This is a guest post by MOMocrats Facebook fan Stewart J. Frimer, LCSW.
“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
— Justice Anonin Scalia
Justice Scalia’s assertion that the Constitution does not guarantee women equal rights under the law underscores the sad trend for females in the US in the 21st century — and is just one salvo in the right’s political assault known as “The War on Women,” limiting reproductive rights and funding of health and education programs benefiting women and children.
This “war” is akin to political abuse of women by controlling men in the same manner that physical, emotional,and economic abuse of women gets played out in homes everyday. It is about control and power, narcissism, a lack of empathy and a belief that women are somehow less than human (so are subject to a different set of rules and roles).
One of the characteristics of domestic abuse of women is the concept of male privilege: the idea woman are infantile and need a man (i.e., “the master of the castle”) to make the decisions for her. She is there to serve his needs, even if (or especially if) those needs conflict with hers.
Politicians as Abusers
Men have been making decisions about women’s lives and bodies in recent days that put them and their children at risk. Instead of a society where the expansion of roles is a sign of health (think of gay marriage equality, or women appointed to the Supreme Court), what we are witnessing is collapse of role opportunities — especially for poor women.
During the long debate on the Affordable Care Act, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) argued “I don’t need maternity care, so requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”
This was not about you, Senator Kyle. In fact, your statements are indicative of the kind of narcissism we see in abusers, who only think of their own needs and concerns and view the world through a narrow perspective, from a position of power and control.
It is also a frightening example of a lack of empathy found in the men elected to both houses of Congress. And no empathy leads to pretty bad decision making.
In a recent session of the Texas state legislature, Senator Wendy Davis asked a question about a bill on the floor of the senate to Troy Fraser. Senator Fraser responded “I have trouble hearing women’s voices.” Herman Cain recently referred to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “Princess Nancy.” (I would pay to hear him call another former speaker “Prince Newt.”)
When I was in social work graduate school, I took a class on human sexuality with medical students. We did a role play where the male medical students were put in the position of getting a gynecological exam with the stereotypical roles of a sometimes indifferent staff doing something over and over again. I remember the male med students getting a greater sense of how vulnerable they felt and thus how a woman felt. Hopefully it made them better doctors. (MOMocrats Comment: If only we could persuade men in Congress to undergo the same exercise!)
Economic control is another example of both political and familial abuse of women. It how the stronger, more controlling spouse keeps his partner in a position where she cannot escape or have any say in her life. Women earn just 77% of what men make in equal positions (68% for African-Americans and 58% for Latinas). Yet public funding for programs for women and children are under constant attack — mostly by conservative men.
The campaign against Planned Parenthood harms the most vulnerable members of our society: low income women. This can’t be about saving money, which is what happens when you prevent unplanned pregnancies. This is about control. Cutting money for Title X eliminates poor women’s access to preventive health care like mammograms, Pap tests, STD and HIV screenings. And you can forget about obtaining contraception (including the morning after pill) if the one pharmacy in your area is politically against it.
If Paul Ryan’s plan to cut money from the WIC program isn’t bullying and abusive and heartless, I don’t know what is.
Union Busting Abuses Women
Attacks on public worker unions disproportionately affect women, who account for most of the nation’s teachers, nurses and caretakers. When did teachers and nurses become the enemy? When did the people who take care of our children, the sick and the elderly become less than human?. It is also important to note when the public workers are police and firefighters (mostly men) the public appears to be more sympathetic.
The above points call into play yet another aspect of partner abuse: Isolation and loss of freedom. In the abusive home, the powerful partner restricts personal and social contacts. Power is maintained by limiting the weaker partner’s access to information.
Abortion Bans as Reproductive Abuse
Fourteen states have enacted laws banning coverage of abortion in federal health insurance exchanges. A bill introduced last year would have eliminated the medical expense deduction for most abortions.
The abuser perpetuates family myths; in this case, that there is public funding of abortion when there hasn’t been for many years (due to the Hyde Amendment). There is no equivalent of a medical procedure being denied to men. It’s like saying “OK, you have a uterus, which shows that you can’t make a choice on your own so you need protection from yourself.”
It’s as if the possibility of getting pregnant is a pre-existing condition and you are now more costly, so you must be controlled.
The issue of actual sexual assault is also part of the political abuse of women. There are attempts in Congress to redefine rape as to exclude from eligibility Medicaid funding for an abortion due to a rape that is “not forcible enough.”
“Not forcible enough.” How sociopathic, totally brutal and yes, abusive is this? How does anyone — especially a man — tell a woman who has survived an assault that she has not suffered enough and might have to carry the rapist child to term?
Re-Traumatization of Rape Victims Another Form of Abuse
What you actually do tell a rape survivor who is already suffering the trauma of the rape is that she must have done something right, because she is still alive. Yet politically, she’s done nothing right. The political treatment of the survivor is a second traumatization.
How can anyone who claims to be pro-life tell a rape victim that she hasn’t suffered enough? This total disconnect is what makes this so politically and morally abusive. It makes me wonder especially about the men in Congress: Would they tell a wife or daughter surviving a rape that she hasn’t suffered enough?
It just seem like an abstract concept versus a human one. Do we really have to experience something first-hand before we loosen our grip of control of others?
I propose that members of Congress (especially the men) do two things before their next vote on a healthcare issue:
- Go on a call with the police responding to a rape and actually see the results of that rape.
- Role play what it would be like to the victim of an attack where he has no possibility of escape or control of the consequence of that action.
The issues of abuse as noted include male privilege, emotional abuse, economic control and controlling behavior that involves isolating freedom restricting control. No where is this political abuse so pervasive in of all places our military (which I guess isn’t surprising, given how political the military is and how much of a male bastion it has been until recent years). Women in the military know that speaking up is often a threat to their careers and is seen as breaking the rules of conduct.
This can be compared with domestic abusers who control their families via potential threats keeps the abuse survivors quiet.
There is actually a ban on abortion coverage in cases of rape for women in the military. Medicaid, Medicare and all federal prisons receive abortion coverage for rape. Women in the military are currently not allowed to use their own funds to obtain abortion care in cases of rape at military facilities. This is particularly disturbing when we know that rape is highly under-reported. So we have a system where those who sacrifice the most get less treatment than those they are protecting.
Last year, measures were introduced in the House and Senate to lift that ban. They were defeated. Abusive behavior is also about controlling what is perceived as the truth by keeping secrets and controlling the access to the truth.
The restriction of freedoms include the inability to secure services or at least having those service applied equally to men and women. According to Service Women’s Action Network executive director Anu Bhagwati, the VA approves of 53% of all claims related to PTSD but only 32% when it relates to sexual trauma. The suffering in silence that service women face institutionally is the same process that occurs in the home of an abuser.
The lack of institutional empathy by people like Senator Kyl, Texas Senator Fraser and Justice Scalia perpetuates the abuse of women by the use of political control and power. Institutionalized bullying is no different than what happens in individual homes where a façade of a good family is perpetuated. Abuse physically and politically is the denial of opportunities by force, fear,economic, power and shame. Abuse is the taking away of hope. Recovery from political/family abuse is giving hope back.
It’s long overdue to stand up to the political bullies.
Stewart J.Frimer,LCSW is a retired NYC School social worker,licensed therapist-writer..who has also worked in community mental health, child welfare, and residential treatment..Active on many political campaigns and issues starting as a child when he helped his dad poll watch for JFK.