the 'greater' right of right to privacy?

  • Concerned Citizen||

    You see, Bucky, to the left, abortion is a constitutional right, and therefore, should be paid for by the taxpayers. Except for the right to keep and bear arms, they would never want gov't to pay for your gun, they even deny the 2nd amendment exists. To further clarify, they love children, but love abortion more, so when they called the returning Vietnam soldiers "baby killers", they were really complimenting them.

  • John Galt||

    I've only listened to parts of a few Rush Limbaugh shows, but I still think your talk out of your buttplug.

  • John Galt||

    *talking

  • effinayright||

    Odd, given that Mitt Romney correctly pointed out, when Steffy tried to bait him on the topic, that no state seeks to outlaw contraception. Steffy was trying to get him to argue that Griswold should be overturned, but Romney (surprisingly) didn't remember that case.

    As for Limbaugh saying contraception is "wrong", you've got yer head in a warm dark place. Never said it. That's the official position of the Catholic church, not Limbaugh's

  • Mike M.||

    Everyone notice how Shrieking Idiot isn't going on and on about the stock market lately? Gee, I wonder why that is...

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I'm tired of women. Tired of the games. Weary of the WAAAAAAAAAAAA! Imma woman and shit hurts MEE!... and politics and LAW should treat ME special!
    Tired of it. In case some ignorant fuck wants to put me in a basement with Cheetos I'm VERY well-off with a liberal HOT wife with 2 kids and a property/home owner of an amazin' place in the Ohio rural woods of delight.
    My wife told me the other day she cannot stand most women because they whine too much...

  • The Derider||

    This article completely misses the point.

    Beyond insults, there are distinct policy differences between conservatives and liberals. Conservative policies that seek to restrict access to abortion and women's health care are uniquely anti-woman. There are no such liberal positions.

  • ||

    Right, like when liberals want to put off mammograms for women to control costs, which could, you know, actually kill them.

    Of course, that stacks up nicely against all the female lives lost for lack of a good fucking with the correct government-provided contraceptive apparatus.

  • The Derider||

    This is a government reccommendation about the best way to use health care funds. It has utterly no impact on women's actual access to healthcare or their choices therein.

    And even if this does somehow affect the number of mammograms that women get, it's entirely possible that we're over-testing for breast cancer, to the detriment of testing for other women's health issues. The WSJ article you cite has absolutely no evidence this is not the case.

  • ||

    It's used as a guideline for all federally funded health care facilities, and the recommendations could also give justification for private insurers to cover more limited mammogram screenings. So it actually does have at least a tangential impact on women's actual access to health care.

    But the really hilarious irony is that you make this argument about mammogram screenings for breast cancer, yet fail to grasp the exact same concept in regards to birth control prescriptions that cost less than 10 dollars a month and treat an entirely elective non-illness.

  • The Derider||

    Healthcare doesn't exist just treat potentially fatal conditions. It also exists to promote happiness and improve quality of life. That's what birth control does.

  • Bucky||

    certainly improved the quality of life for the fetus...
    and all that happiness that comes to all the women that realize years later that wish they hadn't aborted...

  • affenkopf||

    Because birth control and abortion are the same. Yeah, right.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Equal rights for unborn women!

  • affenkopf||

    The state shouldn't provide health care, stopping to provide mammograms is a good first step.

  • JeremyR||

    But conservatives would say that being allowed to abort children, including for the reason that the parents don't like a girl, are harmful to women...the unborn ones.

    Believe it or not, conservatives really, really, genuinely and truly believe that unborn children are children, and that abortion is murder.

    Liberals disagree, but conservatives are not being "anti-woman", they are being well, pro-life.

  • Heata||

    You can't say that all of them are. I personally know a few that don't like abortion because it gives women the freedom to chose a path other than motherhood. I grew up around church people who genuinely felt that the reason women exist is to carry babies. "THARS NO HIGHER CALLIN! PRAISE THE LAWRD".

  • Cavpitalist||

    Your friends are assholes.

    Some don't like abortion because God Hates Fags, too.

  • The Derider||

    It's not used as a guideline for any facilities. Hospitals and private insurers may choose to adopt these recommendations, but they're not forced to.

    The REALLY hilarious irony is that you completely ignore the possibility that these recommendations could actually improve women's healthcare outcomes. If you actually read the study, it states that breast care screenings before age 50 often result in false positives, and that unnecessary treatments actually kill more women than are saved by those screenings.

    I guess the lesson here is that the Wall Street Journal is a hacktacular mouthpiece for the idiot right.

  • ||

    Dickrider; reading through this thread it is breathtaking how dishonest and full of shit you are. I see there are some new? people here who are unfamiliar with you as probably the most full of shit troll to disgrace the reason threads and are getting sucked into debating with you.

    Hey guys, talking to dickrider is a complete waste of time.

  • effinayright||

    A tweet by obscure blogger Dan Riehl as an equivalent to national figure Larry Flynt's photo spread? Huh?

    Limbaugh as the illustration for this article? Limbaugh, who has a huge female audience, and who lost NO audience over the Fluke flap?

    Huh?
    Gimme a break, Cathy!

  • Bucky||

    hear, hear,
    somehow the paragraph about Hillary by Rush is equal to that God-awful hate fest that goes on and on with references to 'Uncle Toms', Nazis and everything in between...

  • 21044||

    I would say that, generally, the left has more consistently (if often grudgingly) condemned such behavior in its ranks while the right has been more likely to circle the wagons.[citation required]

  • jason||

    There are some hard comments on the women policies , the truth is that womens are under attack in the current century.

  • Coke Zero||

    "Perhaps we should be less concerned with offenses against womanhood and more with the general levels of hostility and vulgarity in our discourse."

    Haven't we seen that video from reason.tv about the hostility of discourse in politics like...forty times since it came out?

  • MMS||

    Cathy hits the nail squarely on the head, again... Dead on perfect...

  • lunettes de soleil pas cher||

    In 2008, when Clinton's campaign complained about sexism in media coverage, a conservative woman responded, "When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, 'Man, that doesn't do us any good, women in politics, or women in general, trying to progress this country.'" Sarah Palin may never have spoken wiser wor

  • Chaussures nike shox||

    In 2008, when Clinton's campaign complained about sexism in media coverage, a conservative woman responded, "When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, 'Man, that doesn't do us any good, women in politics, or women in general, trying to progress this country.'" Sarah Palin may never have spoken wiser words.

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